Written by Various
Art by Various
Published by DC Comics
It has long been argued, and rightfully so, that the Batman has the strongest rogues gallery in the biz. From the psychotic mirror image of the Joker, to his fractured former ally Two-Face. From the intellectual prowess of the Riddler to the shocking brutality of Killer Croc. From the demure sass of Catwoman to the psychosexual lust of Poison Ivy. And on and on the list goes.
Still, even with such an impressive and engaging list of villains, not a single one of them has ever beaten the Batman as handily and ruthlessly as Bane; never before, and never since.
It all begins, unsurprisingly, with a plot to bring down the Batman. What is surprising though is the scope and strategy that Bane puts into taking down the Bat. Bane doesn’t engage the Dark Knight directly when he arrives in Gotham, but instead uses the rest of Batman’s enemies against him. His first act in the city is to free the prisoners of Arkham Asylum. After that, he just watches, and waits.
As the Batman, already worn down prior to the start of this plotline, burns the candle at both ends in an attempt to save his city, Bane watches from the shadows. Batman is injured, worn out, and taken to the limit by one criminal after another, even forgoing sleep in his masochistic vigil. Finally, having run himself ragged, he returns home and is greeted by Bane, who has long since determined his secret identity.
The Caped Crusader does his best but at this point there’s not a lot of fight left in him, and with Bane already having studied his techniques, Batman doesn’t stand a chance. He is beaten bloody, cracked, crushed and smashed, and then the moment comes: there, in the batcave, the Batman is broken.
What follows in the story is even more shocking. Crippled and out of action, Batman names his new ally, Azrael, as his successor. But it isn’t long before the power goes to Azrael’s head, and he begins rewriting the rules of the Batman. Resorting to guns and murder, the new Dark Knight quickly tarnishes the legacy built upon by his predecessor, and after he beats the enemy that even felled the great Batman, Azrael appears to be unstoppable.
With this storyline, DC made the bold move of shattering the seemingly unbreakable will of the Batman. Even more so than his Justice League co-founder, Superman, who fell a few months prior to Doomsday, Batman is an icon, and the fundamental difference between Batman and most of his contemporaries is that he is a just a man, like us, the readers. This makes him inspiring and infinitely relatable, to the point that the Knightfall saga becomes the darkest moment in the Batman’s history. After all, if even he can be thoroughly destroyed, in body, mind and heart, what hope is there for the so-called “regular joe”?
With time and circumstance, Bruce Wayne is able to recover but even he knows he is no match for the monster he has created. With that in mind, we see a redux of the Batman origin story, with Bruce Wayne traveling the world and honing his skills against an elite group of assassins before attempting to take back the cowl from his former prodigy.
Ultimately Bruce Wayne proves why there can be only one Batman in the end, beating the power-hungry Azrael with his mind rather than his body. In the end, Azrael’s delusions of grandeur are thoroughly shattered, and he is forced to see himself for the wreck of a man that he is.
Though a few men have taken the cowl or the role of the Dark Knight, and some have even done it very well, Knightfall proves that there is only one man capable of standing up to the evils of this shadowy city, and that man is Bruce Wayne, the Batman.