Gimmick or Good? – Batman #497
In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1993’s overlay cover for Batman #497…
Batman #497 (published August 1993) – script by Doug Moench, pencils by Jim Aparo, inks by Dick Giordano, cover by Kelley Jones
Eight months after shocking the world by killing off its most recognizable character in Superman, DC decided a major change was needed for its other global icon Batman. DC stopped short of killing Bruce Wayne, but still put him on the shelf for a considerable amount of time with a broken back thanks to the handiwork of a relatively new villain: the mysterious man-monster Bane. Though Batman #497 didn’t receive the host of gimmicks Superman #75 did (like a black polybag, collector’s editions armbands and Daily Planet obituaries), the comic did sport an overlay cover that turned back to reveal the full scene of Bane “breaking the bat” over his knee.
But what about inside the comic?
While I’m not in the habit of comparing two comics for the “Gimmick or Good?” feature, I think in the case of Batman #497 vis a vis Superman #75, it’s almost necessary. Especially since I deemed Superman #75 a “gimmick” and I quite enjoyed Batman #497.
Both told similar stories, with endings designed to shock and upset their audiences. But whereas Superman #75 felt like a over-produced Hollywood blockbuster filled with shallow splash pages, clichéd dialogue, and an obvious ending, Batman #497 felt more stylized and cerebral. And before anyone confuses my appreciation for the Batman comic with some kind of affection for the Dark Knight Rises film, let me state for the record that I was actually quite disappointed with the movie, in large part because of Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Bane.
Utilizing a classic style befitting of such a definitive moment for an iconic character, Aparo illustrated an absolutely brutal beating of Batman from Bane, without the crutch of excessive blood and gore. Moench paces Aparo’s artwork with Batman’s internal dialogue, which reflects how the hero’s strength and will is getting exponentially sapped with every bone-crunching punch and kick from Bane. It all culminates with a panel, that despite how it’s telegraphed by the name of the arc (Knightfall), the title of the issue, and comic’s cover – is still shocking to see today: Bane picking Batman up like a child and breaking him over his knee.
As the added cherry on top of this gut-punch sundae, Bane drops the Dark Knight with a “duft” (that’s just a fantastic sound effect in this scenario) and says, “Broken … and done.”
And that’s where it ends. No one crying over his dead body. No gatefold back page revealing anything special. Just a “duft” and this monster standing triumphant over the hero.
In my write-up of Superman #75 a few months ago, I mentioned that the issue did very little to distinguish Doomsday from any other crazy that had tried to take down Superman and that the hero’s death at this specific villain’s hands felt unearned as a result. I received some criticism that I needed to read the entire Doomsday arc to get a better appreciation of the character. While that may be true, I thought Batman #497 did a much more effective job in capturing why this showdown was going to end so differently (and badly) for the hero. At the very beginning of the confrontation, the creative team establishes how Bane is not out just to cause chaos for Batman and Gotham. He’s studied the hero’s every move, so much so that he’s able to track him back to Bruce Wayne’s home and confront him as Bruce the man, not Batman.
Additionally, Moench and Aparo show how the earlier chapters of Knightfall culminate in this moment – a host of Batman’s greatest villains escaping from Arkham and running the hero ragged just in time for Bane to swoop in and pick the meat off his carcass. In Batman #497, I’m able to get the pertinent information about the entire arc in a succinct way without having to read the other 10 chapters. And given how event driven comic books were in the 90s, I think that’s an important art to master. There was no guarantee at the time these comics came out that customers were reading the entire arcs. In fact publishers admitted after the fact that the “gimmick” cover comics would often induce an artificial bump in sales that was not consistent with sales of preceding and following issues. Talking from personal experience, as a Marvel guy in the 90s, I ONLY picked up these “monumental” issues from the Distinguished Competition. While I’m sure it frustrated loyal readers to get a few flashback sequences, they are done with such effective brevity in Batman #497, I don’t think it hurts the pacing of the action.
So please take my final verdict here not as some kind of Batman vs. Superman debate, or a larger indictment on the Man of Steel, but rather as an attempt to objectively judge the style and form of how a story is told. Batman #497 is just (in my opinion) a better-crafted story than Superman #75. Thus, the verdict is academic.