web stats

CSBG Archive

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…

Batman497cover

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.

Batman497backbroken

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.”

Batman497lastpage

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.

Batman497BaneConfrontsBruce

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.

Verdict: Good

27 Comments

Agreed.

Bane is better in bringing a downfall to a superhero than Doomsday.

Wow–I never noticed how much shoulder hair Bane has.

i thought both stories were lame then (and i was what 11?) but to me this has always remained an iconic moment. and bane has remained an interesting character…well at least when gail was writing him.

My favorite part of this is Bruce wearing the Hugh Hefner robe over his bat-suit.

I paid like $15 for this shortly after it came out at a local convention.

Knightfall is probably my favorite Batman storyline. The AzBat part dragged a bit, but KnightsEnd redeemed it. I love how meticulous Bane is, Bruce’s burn out, the Joker and Scarecrow team up, Bruce’s relationship with Shondra Kinsolving, Azrael (for the most part), Tim trying to pull Bruce back from the brink, the breaking of the Bat, Bane’s defeat, Bruce’s retraining under Shiva, the reclaiming of the mantle of the Bat.

Aparo’s art is a definitely highlight for this issue. One of the best Batman artists of all time.

I don’t even like Batman, or understand why he is currently more popular than Superman – and I’m not a fan of Bane either – but all the same, I think your calls on this issue and Superman #75 are both spot on.

I still have that issue, and still LOVING IT!

I too was disappointed by Bane in the Dark Knight rises. He ended up so freaking lame. DC had some good editorial back in those days. Everything was pretty cohesive.

Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightsend was a great story, though to be fair I read it in the collections many years after publication, so I was spared having to read it through multiple monthly series.

And Bane really needs to buy a thesaurus so he can threaten Batman with verbs beyond “break”.

Got it, but not most of the other issues. I was very much a Marvel guy.

A Horde of Evil Hipsters

May 7, 2013 at 10:50 pm

More or less the only problem I had with Bane in Nolan’s movie was the “what is this supposed to be” accent Tom Hardy was trying to have. That being said, this is my opinion strictly as a movie-goer, and I might feel differently if I had followed the character from the start. As it is, my only comic book exposure to him has been in Secret Six, in which he is pretty much a completely different character (the outfit is still ridiculous, of course).

Still, I’m sure fans of the original Knightfall Bane were more satisfied with his portrayal in the seminal 1997 classic “Batman & Robin”.

I really enjoy your blogs and have become a regular reader…hope i see more different ideas in the future…
i haven’t read a lot from the 90’s so these articles really help me understand the time and its product…though i do hope you do other periods as well!

For what it’s worth, I think the DKR-version of Bane is one of very few worthwile interpretations of his character and surely the best one among those. There’s always a lot of talk of how much of a cerebral, intelligent villain Bane was in Knightfall, but I fail to see that. Sure, his masterplan is beautiful in it’s simplicity, but other than that it’s mostly a lot of “BREAK [insert pronoun]” as well as a badly dated origin and motivation. The Nolan/Goyer-spin on the character was menacing, unique, truly cerebral and with a surprising amount of heart beneath it all.

Yeah, I really enjoyed this issue and the whole Knight trilogy. Still one of the best Batman crossovers. And even though it was 19 parts, it didn’t feel drawn out. Nearly every issue was kind of a done in one (focusing on a different villain).

So whether a cover is a gimmick or good, depends on whether the comic is good? I think it should depend on the size of the event. Thus, Superman 75 should be good, but that horrible Spidey crossovers should be gimmick

Kabe, I think you’re missing how conclusions are drawn. The concept is I look at comics with “gimmick” covers (variants, foil, embossed, polybags, overlays, gatefolds, glow in the dark, etc) and then analyze the contents of the comic. Since the gimmick covers were often used to either announce a major “event” in the comic world, or to try and boost sales by creating a false idea of being “collectible,” this column reads the interiors and using totally subjective criteria, determines if the comic itself “good” or just a gimmick designed to drum up sales and attention.

The cover sold me…and I still love it.

Yes, somewhat better than Superman #75, but still far from “Good”, IMO.

I remember that I borrowed the trade from a friend and read it more out of a tired sense of duty, I was already pretty fatigued with the stuff Marvel and DC were pulling at the time.

I was unimpressed by most of Knightfall.

Also, I thought the whole scheme of Bane’s was a retread of the story in Batman #400, done in 1986, and written by the same Doug Moench. But in Batman #400, it was Ra’s al-Ghul that set all the inmates of Arkhan free as a way to seduce Batman to the dark side (“you become my ally, and I help you dispose of your enemies”).

And I have to say, it was much more enjoyable in 1986, illustrating the difference between the 1980s and the 1990s. In 1986, the whole story was done in 60 pages. In the 1990s they get the basic idea of an arch-villain setting all Batman’s villains free and stretch it out in a 19 issue crossover.

Knightfall, I spit on you.

I love Jim Aparo and think he’s a if not the definitive Batman artist, but if he’s responsible for that costume, I’m going to hold it against him.

Jan Robert Andersen

May 9, 2013 at 11:24 pm

I avoided both Death of Superman and Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightsend when these were published. I few years later I read both stories and was very unimpressed by Death of Superman and somewhat interested by Knightfall and the following storylines.

These crossover events today read and look as the embodiment of the 1990s gimmick driven era when looking at everything from covers, often massive crossovers to the stories. Knightfall had some more to offer than Death of Superman and I ended up getting Knightfall and even the following dragged out Knightquest and Knightsend.

Both Doomsday and Bane were gimmick characters and both were not that great designs. Later other writers and artist have worked with these characters but they both seem a bit dated and one-dimensional. Doomsday with spikes and his ponytail is a bit better design than Bane with his black and white wrestling outfit and mask and visible venom tubes.

Dan Jurgens was consistent and more or less exclusive on Doomsday up until recent stories like the 2011 Reign of Doomsday and the New 52 Superdoom by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales. Bane has been handled by many writers and illustrators from creators Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench and Graham Nolan to recent New 52 version by by Paul Jenkins and David Finch.

Doomsday was later revealed as a sort of Kryptonian mutation weapons program tying the character even more to Superman. From Bane’s origin in the 1993 Batman: Vengeance of Bane, though Knightfall and the many appearances since I have always considered Bane a quite one-sided and dull character.

In fact I find the Venom story in the 1991 Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #16-20 story by Denny O’Neil, Trevor von Eeden and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez more interesting and something just waiting to be looked into. Then Batman and Bane have something in common and at the same time making them very different.

Bane was in the 1997 Batman and Robin and now in the 2013 Dark Knight Rises with very different results. He was no more than a gimmick and seconday character in Batman and Robin. He was a bit more developed in Dark Knight Rises however he was tied to Ra’s al Ghul and left the comic book origin.

What was nice about Knightfall up to this moment is that the build-up didn’t seem rushed to get to the moment where Bane snaps him. The seeds of Bruce wearing out were laid a little earlier before the event started (forget the details but some third stringer with a spike on his head as a weapon was giving him issues and there were some comments about fatigue). So the story always worked better than Doomsday just showing up and stomping into Metropolis for no reason other than to kill.

Where they wasted it was with Bane becoming the hired help for everyone for a while else after this. It was sort of like “OK, we did this, so now what do we do with him?” I mean, the guy only figures out how to beat Batman, knows his identity (and by extension, the identities of his help), breaks him in half…and then gets depicted as the hired help in everything from the comics to “Batman Forever” to the animated cartoon. Even in DKR he’s the henchman. So I think they started off with something interesting and then just lost it afterwards, and I think that ultimately colors perspectives here.

Nice write-up. I actually had the exact opposite kind of reaction to these stories when they were published. I loved that Doomsday came out of nowhere, no explanation, and I thought the Death of Superman issue was beautifully drawn and a great piece of action writing. At least Superman went out like a hero, sacrificing himself to save everyone else. Knightfall, on the other hand, was a mess. There were about 20 lead-up issues which just dragged on and on, weakening the Dark Knight, and then Bane just broke his back so you knew it was only a matter of time until Batman got back on the saddle. The aftermath was about as torturous as a broken back for the reader, the only saving grace being the Azrael miniseries which was actually pretty cool.

I think some of it depends on your fan-dom… I wasn’t a big Superman fan, but I was a huge Batman fan along the Grant/Breyfogle lines and this whole story just didn’t meet my expectations for a big finale. The Dark Knight Falls it wasn’t.

@Renee and Detective 700 where they broke his back. @Phred I think Graham Nolan did the costume for Bane. @Smokescreen – right on with the killing of the character of Bane. They started by having Valley beat him no problem. Then having Bane go Venom-less (Has Bruce ever defeated Bane with Venom?). Then they just made him a stooge. DC has this bad habit of finally making good new bad guys, then neutering them.

[…] I’ve finally gone over the deep end. Tired of writing about superheroes and critically acclaimed comic book series like Sandman, I decided to tackle trash journalism […]

the artwork delivered by Aparo was painful to watch at this point of his career; I mean: WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH BANE’S PECTORALS??!!!!, also, his inker wasn’t helping

Hiw much is 497 dark night worth selling for pls anyone

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives