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Gimmick or Good? – Batman #500

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 die-cut/foil combo cover for Batman #500…

Batman #500 (published October 1993) – script by Doug Moench, art by Jim Aparo and Terry Austin (chapter 1) and Mike Manley (chapter 2)

The 19-part “Knightfall” arc saw the rise of a new supervillain in Bane and the iconic “breaking of the bat” sequence which put the original Batman, Bruce Wayne, out of commission for months, allowing relative newcomer Jean-Paul Valley to take the reigns as the new “Dark Knight” of Gotham City. Batman #500 is “Knightfall’s” final chapter and sports a wrap-around die-cut cover (which was actually illustrated by Joe Quesada and Kevin Nowlan) and a polybag, containing classic Batman postcards illustrated by Aparo.

But what about inside the comic?

Like many other early 90s comic books with “gimmick” covers, Batman #500 is designed to sell a new status quo for its titular character. There’s new attitudes and new costumes, and an overall “new is always better than old” vibe to the comic, despite the classic sensibilities of Moench’s script and the art team’s illustrations.

I actually think the entire creative team does a pretty effective job selling me on this new status quo. Jean-Paul’s interpretation of his responsibilities as Batman is a compelling one. He makes no bones about the fact that his methodology is wildly different than his predecessor’s, but still believes he’s justified because he values the greater good of Gotham and its people over anything else. When Robin admonishes Jean-Paul for sinking to the level of his adversaries, the new Batman tells him it’s time to “forger the Knight and remember the dark.” Considering how Bane had been built up as an unstoppable monster by DC – capable of disabling one of the world’s most iconic heroes, Jean-Paul doesn’t sound so crazy.

Batman500_01

Meanwhile the costume re-design is pure 90s overindulgence, filled with spikes, chrome and lots of crazy projectiles and weapons in unexpected places. It’s a far cry from the classic Batman aesthetic that had existed for decades. But unlike other costume redesigns, like the one I recently mocked in the Daredevil “Fall From Grace” storyline, the new costume at least seems to match the personality of the person wearing it. Jean-Paul speaks of wanting to protect Gotham, but he’s also driven by ego and the desire to succeed in a way the original Batman failed. The comic opens with Jean-Paul almost falling to his death while fighting Bane in the “old” Batman’s costume, so it makes sense that he would try to improve on his predecessor. And because Jean-Paul has been defined as having a couple of screws loose, it’s perfectly reasonable that he would evolve the costume to extreme levels – from Batman to Bat-tank.

Batman500_02

It’s fitting that one of the onlookers of the Batman/Bane battle says the fight is “better’n Rocky!” because the entire sequence reminds of the Rocky/Clubber Lang fight in Rocky III when Rock takes an early beating that only ends up tiring Clubber out, leading to Rocky taunting him by repeating “you ain’t so bad.” After putting Bane on the ropes, the villain’s only recourse is to inject himself with more venom. Just when it looks like that history is about to repeat itself, Jean-Paul is able to use the light in his utility belt to temporarily blind Bane and take over the fight. From that point on, it’s only a matter of time before Batman is victorious.

Batman500_03

Something about this story that always surprised me is how Jean-Paul has an opportunity to kill Bane at the very end and instead very adamantly chooses not to give in to his violent instincts. I only think this is important because as the Jean-Paul as Batman era carries on after this issue, the character becomes more corrupted by the power and responsibility of being the Dark Knight and his once heroic decisions become despicable ones. Compare that to what Marvel is doing right now with Spider-Man as Doctor Octopus where the storyline seems to be pointing to a tale of how being a hero can redeem a character rather than undo him.

Batman500_04

The dark and edgy anti-hero seems like such a cliché these days, but I really found Batman #500 to be an effectively developed story. The script is tight and doesn’t meander all that much (and features very little Bruce and his “B” story during this era), the art is solid and every plot twist and turn feels suitably justified by the creative team. It also ties a neat little bow around a very long “Knightfall” arc while also setting up the next chapter, “Knightquest.”

Verdict: Good

34 Comments

One of my favorite issues. I agree with the verdict.

Not I. Knightfall was the story arc that led to me dropping Batman for awhile.

Wow, this time I am surprised. I thought that the verdict will be gimmick. But yes, it deserves “good” verdict.
Superior Spider-Man is completely different entity. It’s like Joker became a Batman. And still, SpOck is very sympathetic anti-hero, one that is easily identifiable. Jean-Paul was a complete nutjob, but I enjoyed reading him as well. His Batman outfit was based on Azrael’s btw.

Knightfall is still my favorite Batman storyline. We have a cunning villain who pushes Bruce to his limits and breaks him. We have an all-star cast of villains running amuck. We see what kind of person should be Batman and who shouldn’t. Bruce retraining himself with Lady Shiva. Denny O’Neil’s fantastically written final confrontation between Bruce and Jean-Paul. I keep waiting for WB to animate this storyline.

@penguintruth the DC Original Animated Universe has become the Geoff Johns Original Animated Universe with Flashpoint, first arc of Justice League, Aquaman movie(either JL: Throne Of Atlantis, or some arc of the monthly) they probably will never do again an pre-Nu52 animated movie (and here i was waiting for The Judas Contract or The Man Of Steel)

Well, technically, KnightSaga.

I had no idea Jim Aparo worked on this story. It’s amazing to me that there was a time when a creator could work on a character for 20-30 years and still be able to work on big stories like this one. It’s a shame that today most creators have about 10 good years before they’re replaced. I know of very few artists at the Big 2 active in the 90’s who are working on high-profile books, and it’s a shame.

I’ve come to appreciate this storyline more over time. Was gutsy to make a commentary on the big-pouches-big-guns era of the 90s while it was still hot. This wasn’t a perfect storyline but it was a lot of fun and some great artists did a turn on the Kightfall/quest/end storylines.

[…] The latest installment in my Gimmick or Good? series at CBR’s Comics Should Be Good Blog is Batman #500, which focuses on Jean-Paul’s first major battle as Batman after he replaced Bruce when his […]

I only had the newstand edition, thus I’ve never seen this cover in full, so I don’t understand what’s going on with the upper back part being all white.
It looks like it’s missing a big piece.

This was SHIT to the worst possible extent. I cannot fathom how anyone can possibly like this. We’re talking about an arc that is about as close as is possible to objectively bad as there has ever been in the comic medium.

I had the newsstand version of this too, so until this article, I didn’t even know about the special cover.

Jim Aparo’s artwork in that story arc is magnificent. We need more guys with his kind of talent in comics today.

@IAM FeAR:

That’s because the image at the top of the article is a bad one and doesn’t actually show the whole cover.

The white you’re seeing is in fact the background table/scanner. The wraparound cover portion on the left only partially covered the image of Batman and wasn’t a full page.

What it normally looks like (cover closed) is the old, “classic” Batman (gray and blue costume), in muted colors, as if he’s fading away. This “classic Batman” die-cut portion is turned away and you see the main cover – Jean-Paul Valley’s “new” Batman, in exactly the same pose and position as the die-cut “classic” Batman, the back of which you see now in the image above, featuring Bane and Robin.

@Ian Miller

“I know of very few artists at the Big 2 active in the 90?s who are working on high-profile books, and it’s a shame.”

Let’s see: From a cursory glimpse at recent solicts, we’ve got Mike Deodato, Mark Bagley, Humberto Ramos, Ron Garney, Mike Allred, Ed McGuiness, Terry Dodson, Greg Capullo, Jim Lee, the Kuberts, John Romita Jr., all active at DC and Marvel since the 90s (or earlier) and still doing high-profile work.

I really enjoyed the whole Bane/ Azrael/ Knightfall storyline at the time. I even picked up the whole Azrael saga afterwords as I enjoyed the character so much. Jean Paul was bat-shit crazy, but totally understandable when you consider what the Order did to him.

Jim Aparo was one of my favourite artists, especially during the 70’s, but he’s phoning it in here. I could blame the inker, but when you look back at the book at that time he had quite a number of different inkers, and the end result was the same. I’m not sure if he was rushed back then, but the quality is not as good as in his heyday, let alone 1989 when he brilliantly illustrated the Death in the Family storyline. Still “phoning it in” Aparo is better than a lot of artists on their best day.

Fond memories.

This is a story that I think needs some context to appreciate it.

First, the meta-story. As urban legend goes, the “new Batman” was a self-conscious effort to make a modern 90’s Batman to show readers that isn’t what they really want. “The Old Batman was created for older times” parrots the criticism a lot of classic style books were getting from the new school (eventually Image) books.

In story, Jean-Paul is a good man who has been indoctrinate by the Order of St. Dumas. During his tenure as Batman, he is gradually reverting back to the Program and his last Batman costume reveals how much he is replicating his Azrael costume. It’s less about corruption and more about a tragic figure unable to escape what has been done to him.

Thanks @spidermanic for the additional context. In all honesty, the only Batman I have easy access to from this era is my big old Knightfall trade. So if some of the back story needs to be fleshed out a bit more, I love it when folks like you do that.

Agreed. It’s rather shocking to go back and read it; I remember it being a lot more ‘typical 90’s’ than it really was. There’s a lot of logic in how Jean-Paul decides to upgrade, and Gordon/Bullock’s reactions fit their characters.

I really did love the Knight trilogy storyline, not because I liked Jean-Bat, but because I disliked him. Knightfall itself points out that Jean is unfit to be Batman. The ending of Knightfall and one other arc in Knightquest were the only times that the story itself said that the new Batman might be genuinely better than the old.
But for the majority of the storyline, they almost play Jean as a commentary on why grimdark 90’s heroes don’t really work. (He’s psychotic, overarmored, gimmicky and his own philosophy is nonsensical.) While simultaneously cashing in on the trend, natch. But after reading Knightsend and how it pays off so beautifully, it’s quite hard to argue that they weren’t intentionally making Jean an unworthy successor.

One of my favourite moments in Knightquest, in fact, is either right after the transition to Valley’s final Batman armour or right before it. The police have a sketch of Batman done with the descriptions of a few onlookers. What they get is the most hilariously 90’s costume, made of belts and spikes with a bloody gatling gun sticking out of a shoulder and sharpened teeth for the mask.

some stupid japanese name

August 26, 2013 at 9:25 am

here’s a link to the closed cover, for those interested.
http://i160.photobucket.com/albums/t189/mainecomicguy/bills/batman500spec.jpg

It seems this debate of whether Batman should be gritty or more optimistic never ends. It goes back and forth, the gritty part usually wins for a while, but there’s always Robin or some writer imploring Batman to not be so dark. Now that I think about it, this has gone on since at least the late 80s, after 25 years is it a cliche yet…?

It was a gimmick. It was Moenchs second try on Batman. And … it isn’t good. Sure, after Crisis there were some stories that were okay, but knightfall began the utlimate downfall of the character.

Although I really liked Knightfall and the early part of Knightquest, the unsubtle meta-commentary of it all started annoying me after a while. I get that they wanted to give a contingent of fans what they wanted on the surface, a kewl, extreme 90s batman, and then show the problems with that. I can agree with that concept. It’s interesting. But eventually Azbats became such an over-the-top extreme parody of a 90s hardcore character that it all started to feel like one giant strawman argument. I had the same problem with how the Elite worked in that famous Joe Kelly Superman story and how the 90s analogues worked in Kingdom Come. They had to exaggerate how ridiculous the 90s characters were in order to make their case for old fashioned superheroes and i felt that was a cheat. Especially when there was more than enough vaid criticisms to make about 90s heroes without having to resort to such caricature. I think it would have been way more interesting as commentary if they made their case while still keeping Azbats more in line tonally with the actual 90s hardcore characters of the era.

That said, the leadup to this issue and some time after it were great comics. For me it just unraveled when Azbats became a stark raving lunatic and Bruce Wayne came back

I didn’t like it when it was going on because Bane (like Doomsday) seemed more like a ridiculous plot device than a character, and I just wanted Batman to come back to his own comics (just like in World Without a Superman). But I never really believed that this new status quo would last, and it’s interesting looking back on it as a story in its own right. I’m still not wild about it, but I like it better now than I did then.

This is what TVTropes would call a Hope Spot, in that it seemed to indicate Jean-Paul being stable and merciful enough for the job– which was proven wrong over the next few issues, as he went increasingly off the rails.

Bane was way more interesting than Doomsday. He was built up, had a story, had a personality, had a plan, even some pathos.

Doomsday is just GRAR RAWR ARRRGAAAGHHHH! He didn’t even get a background until Hunter/Prey.

The best part about the Azbat costume is that it was a progression. He did not decide the costume right away. And this story really builds to Azbat vs Bane fight. Not to mention the epic Batman vs Azbat fight. In which they even use elements of the man who falls and make a really awesome showdown.

I remember reading “Vengeance of Bane” as a 13 year-old when it came out because I thought it was really cool to see a major new Batman villain being introduced. This was before Knightfall was anything more than wispy rumors, so I had no idea what was in store, but the guy who ran the comic store knew I was really into Batman and told me I should probably pick it up because Bane was supposed to be a pretty big deal. The creative team did a hell of a job fleshing Bane out and making him a very compelling character, and I loved it. I remember hoping we’d get to see him again soon. Little did I know…

I spent the latter half of Knightfall and the entire Knightquest storyline waiting for Bruce to come back and show JPV how it was done, but I still enjoyed the story quite a bit in the meantime. There were some damn fun comics during this era, and there was a real sense of mounting dread as JPV slipped further and further into insanity. There were some serious consequences once Bruce returned, and his relationship with Gordon, in particular, was badly damaged. We also got the awesome Robin ongoing that spun off directly from Knightquest during this time. sure, The entire Knightfall/quest/end era was largely a sales stunt, but it was far and away the best one. Most of those stunts were soulless gimmicks, but these were some real quality comics. Reading the new collections that came out in the last year and a half, I was pleased to see that they hold up very well.

I actually miss the flawed Bruce Wayne Batman of this era, and I realize that this is a minority opinion. Batman in this era made all sorts of mistakes in judgment (either of others or of himself) and it made him a more human character than what we have today. The idea leading up to Knightfall that he just wasn’t on his game at all mentally or physically (some issues before the crossover starts we see him getting handled by third stringers or worse) and then having to deal with Bane kind of made the threat believable. It also explains why he let a guy like Valley have the suit when Nightwing is a call away (and I really enjoyed the Prodigal follow-up…though did they ever explain where Bruce went during that time aside from it just being a plot device?).

I do find it odd how DC in this era liked to preach how wrong the 90’s era was for comics by doing stuff like this and Kingdom Come and then at the same time gave us the epitome of 90’s crap like Bloodlines (whose only redeeming character was Hitman).

It’s pretty important to remember this: The 90 style of costume design and story was on purpose. Bruce was never going to be replaced permanently. Their point was to highlight why Batman was a cool character. Can’t say the storyline ended up strong. The method of Bruce “cure” was a cheap way out.

The Death and World Without Superman was pitch perfect in timing and storytelling.

I enjoyed this storyline. I also liked the fact that Batman admitted he would likely not be able to beat Jean Paul Valley in combat. It made him so much more formidable. The ending, relying on compassion from Batman, instead of violence, was the icing on the cake.

“This was SHIT to the worst possible extent. I cannot fathom how anyone can possibly like this. We’re talking about an arc that is about as close as is possible to objectively bad as there has ever been in the comic medium.”

No, but this about as objectively bad as a comment can possibly be.

Awesome! Never read this story can someone please tell me how Bruce Wayne became batman again and what happen to Jean Paul(?)? I love stories like this when done right. Superior spider man seems similar and I can’t get enough of it.

@ Devin Gonzo
It’s awesome if you can find the trade. Batman takes a drug to heal his back and relearns his skills from Lady Shiva. Jean Paul starts going even more crazy as he starts beating up and killing villains. Nightwing returns to Gotham and learns why Bruce didn’t pick him (he had become his own man. Bruce Wayne, after he feels ready, puts back on the cowl to take Gotham back from Jean Paul. Jean Paul has become corrupted by the mantle (as he has this ongoing psychosis issues relating to his training as Azrael) and thus refuses to return the mantle

Bruce (now back in the classic costume) and Jean Paul have a showdown where Jean Paul is engulfed in flames, and quite literally show his true colors (becoming a red armored Batman). So now it’s a Batman vs red-armored Batman. After a temporary confrontation between Nightwing and Jean Paul (when everyone though Batman was dead), Jean Paul and Batman continue their battle at Wayne Manor.

Jean Paul chases Bruce through some caves. The passage becomes really narrow, so Jean Paul is forced to take of all his Bat armor aside from his helmet. In a reference to the man who falls, Bruce takes off a panel, making the now daylight shine on Jean Paul’s helmet. Since the helmet uses night vision, he is forced to take the helmet off, and thus reverts back to his docile persona when he’s not Azrael/Batman. Bruce and Jean Paul help each other out of the hole, going the opposite way he did in the Man who falls. Jean Paul is forgiven by Batman, who tells him to leave. They both go their separate ways.

He “died” or disappeared in Azrael #100, depending on how you read it, as he was shot and fell into river, but his body was never recovered. But DC later confirmed he died by making him appear dead in Blackest Nights as one of the zombie lanterns. He was succeeded by Michael Lane, who had his own series before it was cancelled. Michael Lane was almost written out of existence with the New 52, but an appearance in Batman Inc. made sure that he was still alive.

I didn’t read these stories when they originally came out (I was like 6 years old), but yeah, they are very awesome and a worthy pick up for a graphic novel. There are three volumes: Broken Bat, Who Rules the Night, and Knightsend, while the overarching story is called Knightfall. I think the people who dislike this story arc are people who read it initially, who hated the idea of anyone else becoming Batman. But, if you read the whole thing in one sitting, you will see why this story why no one else but Bruce can really be Batman (aside from Dick Grayson of course). I’m sure when Superior Spider-Man’s overall arc finishes up, it will be just as awesome as this one. And it will be in a gimmick or good, twenty years from now. And everyone will finally admit it was good.

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