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Bane has broken the Batman. His life hangs in the balance as Alfred and Robin battle to save him from death or (worse) paralysis. With its Dark Knight gone, Gotham descends into chaos as criminal gangs, controlled by Bane, rule the streets. The Dark Knight needs to rise and Batman's chosen successor Jean-Paul Valley (formerly the avenging angel Azrael) takes on the Mantle of the Bat. But there's a problem: Jean Paul Valley is no Bruce Wayne.
If that plot summary tells you one thing and one thing only, it's that Who Rules the Night is not a standalone tale. If you don't have a clue what I'm talking about, then you need to go back and read a few previous Batman adventures before you try and tackle this one. At the very least you need to read Knightfall Part One (which charts Bruce Wayne's doomed battle with Bane). In reality, you need to go back even further and read Sword of Azrael and some of the other tales which preceded the Knightfall saga.
Who Rules gets off to a slightly shaky start, due to a curious narrative structure. Having seen Bruce Wayne beaten and crippled at the end of the previous book, you are anxious to find out whether he is still alive and what will happen now Bane rules Gotham. Instead of giving you this, the story actually moves backwards in time, with Tim Drake (Robin) having a flashback to one of Wayne's final battles with Two-Face which occurred prior to his showdown with Bane. Presumably this is done to close off a thread that had been left dangling and also to build a sense of dramatic tension by making you wait to find out the answer to the questions regarding Wayne's fate.
Unfortunately, it actually has the opposite effect and dilutes the emotional impact. The Two Face story feels out of place. Bu rights, it should be in the earlier volume and it feels like the only reason it isn't is due to scheduling issues during the original comic publication run. The fact is it stops Who Rules from hitting the ground running.
After the high drama and emotion at the end of Broken Bat, this second part can initially feel like something of an anti-climax. The pace seems to be a lot less frantic. It's not full of the one-on-one battles with the crazy foes that were the hallmark of part one. In some ways, however, that is a good thing. Although Part One featured some excellent writing, it did sometimes boil down to a series of endless battles between Batman and the bad guys. Who Rules changes the dynamic and shows the new Batman having to battle enemies whilst also fighting with his own fractured nature.
Lessening the focus on battling bad guys leaves more room for some strong characterisation. It's interesting to witness the conflicting sides of Jean Paul Valley as he struggles to uphold the image of the Batman (a vigilante with a sense of conscience and social justice) whilst all the time wanting to give in to his training as Azrael (whose sole purpose is to punish wrong-doing and act as judge, jury and executioner). This underlines how important Bruce Wayne's humanity is to the psychological makeup of the (real) Batman and how dark the Batman always could have been without the humanity.
It's also interesting to witness the reactions of other characters to this new, more violent Bat. Commissioner Gordon is somewhat suspicious and disapproves of the new tactics, whilst Sergeant Harvey Bullock thinks it's about time the Batman started to use the same dirty tactics that the criminals use. This also allows the writers the opportunity to develop some of the support characters and examine their attitude to a masked vigilante they have grown familiar and comfortable with over the years.
The gradual breakdown in Jean-Paul Valley's relationship with Tim Drake's Robin adds an extra dimension. He desperately wants to give Jean-Paul a chance since to deny him would be to question Bruce Wayne's judgement; yet at the same time he can't approve of the increased levels of violence and the fact that Valley apparently revels in this. The wedge that grows between Batman and Robin is an interesting development and adds a new dynamic to their relationship.
This slower pace actually has another major advantage. When the violence does come, it is all the more shocking. In part one, the sight of Bruce Wayne's Batman beating up bad guys became almost routine; the only thing that changed from story to story was which bad guy was on the receiving end. Here it is used more sparingly, but when it happens it is far more brutal and violent.
Some of the artwork in Who Rules is simply breathtaking - far more so than in Part One. Once again, the artwork is variable in terms of style (several different artists were responsible for inking different episodes), but it still manages to retain a sense of a coherent story. Whilst (in common with part one) the artwork is not as realistic as we have come to expect from modern comics, it is still very effective.
It's clear that the artists are revelling in the opportunity to portray a new, more violent Batman and they really go to town on providing some seriously dramatic artwork to show this off. There are some massive panels of Batman pouncing on his victims, some superb depictions of comic book violence, where villains are left battered and bruised. The artwork is hugely effective at getting across the same message as the story: this is not a Batman to be messed around with. This Batman is REALLY scary. This Batman is a monster.
The one disappointing aspect is the way the Bruce Wayne sub-plot is handled. Just like in the film The Dark Knight Rises, Wayne's recovery to something approaching normal (albeit confined to a wheelchair) is unrealistically fast. One minute he's at death's door, probably crippled for life, the next minute he's out of danger. He's then almost completely forgotten about for most of the rest of the tale, barring a few minor appearances. In fairness, this is to allow the new darker Batman to take centre stage, but it still feels slightly unsatisfactory.
Whilst it might lack the in-your-face action of Knightfall Part One, this second part is a worthy follow up and an excellent story in its own right. The chance to see a new, more violent Batman - the creature Bruce Wayne would have been without the humanity - gives an interesting insight into the Batman myth and simply confirms what many have known all along. There is only one true Batman and Bruce Wayne's humanity is as crucial to the character as fighting or detective skills.
A new copy of this can be picked up for around £8, which is a bargain. This is definitely a novel that you will want to read again and again.
Knightfall Part 2: Who Rules the Night
Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant et al
DC Comics, 1993
© Copyright SWSt 2013
The second chapter in this big, big Batman story sees Bruce Wayne broken not just physically but mentally as well. Following his defeat at the hands of Bane, he has lost not just the will but also the strength to fight and now hands over his mantle to a fellow vigilante.
And for Gotham this could never come at a worse time. For the new Batman wastes no time living up to his previous exaggerated reputation as a vicious vigilante with no respect for the innocent in his pursuit of vengeance not justice.....remember all those times when Batman was bad-mouthed and falsely labelled a menance? Well, be careful what you wish for people because the new Bat quickly sets out to prove them right, much to the dismay of Robin and fellow former Robin, Nightwing.....
And of course, it is only a matter of time before Bane sets out for a re-match......after all, he beat him once, he can beat him again right?
This is another great Batman story that plays an important part in the Batman canon. It is a story that has much influence on future events in Gotham city and sees the original Batman's decisions put into question by those he has worked with over the years. It is well drawn, well written and also features another great, legendary apearance by Scarecrow who has long been one of my favourite Batman villains (remember his show-down with Judge Death in Judgement On Gotham anyone?); more so than even The Joker who I believe is often over-used! To see him again so soon then is definitely a bonus!
If you have read the first volume then of course you are going to need to read this! It is complulsive reading and has ramifications for the future of the Batman comic series that will continue to reverbate for years to come!
One thing is certain, Gotham is unlikely to ever be the same again.........
Batman Knightfall (Part Two: Who Rules the Night) is a 296 page graphic novel by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon and Alan Grant and continues the epic storyline that dominated the weekly Batman comics in late 1992 and early 1993. This is another bumper collection and gives you Batman #485-500, Detective Comics #664-666, Showcase #'93, and Batman: Shadow of the Bat #16-18. You must of course on no account read this without buying and reading part one first as this is a trilogy in the graphic novel format. Who Rules the Night begins with Batman having been defeated by the mysterious man mountain masked master criminal Bane. Not only that but the Venom drug enhanced Bane also knows the identity of Batman. When Batman was completely exhausted and at the end of his physical and mental rope after trying to capture all the criminals Bane had deliberately released from Arkham Asylum, Bane confronted him at Wayne Manor and they had their final showdown. A stunned Batman (obviously he was rather shaken by the fact that someone had discovered his secret identity!) was far too weak to defend himself by now against such a formidable and gigantic foe and took a sustained and merciless beating from Bane - who then held him aloft and threw him off a roof in the centre of Gotham to announce to the public that he ruled the streets now and Batman was no more. "Here is your hero and protector. Take him and bury him!" Lying comatose on the street with his ripped costume daubed in blood, Batman is ingeniously whisked away back to the Batcave by Alfred and Tim Drake/Robin pretending to be ambulance men. Despite Robin's protestations that Wayne must be given hospital treatment, Alfred insists they must take him home and preserve his secrets. "The only life that's important to him is his life as Batman. Take him out of a hospital and you'll expose Batman to be Bruce Wayne. You'll save his body certainly. But you will have killed the man..."
They learn that Bruce Wayne suffered a broken back at the hands of Bane. He is now confined to a wheelchair as he tries to recover from the terrible ordeal he has been through. His days as Batman seem to be over but Gotham is now worse than ever with Bane in complete control. Bruce Wayne decides that the forces of justice must not go quietly into the night. The city needs a symbol to show there is still hope. Someone must take on the mantle of Batman and stand in for Wayne so that Gotham doesn't think the hero has gone. The man chosen is Jean-Paul Valley aka "Azrael", a graduate student at Gotham University who has been unconsciously trained since birth as an assassin for an ancient religious order. Batman and Robin have been training Valley and trying to control his dark side (his psychological conditioning makes him struggle to contain a split personality and rage) and feel he is the best available person for the task. Valley gleefully accepts the role of Batman and is soon out on the streets at night with Robin fighting crime and trying to restore order. But Jean-Paul Valley is far more brutal in his methods than Bruce Wayne's Batman and grows increasing arrogant, unstable and difficult to control, alienating Robin and refusing to listen to any instructions or advice. "I am the Batman now. I'll do things my own way." Valley is ordered not to confront Bane but that confrontation quickly becomes his main priority. With a brooding and helpless Bruce Wayne trapped at Wayne Manor, Bane and the new Batman are soon on an unavoidable collision course.
This is a worthy continuation of the Knightfall story with one or two reservations. The first is that Bane is absent from the story too much and the other is that the art is briefly very rudimentary (in contrast to the rest of the book) when we get a two issue flashback where we see Batman having to tangle with Two-Face. This Two-Face flashback is rather annoying in a way as it takes us away from the actual story. It's an interesting flashback but with the ho-hum art nothing special and you can't help feeling that perhaps they should have found room for it in the first part of Knightfall or not at all. You want to stick with the injured Bruce Wayne and the Gotham under the grip of Bane rather than a two issue flashback. It's a bit unfortunate too that this old double issue has many panels where Batman must undertake an underwater rescue. We've already seen underwater capers not once but twice in the first part of Knightfall so you do unavoidably feel a sense of deja vu. Those quibbles aside though this is another good read for Batman fans and you will be eager to get the concluding chapter if you read these first two. There are many nice touches here that often make the story compelling. Bruce Wayne feeling sorry for himself at the start and unusually defeatist (and even doolally). Alfred tells Tim Drake that it's the first time Batman has ever gone up against someone and lost and that reality is hard for him to live with. Alfred's method of whisking the terribly injured Batman away from the police, public and medical staff at the start is clever and I like Jim Gordon realising that this might not be the same Batman when the Caped Crusader is still there about five minutes into their conversation. He is used to turning around and finding him gone before he has finished his last sentence!
The super villain carnage of the first collection gives way here to Bruce Wayne recovering at home (where intrigue and danger still finds him) and then Robin and the new Batman attempting to restore some order to the now more dangerous than ever Gotham. Robin is soon sidelined though and realises that Jean-Paul Valley will do things his way and doesn't paticulary care for a sidekick. Robin is a character that works much better in the comic than he ever would in a film. Tim Drake is given some nice moments and lines here and plays a big part in the climactic showdown. There is also an appearance by Dick Grayson (the original Robin). Grayson is now a costumed hero named Nightwing but seeks out Tim Drake to find out how Bruce Wayne is and ask why he was not chosen to fill in as Batman. There are some good action panels of Robin and Jean-Paul Valley tackling assorted gangs and criminals and the showdowns between Bane and the new Batman don't disappoint (love the bit where the new Batman is thrown of a rooftop and somersaults into a water fountain). Valley goes slightly bonkers and becomes obsessed with beating Bane. He turns the Batsuit into a more high tech affair and gives himself metal claws that draw blood when he strikes the hulking crime boss. It gives the comic a tougher and more brutal feel than your average DC weekly. While the roster of villains from the first part are mostly gone there is a major role for The Scarecrow here - attempting to induce fear in the entire population of Gotham through his nefarious fear gas. "People of Gotham. This is The Scarecrow! Already my omnipotent power moves among you... spreading fear, panic, death and destruction!" There is a really good origin of Jonathan Crane here too and he remains one of the creepiest of all the Batman villains.
Once again there are plenty of surreal panels when his fear gas is deployed and people must experience their worst nightmares. You also get appearances by Anarky (DC character largely inspired by V from V for Vendetta) and Catwoman. Batman Knightfall (Part Two: Who Rules the Night) is once again good fun for Batman fans and should be more than enough to make you seek out the concluding part. At the time of writing you can buy this for around £9.