I have been continuing my assignment to read Batman comic books from the nineties and they seem to continually get better.
We left off last time with the climax of Knightfall. Bane has broken the Batman, putting him into a situation where he is forced to hand over the mantle of the bat. Just like any great soap opera he has two options: he can give the mantel to his adopted son, Dick Grayson, the original Boy Wonder (which would seem like the best choice to everybody), or a man named Jean Paul Vally whom he doesn't really know much about. The reason that there is any choice at all here is because Dick had left him some years prior and to become his own man and assume the identity of Nightwing, so to choose him he would be "crawling back" in a way.
Knowing that Batman has the word "man" in his name, you know that he will not be crawling anywhere.
So the next few issues, Jean Paul Vally is getting into the habit of acting as the Batman. He puts on the mantle and fights some crime. Seeing the mantle in new hands is a truly refreshing experience for a reader because it makes you remember what the mantle is and what it does. It reminds you why Bruce chose the mantle of the bat in the first place.
Even with a new person behind the mask the mantle still instills fear in criminals. Bruce has done his job in creating the symbol and now that we see how powerful the mantle is, Jean Paul also figures this out. Then he starts making decisions like a child with a handgun.
One of the reasons this story arc is so good is because it illustrates the contrast between Bruce, and someone pretending to be the Batman. What happens when you put anyone but Bruce in the suit? How about someone who's mentally unstable and has a lot to learn? Sam Raimi tried the same thing with Venom in Spider-Man 3, although it didn't work out very well because his script sucked, but that's another story.
The next thing you know Jean Paul faces off with one of the Arkham inmates that did not get recaptured during Banes reign of terror: the Scarecrow. During their showdown, Jean Paul Vally gets sprayed with Scarecrow's fear gas and becomes schizophrenic and completely twisted, but now has an advantage of mind over matter. He starts shutting down criminals like crazy, but in the wrong ways. He gets to Bane, and takes him down, causing him to beleive that he's better than the original Batman. This thrusts him even deeper into insanity.
During this time Bruce has been going through a slow recovery and training with Shiva (The worlds finest martial artist). He gets back most of his ability and confronts Jean Paul. He wins, not by overpowering him, but by outsmarting him and showing him the light of day (literally) exposing to us another reason that Batman is better then every other comic book hero ever.
Now that Bruce has taken the mantle away from a man who really had no right to it in the first place, he hands it Dick Grayson for a time so he can finish his recovery process. This arc, called Prodigal, is good, but the best thing in it is the last page. On the last page, Bruce returns for the mantle and has a new suit. There is also a new artist on the series at this point, Kelly Jones, who really kicks ass.
The new suit is completely black, has really long ears and an extremely massive cape. Batman uses fear like I have never seen before, because he also scares me, a robot doctor with programmed emotions. He is hunched over most the time now, and fights like a grappler. It reminds me of the scene in Batman Begins where he jumps a thug before he gets on the subway train. In either case, he is now hunched over or wrapped in his cape, there is only one page in the entire first comic book with this suit where he even uncovers the bat symbol on his chest.
In this revisiting, I've read about thirty issues from that point and they are the darkest Batman books I have ever read. There is so much that happens issue to issue that to maintain any sort of brevity in this blog that I am forced to tell you nothing. Except maybe that Batman fights Swamp thing in this series and it is Bat-icle!!!!
Well if I were you, and I am you, I would buy every issue of Batman from the nineties and then read them.
Next Time: Dr. Cyborg reminds you why he's better than you are.