1993’s “Batman: Knightfall” was a year-long, transformative series-spanning arc for DC Comics. It was also a completely crazy, action-packed blockbuster story that only the ’90s could spawn. Enter Bane, the venom-pumping evil genius of Bruce Wayne’s nightmares whose soul purpose in leaving Santa Prisca prison is to “break the bat.” In the first half of the “Knightfall” story, Bane unleashes a master plan to weaken Batman by pitting him against all of his deadliest foes again and again which sets up some truly memorable moments that have since become iconic pieces of the Batman comic canon. Jean-Paul Valley replaces the broken Bruce Wayne as Batman in the arc’s second half and the increasingly deranged Jean-Paul does the things the original Batman never could — and never thought he should.
The character of Bane and elements of “Knightfall” have been adapted several times in various Batman-related media over the years. Tom Hardy portrayed the ‘roided up Bane in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Currently, the Bat/Bane rivalry has been revived for DC’s Rebirth during the events of the “I Am Bane” arc, which feature plenty of visual and thematic callbacks to their original smack down. Let’s get to the breaking! Here are the 15 craziest moments from “Batman: Knightfall.”
15. BROKEN BAT
Batman #497. Bane’s waited a long time for this moment. The author of all of Batman’s pain reveals not only that he knows Bruce’s secret identity but that his only reason for escaping Santa Prisca prison…was to find the Dark Knight and break him.
Bruce steels himself one final time and dons the cowl as venom courses through Bane’s veins. They trade blows but the mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted Batman is no match for the pumped-up brute that is Bane. Bane tosses him around the Batcave like a ragdoll. With every gut-wrenching punch and every massive kick, Batman feels like he’s reliving the pain of the entire gauntlet of the last several weeks once more. Unable to go on, a disappointed Bane puts an end to his foe by lifting Batman over his head and slamming his spine against his knee — breaking the Batman’s back!
14. JEAN-PAUL VALLEY BECOMES BATMAN
After Batman’s defeat, Tim Drake and Alfred scramble to get Bruce rehabilitated while Bane consolidates control of the Gotham City underworld in Batman #498. Tim suggests they contact Dick Grayson a.k.a. Nightwing to take up the role of Gotham’s protector but Bruce declines. He chooses Jean-Paul Valley as his successor to take up the mantle of Batman — as long as Jean-Paul never confronts Bane.
First appearing in 1992’s Batman: Sword of Azrael #1, Jean-Paul Valley was genetically engineered for the original purpose of becoming the next Azrael within a splinter faction of the dangerous Sacred Order of St. Dumas. Thanks to Batman’s influence, Jean-Paul turned away from his destiny, trained as one of the Bat-Family, and crafted for himself one of the worst superhero costumes of the ’90s.
13. JEAN-PAUL BREAKS BANE
Equipped with some new gadgets and despite both Bruce and Tim’s warnings against doing so, Jean-Paul Valley arrogantly confronts Bane in Detective Comics #666 and Batman #500. Although Bane is surprised by this new Batman’s fierce fighting style and ambivalence with killing, the venom-powered villain throws Jean-Paul for a loop and manages to escape.
After yet another argument with Robin and some needed training, Jean-Paul suits up in his brand new costume and confronts Bane again, this time thoroughly thrashing the villain in a climactic brawl in the rain. Jean-Paul uses his batarangs and nifty gadgets violently and efficiently, cutting off Bane’s venom supply, which sends him running for the hills. In the end, Jean-Paul resists the urge to kill Bane instead leaving him broken, just as he left the original Batman.
12. BANE BREAKS KILLER CROC
Killer Croc a.k.a. Waylon Jones used to be a prime contender for the title of top mob boss in Gotham City but in “Knightfall,” he’s little more than a measly warm-up bout for Bane. The first time the two behemoths meet in Batman #489, Bane effortlessly breaks Croc’s arm.
In Detective Comics #660, Tim Drake a.k.a. Robin trails Bane into Gotham’s sewers and is captured. Their ensuing fisticuffs draw out Killer Croc who attacks Bane to settle the score. Croc thinks his victory is assured when he severs Bane’s connection to his venom supply. This proves useless as Bane once more proves his superiority…by breaking Killer Croc’s arm again without the help of his super-powered steroid. Robin luckily escapes during the chaos with his own arms intact. Where was Batman during all of this? Literally taking a nap.
11. BATMAN BREAKS JOKER
By Batman #496, the Caped Crusader is thoroughly and dangerously exhausted which is big deal for Batman. At this point, he’s taken on Bane’s thugs, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Ventriloquist, Amygdala, Firefly, and Victor Zsasz to name a few. To make matters worse, the nastiest of Arkham’s inmates, Scarecrow and Joker, have pretty much been running rampant around the city causing mayhem since the escape.
After suffering a blast of the Scarecrow’s fear toxin, the pain, guilt, and sadness over Jason Todd’s death consumes the Dark Knight. Batman busts through a wall, grabs the Joker, and absolutely destroys the Clown Prince of Crime in a rain of rage-filled blows while screaming Jason’s name over and over again. Unfortunately, Joker escapes in the chaos of the building’s collapse, leaving Batman all the more drained for Bane’s final move.
10. MR. SOCKO
Gotham’s escaped villains and mad patients ran far and wide after Bane and Co. brought down the walls of Arkham Asylum. Unable to “locate” his puppet master Scarface, the Ventriloquist enlists the aid of a new partner in crime, Socko, in Detective Comics #659. Who is Socko? Well, he’s a long white sock that the Ventriloquist ingeniously wears on his hand.
When fellow Arkham inmate and brute of a buddy Amygdala beats the tar out of everyone in a bar after laughing in their faces, Ventriloquist decides to recruit yet another friend with a little more finesse: a duck puppet. Batman just manages to take down Amygdala while Ventriloquist, Mr. Socko, and uh…the “Duck” argue among themselves. Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Socko and Ventriloquist’s hunt for Scarface, Batman really starts to succumb to the effects of Bane’s exhausting gauntlet.
9. POISON IVY’S ZOMBIE MEN
Now matter how many times Gotham City’s supervillains file in and out of Arkham Asylum they always seem to have a bunch of evil master plans ready to go at a moment’s notice. Poison Ivy is no different. This time, she uses a genetically engineered nightshade hybrid to bring several men of Gotham’s elite, including Lucius Fox, under her control. Bruce Wayne feigns obedience to escape the compromised fundraiser and suits up.
When Batman confronts her, Ivy unleashes her latest experiment: undead zombies she calls “Dead-Fellows!” Batman, exhausted and drained from the endless parade of baddies he’s been forced to confront, nevertheless avoids infection by the zombies and after realizing there’s no way to save the terminal “Dead-Fellows,” subdues Poison Ivy with an exasperated kick to the face.
8. TROGG’S ROBO-BOMB
After watching Batman defeat the Riddler, Bane and crew decide that it’s time to really push the Dark Knight’s limits — by staging a breakout at Arkham Asylum in Batman #491. Apparently, they didn’t know that Arkham suffers a massive breakout on a pretty regular basis.
To do so, they hatch a plan to steal some heavy duty munitions from a military armory. How do they get past the armory’s heavy defenses? Why, Bane’s lackey Trogg simply pilots a deadly bomb in the form of a remote-controlled robot straight into the armory’s walls. Why they could easily get their hands on a highly advanced, ‘roided-out R2D2 but not a couple of rocket launchers is a mystery. In hindsight, that robot bomb could have been just as effective against Arkham’s walls as the armory’s.
7. ENTER BANE
Sensing the Dark Knight’s weakness Bane decides to make his final move in Detective Comics # 663 and sends his personal crew to ambush Batman on the streets and wear his foe down to the absolute breaking point. It still isn’t enough to defeat Batman, as he cleverly disables Trogg with a blast of C.S. gas from his utility belt, out-maneuvers Zombie and his deadly knives, and angrily pummels Bird into submission. All the while, Batman tries to get answers out of the trio regarding the identity of the mysterious Bane.
Returning to Wayne Manor, Bruce (in a sporting bathrobe) is shocked to find Alfred incapacitated on the floor. It is there in that moment of fear and at Batman’s only sanctuary that Bane finally reveals himself to Bruce. Bane’s come to finally break the Bat.
6. BATMAN VS. THE ZOO
Back before Bane broke the Bat, Bruce Wayne found himself in a furious fight with the flame-loving villain Firefly in Detective Comics #662. Firefly, who is more interested in watching Gotham burn than play games with the Dark Knight, unleashes the full fury of his flamethrower on Batman. The two battle one another twice in “Knightfall,” their second bout pushing Batman’s devotion to Gotham to its very limits.
After Batman survives a direct fireball thanks to his suit’s “fifteen-layer nomex,” Bruce pursues Firefly through the zoo, fist fighting panthers on the way, and even saving his enemy from being eaten alive by hungry crocodiles. Batman’s so tired after this ordeal that he can’t even reel Firefly up the rope to question him about Bane. Time for another Bat-Nap.
5. A DEADLIER BATMAN
As Jean-Paul Valley trained to become a crime-fighter in the vein of Batman he also struggled with his own programming as Azrael, servant of the Sacred Order of St. Dumas. Throughout “Knightfall,” Jean-Paul pushes himself to be a better Batman than the original and, combined with his struggle against his “destiny,” starts to drive the young hero mad.
Azrael’s conditioning, the result of a process known as “The System,” starts to consume Jean-Paul, pushing him down a darker and increasingly more violent path as the Batman. Robin is horrified as Jean-Paul’s instability leads to a crusade against crime far more brutal than even Bruce could have dreamed. Plagued by visions of Saint Dumas, Jean-Paul lets the serial killer Abattoir horrifically burn to death in Batman #508. Bruce now realizes he may have made a mistake in choosing Jean-Paul as his successor. You think?!
4. BATMAN’S SPINE IS HEALED HOW?!
Although a lot of people gave Christopher Nolan flack for how easily Bruce Wayne seemed to heal his broken back in The Dark Knight Rises, the way he recovers in the comics is actually much crazier and more unbelievable.
In Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #61, Shondra Kinsolving reveals that she knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman and has been suffering from psychic flashbacks of her traumatic childhood after her brother, Benedict Asp, forced Shondra to use her powerful mental abilities to kill. In the ensuing struggle, Shondra is able to use her mind to fully heal Bruce’s spine and kill her brother. As a result, her mind fully regresses back to that of her childhood self. Bruce also decides that this would be a good time to let Shondra know he was going to propose to her.
3. BAT-FAMILY VS. JEAN-PAUL
Ready to take back the Bat-Mantle, Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham city and, along with Nightwing, Catwoman and Robin, battles Jean-Paul Valley in the skies above the city. In Batman: Shadow of the Bat #30, both Batmen go blow for blow while swinging from a bat rope attached to a helicopter that’s quickly plummeting to its doom. “Weakness is for losers!” Jean-Paul declares as the chopper explodes on the Gotham Narrows Bridge.
That’s not the only thing to explode as Jean-Paul seems to also erupt into flame and disappear into the water during the fight. Later, a booby trap bomb even explodes the batmobile which seemingly kills Bruce to the ponytailed Nightwing’s despair. But Bruce appears alive and well at the Batcave, ready to finish things with Jean-Paul once and for all.
2. BRUCE WAYNE KILLS?!
While Jean-Paul’s increasingly violent and unstable version of Batman takes back Gotham, Bruce finds himself seeking the training of one of the most power martial arts masters in the DC Universe: Lady Shiva. After weeks of intense sparring Bruce finally begins to return to fighting form but Shiva chastises Bruce for his unwillingness to kill, calling him unworthy.
So, she devises a strategy to make him use the lethal, one-hit kill technique called the “Leopard Blow.” Shiva sends wave after wave of assassins against Bruce to push him closer and closer into using the killer technique from sheer desperation. Bruce realizes that the only way to pass Shiva’s “test” is to use the Leopard Blow to kill…or at least fake it well enough to satisfy Shiva. In the end, Bruce does not break his oath and survives Shiva’s relentless training regimen. Although he had Shiva, Robin, and Nightwing going there.
1. BATMAN RISES
The final battle of the Batmen occurs in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #63. Bruce confronts Jean-Paul at Wayne Manor and the latter once again accuses his one-time mentor of being too weak and cowardly to continue being Batman, breaking a portrait of Thomas Wayne over his knee. That moment fully convinces Bruce that Jean-Paul is the one not fit to wear the cowl. No duh, Bruce.
Bruce sneaks into the Batcave and tricks Jean-Paul into following him into a narrow tunnel, forcing Jean-Paul to remove his entire costume except his helmet. At the right moment, Bruce tears away a baffle and floods the tunnel — and Jean-Paul’s night vision lenses with intense sunlight. As Jean-Paul recovers his senses he sees that only the true Batman stands before him. Bruce forgives Jean-Paul and hopes that his former student will find the right path again someday.
Let us know in the comments what part of the “Knightfall” storyline you thought was craziest!