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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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