And then, one dark day, The Batman found a foe that even his legendary ninja/genius/millionaire/detective skills couldn’t overcome… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Batman #497 awaits!
Writer: Doug Moench
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Dick Giordano
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Editor: Denny O’Neil
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $1.25
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $8.00
Previously in Batman: After months of plotting and planning, the master criminal known as Bane freed every single inmate in Arkham Asylum, flooding Batman’s home turf with murderers, psychos and killer clowns of every stripe. Though he had handled the likes of The Joker and The Mad Hatter before, facing all of them along with Mr. Zsasz, The Cavalier, The Firefly, The Ventriloquist, The Riddler and scores more strains the Batman to his breaking point. The tensions even strained his partnership with Tim Drake, the incumbent Robin, who stopped working with the Bat out of frustration. Each successive encounter left Batman that much more weakened, and just when he found himself at his lowest point, exhausted physically and emotionally, the terrible truth was revealed:
BANE KNOWS THAT BATMAN IS BRUCE WAYNE.
Okay, sidebar here: There are a lot of different comic book positions and opinions that it is nearly impossible to not take a side one, and this issue posits one of the biggest. Is Bruce Wayne the reality or is it Batman? Bane believes the latter (and, judging by the way the comics were being written in 1993, DC editorial concurs) and proceeds to explain why at great length. I disagree. Batman exists because a traumatized ten year old boy was covered in the blood of his parents in Crime Alley those many years ago, and Batman is a persona he created to deal with and process that trauma. Thus, Batman is a mask for Bruce, in my mind. And, to his credit, Doug Moench keeps the balance better than some of his peers, with Bruce calmly assessing the situation, trying to find a weakness or opening in his implacable foe…
The horrified Batman listens as Bane explains that he’s willing to kill for any reason: To silence dissent, to punish those who offend him, to get a shorter line at the Arkham-adjacent cupcakery that has the excellent bacon-kimchi cupcakes. Pulling on his mask, he leaps into action, only to discover that, this time, The Dark Knight is not up to the task. Bane has successfully denied him rest, resources and allies long enough that there’s just nothing left to give…
Jim Aparo is an incredible artist and his pencil work is the definitive Batman for me, thanks to years of ‘The Brave And The Bold’, but for some reason something about this issue’s art feels off. Could it be a mismatch with Giordano’s inks? I’m not sure, and wonder if it might be the production values of the decade. Either way, as Bane reenacts a mid-90s nWo Hollywood Hogan squash match, he not only dismantles Batman but his home as well, trashing the manor and the Batcave while Alfred flees to find help. Bane’s beat-down is designed to cause additional emotional harm and stress, culminating in smashing his headlong into the memorial to his greatest failure (circa 1993, anyway.)
“You’ve got no spine,” roars Bane as his clearly already-beaten foe once again tries to mount a defense. Since this is not meant to be just a beating but a psychological lesson, Bane refuses to kill his foe (which is one of the few times in the 1990s that the justification for non-fatal moments actually rings true, making Batman #497 stronger than some of its contemporary peers), instead vowing to make him suffer and see his city fall as well, by breaking him…
It’s not a figure of speech, either, as Bane literally snaps Batman’s spine across his knee like my scoutmaster used to break firewood.
And then, he just… leaves him. In some ways, having Aparo’s art on this issue works as a transition for fans my age, making it feel like this Batman is the same as the one we grew up with. And now he’s dead. Or at least, he might be, since ‘Knightfall’ continues for a couple more issues before a new Batman picks up the cowl. Batman #497 is more successful as a single issue than one might expect from a middle chapter of a massive 90s game-changer crossover, with Moench walking a thin line in (mostly) avoiding purple prose with art that occasionally wobbles but never entirely falls, earning 3 out of 5 stars overall.
That cover, however, is pretty much inexplicable…