DC FLASHBACK: Batman III

Thu, December 11th, 2008 at 6:08pm PST | Updated: December 11th, 2008 at 11:38pm

Comic Books
Brian K. Eason, Guest Contributor

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"Batman: Year One"

In the first installment of DC FLASHBACK: Batman, CBR looked at the early days of the Batman’s creation and the artists who shaped him. In the second part, we examined the impact of Batman on comic books and culture, the wounds the character suffered during Dr. Fredric Wertham’s attack on the comic book industry in the 1950s, and the character’s tremendous resurgence in the 1980s. CBR concludes our three-part series with an overview of the Batman’s major DC Comics storylines.

Following the success of "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” in 1986, pioneering Batman writer of the 1970s Denny O'Neil came back to the Batman, this time as editor of the Batman family of titles. O'Neil, marking the impact of Miller's book and the company-wide changes wrought by "Crisis on Infinite Earths," decided to take Batman in a new direction and a change of tone. He hired Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli to do for Batman's origin what Miller had previously done with Batman's twilight. The result was "Batman: Year One," which ran in "Batman" #404-407 (February-May 1987), which played up the impact of the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents on the Batman’s origin.

"Batman: Year One" was just the beginning. Alan Moore and Brian Bolland followed with the groundbreaking one-shot, "Batman: The Killing Joke" (March 1988.) A battle of wits between the Batman and The Joker, “Killing Joke” depicted the Clown Prince of Crime escaping from Arkham Asylum and setting forth to drive Commissioner James Gordon insane, to prove that anyone can go crazy if they had just "one bad day." To drive the point home, we are given glimpses into one of Joker's possible origins as we see a "one bad day" that may have created the villain. During his attempt to drive Gordon mad, The Joker shot and crippled Barbara Gordon (Batgirl II) and tortured viciously Gordon himself. After years in a limbo of silliness, Batman's arch-nemesis had returned and was more psychotic than ever before.

"Batman: The Killing Joke"

In Batman #426-429 (December 1988-January 1989), in a storyline called "Batman: A Death in the Family," the darker tone reached its peak. Dick Grayson, feeling he had outgrown the role of Robin, had abandoned the Robin persona and assumed a new identity as Nightwing. His replacement, Jason Todd, was not a well-liked character and Denny O'Neil decided to let the fans decide whether he should remain the Dark Knight's sidekick. At the end of "Batman" #427 (December 1988), Jason Todd was savagely beaten by The Joker with a crowbar and left to die in an explosion. Inside the back cover of the issue were two 1-900 numbers. Calling one would serve as a vote to spare the life of the new Robin, the second would doom him. 10,614 votes were received. A margin of 28 votes sealed Jason's fate, and in "Batman" #428 (January 1989), Robin died. Denny O'Neil later stated that the vote notwithstanding, there was an overwhelming negative response to the death from letter writers and in the media. Despite criticism, the entire series sold to the tune of nearly 200,000 copies.

1989 saw the release of the "Batman" feature film. Combined with the chain of successes in print, the movie continued to drive Batman's popularity. Merchandising was at an all-time high for the Batman, franchise and as a companion to the film release, DC released "Legends of the Dark Knight," the first new solo title for Batman since "Batman" #1 debuted in 1940. "Legends of the Dark Knight" #1 sold nearly one million copies.

The darker storylines continued without stop into the 1990s. In late 1992 and early 1993, two new characters were introduced to the Batman titles. The first was a young hero named Jean-Paul Valley, who first appeared as Azrael in "Batman: The Sword of Azrael" (October 1992-January 1993) by Dennis O'Neil and Joe Quesada & Kevin Nowlan. Azrael was the latest in a line of “avenging angels” for a secret order, and rejected his ancestors by becoming the Batman’s student. The second character was a new villain, Bane, who made his debut in "Batman: Vengeance of Bane" (January 1993) by Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan. Bane was born in a prison in Santa Prisca, a fictional South American island nation, and forced to serve time for his father’s crimes. The boy grew up decidedly hard, and was inspired to escape when he heard tales of the unbeatable Batman from Gotham City. Bane began a campaign to consolidate crime in Gotham under his control. What followed was a the epic storyline, "Knightfall."

Batman suffered greatly in the 1990s storyline "Knightfall"

Bane released every single inmate from Arkham, exhausting the Batman and leaving him a mental and physical wreck. In "Batman" #497 (July 1993), Bane, having discovered Batman's identity as Bruce Wayne, assaulted Wayne Manor and broke the Dark Knight's spine. With the Batman out of the way, Bane took over Gotham. To help keep the city safe while he recovered from his injuries, Wayne passed the mantle of the Bat to Azrael.

Jean-Paul Valley had undergone mental programming to become Azrael, and tasked with protecting the crime-infested Gotham, began to his violent insticts. Azrael – or AzBats, as he was known to fans -- alienated Batman's allies and began to become more and more ruthless. "Batman" #500 (October 1993) saw Valley don a suit of powered Bat-Armor, discarding the traditional costume altogether. The new Batman faced and finally defeated Bane. Despite expressing a desire to be a better Batman, Valley continued his descent into amorality and finally allowed, by inaction, a villain to actually die. Now healed, Bruce Wayne finally faced Jean-Paul in a final confrontation in the Batcave that ended without a single punch having been thrown by Wayne, the true Batman.

In 1992, Tim Burton returned to Batman with the less successful "Batman Returns." Two other films, "Batman Forever" (1995) and "Batman & Robin" (1997) were to follow. None of these three films garnered the success of the original movie, and the franchise withered on the vine. 1992 also saw the premiere of "Batman: The Animated Series." The cartoon, which featured Kevin Conroy as the voice of the Batman, won two Emmy awards and ran successfully on the FOX network for three years. The series was followed up by "The New Batman Adventures" in 1997, which ran for two years. The various animated series were hits with fans and audiences, and characters like Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya, who first appeared on the show, were brought into DC Comics continuity. "Batman: The Animated Series" produced one feature film, "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm" in 1993. The series also spawned "Batman Beyond," "Superman: The Animated Series," "Justice League," and "Justice League Unlimited.”

Batman defended Gotham from anarchy in "No Man's Land"

In 1998, a new massive story arc was begun with "Cataclysm" and followed up by 1999's "No Man's Land,” a yearlong storyline that ran through all the Batman titles. In the story, a terrible earthquake struck Gotham, essentially destroying the city. The U.S. Government severed the bridges going to the city to prevent the spread of plague, leaving the city a no man’s land. Gotham became a warzone, with Batman and the forces of good against the criminals of the city, who set up territories like fiefdoms.

The villainous Lex Luthor eventually rebuilt Gotham, but then framed Bruce Wayne for murder in the "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?" and "Bruce Wayne: Fugitive" storylines. At the story’s conclusion, Denny O'Neil ended his 12-year career as Batman Group Editor.

"Batman: Hush" was a 12-issue storyline that ran in "Batman" #608-619 (December 2002 - November 2003). The series introduced Hush, a new villain that had once been Bruce Wayne's childhood friend. Created by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, “Hush” featured appearances by every major supporting character and villain in the Batman universe; and it also set up Jason Todd's return from the dead. The first issue of the “Hush” storyline, "Batman" #608, was the first Batman comic to hit #1 on the Diamond Comic Distributors sales chart since Batman #500 (October 1993). This was due in no small part to the fact that it was the first regular series drawn by Jim Lee in almost 10 years.

In 2004, a new cartoon series, "The Batman," appeared, with Rino Romano voicing the title character. The series ran for five years and portrayed the Batman as a younger hero and updated the look and feel of many of the Dark Knight’s foes to match this image. "The Batman" was replaced by another program in 2008, "Batman: The Brave and the Bold," which embraced some of the light-heartedness gaudiness of the ‘50s and ‘60s era. This time, the Dark Knight was voiced by Diedrich Bader.

Batman achieved his pop culture zenith with 2008's "The Dark Knight"

2005 saw Batman return to the big screen with "Batman Begins." The film was directed by critically acclaimed director Christopher Nolan and featured a star-studded cast including Christian Bale as Batman, Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon, and Liam Neeson as Ra's al Ghul. The film was a huge success at the box office and with fans and critics. Nolan followed up his success with the "The Dark Knight" in 2008. If "Batman Begins" was a hit, then "The Dark Knight" was a smash. The film featured Heath Ledger as The Joker and grossed $530,536,000 in domestic sales, making it the second most money-making film in U.S. history.

Hugely popular comics writer Grant Morrison began his run on the Dark Knight with "Batman" #655 (September 2006). During his tenure, Morrison reintroduced Damien Wayne, the son of the Batman and Ra's al Ghul's daughter, Talia. The child’s existence had been removed from continuity during Denny O’Neil’s reign over the Batman titles. During Morrison's period as writer, he has marched forward with a single goal: to end Bruce Wayne's time as the Batman.

In "Batman R.I.P." (May – November 2008), Morrison and artist Tony Daniel depicted events that destroyed the Batman, mentally, so much so that he found solace in an alternate persona, the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, a reference not seen since a February, 1958 story that appeared in "Batman" #113. In that tale, an alien called the Batman of the planet Zur-En-Arrh teleported Bruce Wayne to his world, where Wayne had the powers of Superman. The pair battled a robot army and the planet Zur-En-Arrh was saved. In Morrison’s “R.I.P.,” the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh was a defense mechanism to allow Bruce Wayne to survive and overcome a worst case scenario. In his new persona, Bruce battled the Black Glove, a group of villains that succeeded in driving him insane. Naturally, Batman recovered his identity and defeated the villains but in a final confrontation with the Glove's leader, Dr. Hurt, a helicopter crashed with both men onboard.

The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh welcomes "Dark Knight" viewers to comic books

In the aftermath of "Batman: R.I.P.," the titles "Batman" and "Detective Comics" will serialize a two-part story by eminent comics writer Neil Gaiman series called "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" Sister titles "Birds of Prey," "Nightwing" and "Robin" have been slated for cancellation, and a three-issue series named "Battle for the Cowl" is forthcoming, written and penciled by “R.I.P.” illustrator Tony Daniel.

Speculation abounds regarding the future of the Batman. As a new version of the Kandorian Nightwing has appeared in the pages of the "Superman" series, it appears that Dick Grayson will no longer be using that identity. The preview cover for "Outsiders" #15 shows a new character that many have dubbed Owlman, but his identity is also a mystery. Finally, DC Comics Executive Editor Dan DiDio has been seen this convention season handing out pins brandishing the slogan, "I am Batman." The pins featured the likenesses of Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, Jason Todd and Hush.

Like many of the cases he solved, the future of Batman is a mystery. It is obvious that 2009 will be a big year for the Batman family of titles and for bat-fans. In the light of the mystery presented, we can only do what the Dark Knight Detective would do in our place--watch for clues and wait to see what happens next.

TAGS:  batman, batman r.i.p., dc flashback

 
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