Friday, August 1, 2014
Film vs. Print - Knightfall vs. The Dark Knight Rises
Time for another installment of Film vs. Print, where I compare a superhero movie to the comic book story that inspired it. In film corner we have The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final of the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman films. And in the print corner we have Knightfall, the long (and I do mean long, it ran for over a year) comic story arc that spread across every Bat-related series in the DC Comics Universe. Both revolve around the Dark Knight getting caught off guard and taken out of commission by a new villain, Bane but the events that both precede and follow that pivotal moment are worlds apart. Knightfall is one of many Batman stories that have taken on a special place in the memories of Bat-fans, and TDKR has done the same for moviegoers who are still quoting some of Bane's great lines years later (although there is a sizeable contingent of Comic Book fans who don't care the movie or it's version of Bane). The two versions of the character are quite different, from their appearance to their motives. The comic version of Bane is the sole leader of a group of criminals, addicted to Venom (a Captain America-esque serum that makes one super strong) and headed to Gotham to knock of Batman and take over it's criminal world. The film version heads to Gotham to finish the work of destroying it to save it that was started by Ra's al Ghul in Batman Begins. He has his army of goons but he's also in cahoots with Talia al Ghul, Ra's daughter, and some of Gotham's one percenters (who don't know anything about that whole destroy Gotham business). There's also no Venom to pump him up; here he's a big, strong guy who was trained by the same League of Shadows as Bruce Wayne. For some people these changes are a bridge too far, but I got no issue with them.
I think the Bane of the movie and the story he fits into work a lot better than the comic version. Knightfall came right after the Death of Superman arc, and served as the same kind of shock to the system that 'killing' Superman did. Bane, like Doomsday, was a walking plot device to put the iconic hero in a place not seen before; whereas with Superman it was the grave for Batman it was physically broken and out of commission, seemingly for good. There isn't really any reason for him to go to Gotham beyond taking down Batman. In the movie he's connected with the same people who trained Bruce Wayne so him going to Gotham is for a reason other than wanting to knock off a superhero. Batman is incidental to the plan; if he shows up to stop him, Bane feels he's ready and able to deal with him because of their similar training and his superior physical condition. If not, no big deal. The absence of Venom also helps in my opinion. A man who is relying on a supply of super steroids to take down Batman probably shouldn't show up in town to initiate any confrontations, because if by some chance the World's Greatest Detective figures out your dependence while you're out trying to bait him you're toast. And by co-opting some of Gotham's elite and one of it's most desperate citizens (Selina Kyle) the movie version of Bane has a much more logical apparatus in place to catch Batman off guard the first time they meet. And then there's the matter of the comic version setting up Bruce for a fall by letting all the inmates out of Arkham Asylum so he has to wear himself out catching them all. Super steroids + needing to wear Batman down over several weeks suggests cowardice, whereas the movie version exuded confidence. He had his mission, and if Batman showed up to try and stop him it was only a bump on the road.
The way Bane was dealt with after Batman's recovery also favors the film version. Once a villain like Bane is confronted a second time and soundly defeated, there really isn't much use for him. In the comics he went on the become a juiced up mercenary for other bad guys, a long fall for someone who was built up like he was. In the movie, he got killed. Makes a lot more sense. Bane isn't a scheming, mind game playing, sociopath like so many other Batman villains. His entire appeal was his ability to physically crush the Dark Knight, and once that was taken away he had nothing. It's no coincidence that in New 52 DC, Batman came back to Gotham after the events of Forever Evil and just kicked Bane's ass straight up after he'd taken over. He cuts an imposing image but beyond that, there just isn't much there. The movie version had far more character, but even he wasn't much use after getting his ass kicked when Bruce returned. Just what kind of revenge was he going to seek in a later film if there'd been one? Bane isn't the only place where Knightfall doesn't age well. Bruce's big plan to keep Gotham safe while he tried to recover was to have someone fill in for him as Batman. That's fine, but instead of picking the obvious candidate, Dick Grayson, he goes with Jean Paul Valley. Valley was a man from a long bloodline of trained vengeance killers, brainwashed into believing in his mission but trying to break free. Bruce was trying to help him, so he figured that asking him to be Batman would do the trick. Yeah, that sounds dumb to me, too. Of course this was another walking plot device; Valley's more violent Batman served as a glimpse of a Batman who wasn't afraid to cross all the lines; that it made no sense to put Gotham in his hands was secondary. In the film, Gotham falls under Bane's control but Bruce is dumped in a prison and has to escape in order to get back at Bane for breaking him. A lot simpler, more straightforward, and it makes sense.
And finally, there's the big rematch between Batman and Bane. In the film, Bruce gets back to Gotham, confronts Bane and beats him before a reformed Kyle blows hi away. In the comics, Valley confronts Bane, beats him, and he's carted off to jail. Then Valley goes off the deep end and Bruce has to stop him instead. That's right, Bruce doesn't even get to pay back the man who put him on the shelf. He returns to stop the guy who paid him back. Lame. Then there's an aftermath where he asks Dick Grayson to fill in as Batman while he figures out how to restore Batman's aura of invincibility. So you pass over the guy best suited to fill in for you and choose the crazy man, then when fear of Batman is at an all time low you finally ask him to do it. Even though one of your reasons for not asking him the first time was your concern that he'd get himself killed. Yeah, that's really smart. In the movie, a presumed dead Wayne leaves the coordinates to the Batcave to the cop who helped him (and gave at least the appearance of being a suitable replacement) so that the Batman's work can continue. Score another round for the movie. I'm calling this one an early round knockout.
Knightfall is a story that benefits from how the image in this picture remains burned in everyone's memory. When you look past that, it has a lot of really serious flaws. Compared to other beloved Batman stories like Hush, The Killing Joke, and The Long Halloween it falls way short. Unless you're a hater of the Dark Knight Rises, there's no way you would choose the print version of this story. If you don't believe me go read it again and get back to me.