This is “From a Different Point of View,” a feature where I discuss a comic book series with other people. This time around, due to everyone having to self-isolate, I figured I’d do a special edition where I discuss some crossovers with whichever readers that wanted to chat about them! We started off with Marvel’s original Secret Wars and now we’re doing Knightfall!
We continue with Detective Comics #659, “Puppets,” by Chuck Dixon and Norm Breyfogle, with colors by Adrienne Roy and letters by Tim Harkins.
Brian Cronin: What this issue reminds me of, right off of the bat, is the fact that Alan Grant is conspicuously absent from this crossover.
Brian Cronin: I guess they decided that it would be easier with just two main writers in Moench and Dixon.
Tom A.: Can’t say I like this cover.
Flavio Sette: Yeah, I actually thought the next issue was by Grant until I checked. It does feel a bit Grant-esque, what with Mr Zsasz as the bad guy.
Brian Cronin: But boy, it seems awfully weird to have the guy with the longest tenure, at the time, on the Bat-titles and have him not be involved in the main crossover.
Brian Cronin: Grant gets sort of tie-in issues during all of this in Shadow of the Bat.
Flavio Sette: Amygdala’s another Grant/Breyfogle creation written here by someone other than Alan Grant.
Brian Cronin: But this issue and the next are especially weird because, as Flavio notes, the villains are all Grant villains.
Brian Cronin: Heck, even Lt. Kitch is a Grant character.
Brian Cronin: I mean, on the one hand, props to Dixon for doing well by Grant’s characters.
Brian Cronin: It’s not like he treats them poorly.
Brian Cronin: They’re served well, but it still seems weird.
Flavio Sette: He co-created a lot of villains during his run, a lot of them first appearing in The Last Arkham arc (like Zsasz and Amygdala)
Brian Cronin: And yes, Tom, Kelley Jones’ covers have been unusual, to say the least.
Tom A.: Yeah, the Grant villains get more respect than Maxie Zeus here.
Brian Cronin: I’m a Jones fan, but it is surprising to see him get his start on the main Bat titles during a major crossover event.
Flavio Sette: Dixon wrote most of Amgydala’s subsequent appearances in the pages of Nightwing.
Eric Michael: As I was mostly a Marvel fan until this point, this was my introduction to a lot of the current Batman villains.
Brian Cronin: Yeah, Dixon basically adopted Amygdala from this point.
Flavio Sette: Jones was originally supposed to do the big Bat Back Breakin’ Issue, right?
Tom A.: Amygdala didn’t really catch on, I don’t think he was ever in any cartoons or games.
Flavio Sette: And yeah, Lt Kitch is one of those characters who was everywhere for a while, but then during No Man’s Land he got shunted to the background, and got promoted to a desk job at the beginning of the New Gotham era, and basically disappeared after that.
Brian Cronin: I don’t recall, Flavio. Jones and Moench did that big Red Rain graphic novel with Batman vs. Dracula that I guess O’Neil loved so much that he added both of them to the main Batman titles.
Brian Cronin: Kitch is perhaps the luckiest peripheral character in Batman history.
Brian Cronin: As he was written out without being killed.
Eric Michael: Let the Breyfogle love begin with the reflection in Ventriloquist’s glasses panel
Brian Cronin: How in the world did Kitch survive No Man’s Land without getting shot by an arrow or whatever?
Brian Cronin: Yeah, Breyfogle kicked ass from the very start of this issue.
Flavio Sette: Luckier than peripheral Gotham cops like Billy Pettite or more prominent ones like Sarah Essen.
Brian Cronin: With that running Maxie Zeus.
Flavio Sette: Mackenzie Bock also somehow made it out unscathed and went on to run the GCPD’s organized crime division.
Brian Cronin: Yeah, I was just thinking, “Huh, I guess Bock made it out okay, as well.”
Eric Michael: ditto
Brian Cronin: Breyfogle’s always been big on dramatic expressions.
Eric Michael: But I remember he had a feature story in NML that wasn’t flattering
Brian Cronin: And boy, does he nail it with Robin’s look when he sees Film Freak’s body.
Eric Michael: Yeah, Socko looks sinister, even if he is a sock.
Flavio Sette: Judging by the narration, this issue and the last one are indeed set the day after the breakout.
Brian Cronin: You can practically feel his nausea at looking at the body.
Flavio Sette: Agreed.
Brian Cronin: Yeah, I was going to note that, Flavio, it does seem like we have confirmation that it’s just one day since Arkham let loose.
Brian Cronin: That makes more sense for keeping Batman on his toes.
Brian Cronin: Chronologically, we’re only a couple of days removed from Batman needing Jean-Paul Valley to step in as a decoy for him.
Brian Cronin: And for Batman taking his proper place, but also moving like he was in pain, something Bane noticed.
Brian Cronin: So, yeah, this is not a good time to be Batman.
Flavio Sette: Robin’s using the classic 90s stick-shaped grapnel there.
Tom A.: Is it ever a good time to be Batman?
Brian Cronin: True.
Brian Cronin: The stubble, though, of course is another sign.
Brian Cronin: Batman is all about the clean look under that cowl.
Brian Cronin: Once daily grooming goes, it is all chaos.
Eric Michael: When Reed Richards and Batman have five o’clock shadow, things ain’t going well.
Brian Cronin: Kitch gets an odd amount of characterization during Knightfall for a minor character that no one had any plans to do anything with.
Flavio Sette: Worldbuilding, I guess.
Flavio Sette: Kitch calls Film Freak a “skel”, a bit of peak 90s cop show lingo.
Eric Michael: Showing up to a crime scene when he ain’t on call. McNulty would have something to say about that.
Tom A.: So last time we got a reasonable psychologist, but this time we get one of those naive/stupid psychiatrists that just wants to plug his book. You can tell it was written by different people.
Brian Cronin: Absolutely, Tom. It really is striking.
Brian Cronin: Especially with Breyfogle drawing both issues, it REALLY stands out.
Eric Michael: “Simpson Flanders”…Dixon isn’t even trying to hide it
Brian Cronin: And it’s such a weird take on real stigmas that people with mental health problems deal with.
Flavio Sette: Later on Breyfogle sneaks in a Crusty the Clown reference (least I think it was supposed to be).
Brian Cronin: “Isn’t it HILARIOUS that these crazies don’t like being called whackjobs?”
Tom A.: I wonder if Gotham has an asylum for crazy people who are not criminally insane.
Tom A.: Because most people with mental problems aren’t violent, and are in fact in more danger of being victims of violence.
Flavio Sette: Yeah, not very enlightened.
Eric Michael: That must be where all the Arkham doctors want to work.
Brian Cronin: And the weird thing is that Amygdala IS a “gentle giant.”
Brian Cronin: So he’s a perfect example of what Flanders is referring to.
Brian Cronin: And yet Flanders is supposed to be a hack.
Brian Cronin: It’s such odd messaging.
Flavio Sette: Then again, Batman writers seem to go back and forth on whether guys like, say, the Joker are mentally ill or just sociopaths gaming the system.
Brian Cronin: True.
Brian Cronin: I like the Anarky graffiti. Nice touch by Anarky’s co-creator, Breyfogle.
Brian Cronin: Man, the way that Breyfogle draws Batman and Robin in motion.
Brian Cronin: How does he manage to create such dynamic art?
Brian Cronin: It’s like they’re seriously moving.
Eric Michael: The headfirst dive
Tom A.: Frankly, a lot of Batman’s villains wouldn’t actually qualify as criminally insane in the real world, but they get sent to Arkham anyway because its an iconic location. At least the Penguin usually avoids it.
Flavio Sette: Yeah, Amygdala, much like Mr. Freeze, seems to only be in Arkham because there isn’t another place in town equipped to handle him.
Flavio Sette: Breyfogle loves drawing Batman’s cape like it’s 10 feet long. It works really well here, although it probably should be a bit shorter than this.
Tom A.: Amygdala actually does have mental problems though, he needs his meds.
Eric Michael: You need meds? You go to Arkham.
Flavio Sette: Yeah, but he could stay at a regular hospital. He’s in Arkham because he’s got super-strength.
Flavio Sette: He’d just break out of a regular hospital.
Eric Michael: Also, this is the early 90s. Lotta cultural stuff going on here that is probably best left alone.
Brian Cronin: Interesting political graffiti by Breyfogle about the Freedom of Information Act.
Brian Cronin: About how information was censored and so the FOIA was an oxymoron, since the information was not free to the public.
Flavio Sette: Although Amygdala does go on to move to Bludhaven and live at Dick Grayson’s apartment building.
Flavio Sette: Yeah, that political grafitto was neat-o.
Tom A.: Ventriloquist really does not know what to do without Scarface around.
Eric Michael: You don’t think Socko is up to the job?
Flavio Sette: Yeah, he just walks into a random dive and start asking the patrons if they knew where Scarface was. I guess this is supposed to be a comedic beat, but it doesn’t make much sense. Who are these people? Is this supposed to be an underworld bar? Why would they know where Scarface is?
Eric Michael: Yeah, I was going to write the same.
Tom A.: Yeah, if he really wanted to know where Scarface is, he should ask Arkham employees.
Flavio Sette: And then he just gives up after one try and goes to a toy store.
Brian Cronin: Yeah, I don’t get the bar scene, either.
Brian Cronin: Although it’s some nice sequential storytelling by Breyfogle.
Eric Michael: Unless it is supposed to be showing us that Scarface really is the brains of that unit.
Brian Cronin: The reactions from the barflies and all.
Brian Cronin: I love Socko using a straw.
Eric Michael: Timid Arnold thinks all bars are populated with underworld types
Flavio Sette: Yeah, that was a really funny beat.
Flavio Sette: Bruce assumes Bane’s reasons for seeking him out are personal nature, which brings us to Bane’s motivations. Specifically, how weird they are.
Flavio Sette: I mean, according to the Bane mini, he’s going to all this trouble to destroy Batman because he wants to show he’s better than Batman, I guess? And later on that changes to “he wants to take over Gotham’s underworld because… ambition and greed, I guess?”
Brian Cronin: Bane’s basically just a plot device.
Brian Cronin: The big difference between him and Doomsday
Brian Cronin: Is that the Bat-books at least spent many months setting him up.
Brian Cronin: But in the end, he’s just a plot device.
Brian Cronin: Heck, so is Jean-Paul Valley.
Flavio Sette: Yeah, and honestly that’s mostly fine, except when you draw attention to to his motivations by having Batman speculate that this Bane character must really have it in for him.
Tom A.: Yeah, why would a South American man care about an American vigilante and an American city?
ExcitedCharacter: I think It’s more like In prison. You want to get respect? Beat the biggest guy around”, Then he decides to take over underground.
Tom A.: Batman isn’t the biggest guy around, he doesn’t even have powers.
Tom A.: If Bane had guts, he’d go after the Flash or something.
Brian Cronin: Good point.
Brian Cronin: But I think what we see is that Bane isn’t really interested in the fairest situation.
Brian Cronin: Just something that looks good.
StonyGranite.: Aww yeah
Brian Cronin: I mean, the dude is pumped up on steroids and intentionally weakens Batman before attacking him.
Brian Cronin: He doesn’t want to SERIOUSLY test himself.
StonyGranite.: Bane is Trump
Eric Michael: Bane at this point is a “A win is a win” kind of guy.
Flavio Sette: Breyfogle does such a nice job drawing Batman’s profile here.
Brian Cronin: Dixon also does a great job with the radio calls.
Brian Cronin: As they spin by and they’re like background noise.
Brian Cronin: Except that Batman is paying attention and waiting for one that matches the sort of thing his villains would respond to.
Tom A.: Also, kind of weird of Batman to assume that villains are too egocentric to cooperate when his villains have teamed up countless times in the past, and even in this event there are various team-ups, like in this very issue.
Brian Cronin: It’s really well done.
Flavio Sette: Dixon’s pretty fond of this type of stuff.
ExcitedCharacter: I don’t know, I think it’s no DC Universe scale, but Gotham is one of the biggest CRIME Ridden Cities. And, he because Bats doesn’t have powers but he is on Justice Leauge, he’s more powerful than people assume.
ExcitedCharacter: “Warner Wolf,” “Dopey Dixon,” “Enormous Norm,” “Sing Song Ally, “Mikey Mouse.” Huh. Cute.
Flavio Sette: It’s been a while since I last read this, so I might be wrong, but something tells me Batman’s gonna sideline Robin many, many, many times over the next 17 issues.
Eric Michael: You may be on to something, Flavio…
ExcitedCharacter: Yep. I know that much.
Flavio Sette: There’s also a nice little reference to Styx’s “Mr. Roboto” there.
Brian Cronin: The toy puppet selection is adorable.
Tom A.: I guess Amygdala never bothered taking that knife out.
Eric Michael: Loving the expressions on Socko.
StonyGranite.: Whos bigger? Amygdala or Bane?
Brian Cronin: Amygdala, I would assume.
Brian Cronin: Bane might be stronger, though.
Brian Cronin: When he’s fully pumped up on Venom.
Flavio Sette: That panel of Batman rubbing his eyes is just waiting to be turned into a meme.
Brian Cronin: Venom playing such a major role in this crossover is such an odd bit, since it seems like it is just SO driven by O’Neil.
Tom A.: That’s two issues in a row that somebody notices Bird’s bird spying on them, he’s not very good at his job.
Brian Cronin: You know Batman is off his game when only Robin notices that they’re being tailed by a falcon.
StonyGranite.: I remember when I first picked up the first couple parts of Knightfall “Oh yeah, a simple 5 part arc…”
Brian Cronin: “Batman: Venom” was two years old at this point and SET IN THE PAST.
Tom A.: Not to mention that he gets caught off guard by a man twice his size sneaking up behind him.
Brian Cronin: So it was interesting that it played such a key role in Knightfall.
Flavio Sette: I love Breyfogle’s take on this utility belt. He added some larger compartments as well as more tubes, which makes it a little more realistic that Batman keeps pulling all this stuff out of there. Maybe my third favorite utility belt (after the New Gotham-era belt and the Year One belt).
Tom A.: I guess he let his guard down upon seeing the Ventriloquist.
Tom A.: “Oh, it’s just this weakling”.
Brian Cronin: Love the foreshadowing with Amygdala holding Batman in a similar pose to what Bane will later use.
Brian Cronin: But yeah, Tom, him not knowing Amygdala is behind him is definitely a sign of him slipping due to his fatigue.
Flavio Sette: Yeah, that panel of Amygdala hoisting Batman up is just amazing.
Brian Cronin: Breyfogle’s use of negative space with first Robin’s smile and then his eyes popping as the falcon attacks are brilliant.
Tom A.: I just noticed the “Dopey Dixon” toy.
Flavio Sette: And here we have the fight everyone was waiting for. The Battle of the Birds: Robin vs Bird!
Tom A.: This is one of the few times Robin’s cape actually serve a purpose.
StonyGranite.: Fly Robin Fly
Flavio Sette: Breyfogle excels at montage-type scenes where the panel borders are gone, and the one where Amygdala tosses Batman around’s really good.
Eric Michael: Poor Amygdala still has a knife in his shoulder
ExcitedCharacter: Tim’s face looks terryfing in shadows, and when fight interjects between Robin and Batman struggle . art really is great!
Flavio Sette: I like that Bird eventually wins the fight. The Batman team went to great lengths to portray Tim as a normal kid in way over his head who had to rely on quick thinking and gadgets unlike the natural athlete, laughing boy daredevil Dick. I think it was pretty much that way up until Young Justice, when David and Nauk started portraying Tim as hyper-competent (which actually worked quite nicely in that title).
Brian Cronin: I love the “Quak” sound effect for Robin’s fight with Bird.
Brian Cronin: I dunno, I’m fine with it, but I also think this crossover spends way too much time on Bane’s henchmen.
Brian Cronin: Nobody cares about freakin’ Bird, ya know?
Tom A.: I already forgot the name of Bane’s two other henchmen.
Brian Cronin: I only remember them because they were named after bands.
ExcitedCharacter: Well If they would became something like Turk in Daredevil, I would be more forgiving, but yeah It’s mostly filler.
Brian Cronin: Trogg and Zombie.
Flavio Sette: Maybe if Zombie had a pet zombie he’d be more memorable…
Brian Cronin: That we’re getting filler just calls into question why this needed to be NINETEEN PARTS.
Brian Cronin: It is amazing that no one ever takes the knife out of Amygdala’s back.
Brian Cronin: Also, kind of a dick move for Batman to be quipping to Amygdala as he knocks him out when Amygdala is clearly in serious pain and just wants his medicine.
Flavio Sette: Yep.
Tom A.: Batman does not care about the mentally ill it seems.
Tom A.: Another sign that Batman is off his game, the Ventriloquist is right behind him, but Batman just leaves without capturing him.
ExcitedCharacter: If it would be 60s Batman, he would take from his belt medicine. It would be nice.
StonyGranite.: He’s doing his Roger Moore
Flavio Sette: Kind of a weird, abrupt ending. Batman doesn’t capture the Ventriloquist and it just ends with him reading a note. There is some set-up for the next issue, though.
Brian Cronin: Yeah, with the Zsasz police call.
Brian Cronin: Robin, by the way, is not doing himself many favors in the whole “Why does Batman keep me sidelined?”
Brian Cronin: When he almost gets himself killed in this issue
Brian Cronin: And then gets into some more nonsense soon enough.
Brian Cronin: Also, Bane’s reasoning for not wanting to kill Robin doesn’t track.
Eric Michael: By a ren fair reject , no less
Brian Cronin: As Bane has to know Batman has figured out that Bane is behind all of this, right?
Brian Cronin: It’s not like Bane has been in the shadows
Brian Cronin: He literally just killed Film Freak last issue while Batman was listening!
Brian Cronin: And Bane KNEW he was listening!
Eric Michael: Brian, bringing logic to a 90s comic never ends well for anyone.
Tom A.: Not to mention, even if Bird killed Robin, how would Batman know that he was killed by someone who works for Bane?
Eric Michael: *logic
Flavio Sette: Just speculating, but maybe Bane doesn’t want the heat that comes from killing a super hero until he’s gotten a solid his hold on the city’s underworld.
Flavio Sette: Well he is the “World’s Greatest Detective”, Tom. Or so his PR team says.
Flavio Sette: As I recall next issue’s quite good.
ExcitedCharacter: To be fair, he has entire city look out for other criminals, but he also could sent out Tim on the Bane scent. Or call Nightwing. Or Azrael…. yeah bat’s should ask for help sometimes.
Eric Michael: Part two down and Batman looks like hell.
Tom A.: Batman looked like hell before this story even started.
Brian Cronin: Yeah, he was in bad shape before this even started.
Sean Whitmore: Yeah, something I didn’t realize when I first read Knightfall was how many issues prior he’d already been stumbling around half-dead.
Brian Cronin: Yeah, that’s the weird thing about this crossover.
Eric Michael: Ditto
Brian Cronin: How “Part 1” is really just continuing plots that had been going for MANY months.
Brian Cronin: Almost a year’s worth of Batman stories led directly into Knightfall.
Brian Cronin: The only demarcation point is that now Arkham Asylum has been opened.
Tom A.: Again.
Sean Whitmore: It’s especially weird that the Arkham breakout issue wasn’t considered part 1. Maybe a 20-part story just sounded too decadent?
StonyGranite.: I remember I was only getting the Batman Adventures at this point when I kept seeing Kelly Jones’ Knightfall covers advertised in them… “huh, what’s this?”
Tom A.: Clearly starting the story by fighting the Mad Hatter was the right way to go!
Flavio Sette: 491 should definitely be considered Part 1.
Brian Cronin: The thing is that 491 is ALSO in the middle of a story.
Brian Cronin: POINTEDLY in the middle of a story.
Brian Cronin: In #491, you have stuff like Jean-Paul Valley getting a haircut.
ExcitedCharacter: Yeah. I don’t get why people say that It’s one of the stories to help start Reading Batman, even Omnibus editions, are still not “complete”.
Brian Cronin: And there is no indication as to who Jean-Paul Valley IS!
Brian Cronin: “Oh, some guy named Jean-Paul is getting a haircut and we’re supposed to care/know who this guy is.”
Flavio Sette: True.
Brian Cronin: It is sort of tied into the completionist rhetoric of the era.
Tom A.: Knightfall is definitely something you should only read if you’ve already read a fair share of Batman comics.
StonyGranite.: I care!
ExcitedCharacter: Yep. I agree.
Brian Cronin: “If you’re a Batman fan, then you obviously have read all of his comics for the past year, right?”
Tom A.: These days, we’d at least get a one page summary before the comic starts giving the names of all the characters and explaining what happened in previous issues.
Brian Cronin: And hell, based on the sales of the era
Brian Cronin: You’d almost be correct!
Sean Whitmore: “And God knows we’re gonna reference a lot of it without giving you any editor’s boxes to tell you what issues they happened in”
ExcitedCharacter: Yeah I prefer when single issues get a recap page.
Tom A.: And at least now we have the internet to look stuff up if we’re lost.
Brian Cronin: The fascinating thing is that Batman was actually relatively NOT hot in 1992.
Brian Cronin: This storyline was big because it brought Batman back to the top of the sales charts.
Brian Cronin: Batman was still doing well, of course.
Flavio Sette: And digital comics so we don’t have to spent hours and hours digging through back issue bins just to catch up to what’s going on.
Brian Cronin: Since everyone was selling like crazy back then.
Brian Cronin: But if you look at the top-selling individual issues of 1992.
Flavio Sette: Gotta compete with X-Men, Spider-Man and the nascent Image titles somehow.
Brian Cronin: Batman doesn’t show up until…
Brian Cronin: #65!
Brian Cronin: And that’s with the fancy Shadow of the Bat collectors first issue.
Sean Whitmore: Yeah, I liked Batman, but I wasn’t BUYING Batman until Knightfall.
Sean Whitmore: (Except Batman Adventures)
Eric Michael: Great Alan Grant & Norm Breyfogle interview here that talks a lot about the sales figures in those days.
Tom A.: And then X-Men tried to copy the Death of Superman and Knightfall hype with Age of Apocalypse.
Brian Cronin: Well, the amazing thing about the X-Men is that the same week Superman died.
ExcitedCharacter: And Spider Man with Clone Saga.
Brian Cronin: X-Cutioner’s Song released TWO parts.
Brian Cronin: And both of those issues sold about 700,000 copies.
Brian Cronin: Superman sold 2 million.
StonyGranite.: Cool, thanks EricMichael
Brian Cronin: And Bloodshot #1 came out, selling 500,000 copies.
Brian Cronin: So just four books that one week sold about 4 million copies.
Tom A.: Those numbers would be unthinkable for 2020.
Tom A.: Even before the current situation that is.
Brian Cronin: They were unthinkable for 1980, as well!
ExcitedCharacter: Speculator Boom at it’s finest.
Flavio Sette: Bubbles are gonna bubble.
Flavio Sette: It’s unthinkable because it was so freaking unusual from a historical point of view.
Sean Whitmore: I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but it was the speculator stuff that got me to pick up most every DC title (Knightfall, Reign of Supermen, Hal going evil, etc)
Brian Cronin: They did it because it worked.
Brian Cronin: No shame in that.
Flavio Sette: Yep.
ExcitedCharacter: Many people I know bought them because of this.
Eric Michael: The difference is did you buy it to read or because you thought it would put your kids through college today?
StonyGranite.: We were lucky in that a lot of those stories really were quite good
Brian Cronin: Yeah.
Flavio Sette: Tons of people were doing both, though, right?
Sean Whitmore: To read; I only ever really thought the Death of Superman might retain any value
Flavio Sette: “I’ll read this one and these twenty over here go straight into the longbox”
Brian Cronin: Ha! Exactly.
Brian Cronin: Okay, folks, next time, we get to say goodbye to Norm Breyfogle on the Batman titles with Part 3 of Knighfall!
Brian Cronin: Thanks for coming, everyone!
In a special discussion with readers, CSBG continues its look at Knightfall with part 2 of the 19-part crossover (wait, is it seriously 19 parts?)