Serving as a partial inspiration for the third film in the Dark Knight live-action film series, it’s surprising this classic Batman storyline isn’t discussed – or adapted – more.
With the exception of the death of Batman’s parents, the Knightfall storyline is the one that’s had the most impact on Batman’s career, so it’s a pity that the more casual comic fans aren’t aware of it.
Curiously, the Knightfall storyline is actually made up of three smaller story arcs: KnightFall, Knightquest, and KnightsEnd.
While longtime Batman supporting characters Bane and Azrael were created for the Knightfall storyline, they were introduced beforehand in the buildup to Knightfall…
History of Batman Knightfall: Prelude to Knightfall
25 years ago: A young child is born on a Central American island-prison.
Because his father had escaped the prison, it fell on the young child to serve his fathers sentence. Against all odds, the youngster would flourish in captivity. He read books in order to strengthen his mind. He lifted weights to strengthen his body. He threw himself into the harsh reality of prison life to strengthen his soul.
Sometimes, the other prisoners would tell of a mysterious urban legend known as The Batman, who’d capture criminals before they even knew he was there. This would give the young child nightmares that would last well into his adult years – nightmares about a giant bat-shaped monster.
Over the years, through a mixture of subterfuge and murder, the former child had clawed his way to the top of the prison food chain. He decided he needed new name, a name more fitting of a crimelord: He chose the name Bane.
Bane’s rise to power had not gone unnoticed by the prison wardens, and they eventually forced him to become a test subject for a dangerous new drug which would become known as Venom. The drug experiments showed that Venom increased the physical attributes of a person, but they also showed that Venom was immediately and powerfully addictive – the ‘take it or literally die’ type of addictive.
The prison wardens had control of Bane now – or so they thought.
Bane, now roughly 25 years old, would simply source his own Venom and break out of prison. He now set his mind on a new target. It was time to defeat his only fear. It was time to defeat The Batman.
Now: A Gotham University student, Jean-Paul Valley, is shocked to discover that he’s been subtly brainwashed since birth, in order to be the perfect holy assassin for a religious cult.
He finds this out when news of his father’s death awakens the Azrael personality within him. His father was the previous Azrael, so the mantle now falls to him.
Azrael, investigating his father’s death, eventually meets Batman. Soon after this, Batman is captured, and Azrael works with Alfred to rescue him. This impresses Batman, which inspires him to invite Azrael into the Batfamily on one condition: Azrael must receive detective training from Robin (Tim Drake), so that Batman can trust that Azrael won’t always rely on his violent brainwashing to solve problems.
Azrael accepts the offer.
History of Batman Knightfall: Knightfall Story Arc
After months of researching his foe, Bane deduces Batman’s true identity, Bruce Wayne.
Bane realises that – even in his Venom-enhanced state – he can’t defeat Batman. He decides to wear Batman down before he attacks him, so he frees the most dangerous members of Arkham Aslyum all at the same time, and then simply waits while Batman tires himself out dealing with them all.
The plan works out better than Bane could ever have hoped.
Striking at the right moment, Bane attacks Wayne Manor and breaks into the Batcave. Batman, physically and mentally drained from the constant villain activity, is no match for Bane: Bane breaks Batman’s back over his knee, takes Batman to Gotham Square, and throws his body to the streets below.
Robin and Alfred rescue Batman, but the injuries to Bruce’s spinal cord have left him paraplegic. Bruce and Alfred travel abroad for a cure, and Bruce asks Azrael to fill in for him.
History of Batman Knightfall: Knightquest Story Arc
While Bruce is abroad, things go terribly for the Batfamily.
Azrael-Batman (commonly known as AzBats by DC fans) has fallen back into his violent ways, due to his Azrael brainwashing taking over. Not only is he ignoring the training he agreed to receive, he’s also ignoring Robin completely. Feeling unable to accomplish anything meaningful with the standard Batsuit, AzBats changes it so it’s more like his Azrael suit, right down the red-and-yellow colour scheme.
AzBats faces a serial killer known as Abattoir, who has a hostage hidden. At the climax of their battle, AzBats allows Abattoir to die, thereby dooming the hostage and damning himself in the eyes of Robin. He also faces many other Batman villains, but Catwoman and Joker are both able to discern that it’s not Bruce in the Batsuit anymore. Catwoman worries, because she has no idea who it is. Joker laughs, because he has no idea who it is.
AzBats subdues and captures Bane, taking this as proof that he truly is the superior Batman.
Meanwhile, Bruce and Alfred’s search for a cure to Bruce’s paraplegia takes them to England. Bruce is magically cured when he’s caught in the crossfire between two telekinetic villains, but due to how it happened, the cure was a one-time deal.
Bruce decides to return home. Alfred chooses to stay in England, and does so for the rest of the Knightfall storyline.
History of Batman Knightfall: KnightsEnd Story Arc
Bruce returns to Gotham.
While he’s not happy with many of the changes AzBats has made, he can’t argue with his effectiveness, so he hands the Batman title over to AzBats.
Robin, hearing of this, tells Bruce about the death of Abattoir and his hostage. Bruce decides to retake the Batman title from AzBats, so he begins some very intensive training.
Eventually, they face off in the Batcave. Everything Bruce tries fails, and it looks like he’ll never regain the Batman title. Jean-Paul quips that his AzBats suit is far superior to the old batsuit.
This gives Bruce an idea.
Bruce, using psychological warfare, goads AzBats into following him into a dark passage that AzBats had never noticed in the Batcave before, due to its very small size. The further AzBats goes into the tunnel, the more of his AzBat suit he finds he has to remove. Eventually, all that’s left of his suit is his helmet, which he doesn’t want to remove because he needs the night-vision it gives him (because of the dark tunnel).
Jean-Paul finally reaches an opening, and sees Bruce against the far wall, waiting.
Jean-Paul lunges at Bruce and…
…is momentarily blinded when Bruce opens a hatch in the ceiling, letting sunlight stream into the cavern – just as it had all those years ago when Bruce first fell into the Batcave in the exact same spot.
The legacy of the Batman had been reclaimed in the same place where it had first been born.