“Prep time” isn’t always the solution to everything. I just wanted to say that before I started my first article solely about Batman. Why do I say that? Because Batman fanboys the world over have used that answer forever on how the Dark Knight can defeat any character in all of comicdom. But the man is just a man, no matter how skilled. He can be defeated. In fact, he was. The monster called Bane accomplished what had been until then unthinkable. He broke the Bat. Beaten first mentally, and then physically, Bruce Wayne knew that he could no longer function as Gotham’s protector. Not from a wheelchair. Someone else would have to take up his mantle. And for whatever Bruce’s reasons, Azrael was chosen. This is his story….. (Presented in “Batman” #500)
He had been beaten. Defeated by the same beast that had broken the original Batman. Bane. Azrael had underestimated his enemy. He also blamed his loss on the Batman uniform and gadgets. Never again. He would be prepared next time. Not only would he prove himself Bruce Wayne’s equal, but his better. Hours had passed since their fight. And still Jean-Paul Valley, also known as the ex-chosen assassin for the Order of St. Dumas, could feel the sting of failure. (This guy has problems. That’s obvious. Hell, he acts like he was beaten up by a Will Smith slap, and not a guy whose muscles put a WWE wrestler’s to shame!)
Tim Drake, the newest youth to earn the right to be called Robin, entered the Batcave with trepidation. He knew that Jean-Paul didn’t see the need for a Robin. He preferred to work alone. He found the new Dark Knight shirtless and doing one-armed pull-ups in the section of the cave meant for training. He still wore the armored gauntlets of his own design. Tim began by talking about the level of brutality that he was using as the new Batman. Jean-Paul looked at him with a sneer and replied that the ways of the old Batman were outdated and ineffectual. He was fighting for the very soul of Gotham City, not his own. The conversation didn’t last for too much longer after that. Robin left Batman to his training, fearful of the days to come. (At least the Robin outfit has been updated. Can you imagine the old TV show Robin, Burt Ward, having this verbal fight? Holy Soiled Shorts, Batman!)
Jean-Paul barely noticed as the former sidekick left his presence. He let go of the exercise bar and let his mind go blank. He would now let The System take over. The System was a form of training that had been implanted into his brain, starting as a small child, by the Order of St. Dumas. It was meant to make him the perfect killing machine. While he was in this trance, he walked to the table and began to sketch out frightening new blueprints for a new armored suit. Bane was still out there. And he would be prepared next time. After he completed them, he immediately began to forge the new look for the new Dark Knight of Gotham. (I use a form of The System when I write these articles. It’s true! It’s not the combination of caffeine and nicotine keeping me going at all.)
Meanwhile, Bane was preparing himself. He needed the highly-addictive steroid, Venom. It would soothe the pain from the injuries he’d sustained as well as give his already extremely large muscles a boost of power. He located his minions in their prison cell, having been captured by this new, false Batman. Looking down from his hiding place in the police station rafters, he asked where more of the drug could be located. A henchman answered with haste and then quickly asked if Bane was going to free them. He replied that he would not. This pretender was his and his alone. (Azrael and Bane seem so obsessed with one another, I’m waiting for a passionate kiss when they next meet up!)
Robin waited in silence on the Wayne Estate grounds. He didn’t have to wait long before his contact made his presence known. It was Nightwing, the original Robin. Tim told his predecessor of Bruce’s injuries and about his terrifying replacement. Dick asked why he had not been chosen to take up the mantle instead of this Azrael. Tim replied that Nightwing had worked hard to get out from under the shadow of the Batman, to establish himself as his own man. Nightwing took this in and replied that if Bruce had chosen this man, he must’ve had a good reason. He then took his leave. Robin exited the grounds soon after. (Wow! Nightwing sure was alot of help. That was the equivalent of proclaiming, “My feelings aren’t hurt! Yours are!” Followed up by a stuck out tongue and a hasty retreat with tear-filled eyes.)
The scene now shifts to a man behind a large computer system. He rifles through papers for news on what traffic conditions or weather updates he should put on the big screen over the main highway in Gotham. But as he does this, he is unaware of Bane as he approaches from behind! In one swift movement, he picks the man up, snapping his neck! Bane then tosses the corpse aside and takes his seat. He begins to type. Robin enters a now empty Batcave at this exact time. He spies blueprints upon Batman’s desk. Examining them quickly, shock crosses his face! (I bet it’s designs for his new Spring line of casual wear. Y’all didn’t know Batman doubled as a fashion designer, huh? Shows what kind of fans you are.)
Batman soared through the skyline of Gotham City like a bladed nightmare! He tested his new armor and found it pleasing. Finally, he swooped down onto a gargoyle statue. He looked to the large, computerized sign glowing in the stormy weather not too far from his present position. It read: “BATMAN” NOW. So this was it, he thought. The rematch would begin sooner than expected. He welcomed it. Bane had put the word “Batman” in quotations on purpose. He was subtly stating that Jean-Paul was no more than a mere pretender. He would teach Bane just how wrong he was. (I wouldn’t have got the whole quotations thing. I just would have giggled that Bane had screwed up while typing. I’m a pretty big nerd though.)
The police surrounded the building that the aforementioned sign sat atop. Squad cars filled the streets. But just as the officers wondered aloud where the Batman was, his symbol illuminated the streets below. Gotham’s savior had arrived. Batman fired his grapple to the opposite skyscraper and swung. He then dismounted and roared for Bane to show himself. He didn’t have long to wait. Bane crashed through the electrical sign, sending sparks everywhere! Then he dropped to the street below, a parked car breaking his fall! (I wonder if the owner’s car insurance covers “Acts of Bane”?) Batman followed soon after and the two titans squared off while the surrounding police officers stood transfixed and helpless.
Suddenly, shurikens, fired from Batman’s gauntlet, embedded deep into Bane’s forearm! Batman then opened with a side kick to Bane’s skull! He followed up with an armored fist to the face and then a savage backhand! He finished by sweeping the monster’s legs out from under him as he threw him to the ground! First blood was his. Injured and enraged, Bane pushed a button on the device upon his forearm. This delivered the Venom steroid straight into his body! Bane roared as the toxin coursed through his veins! Bane rushed the Dark Knight and pinned him to the concrete. Blow after thunderous blow hit the Batman’s helmet until the bat symbol suddenly flashed from the chest light! Momentarily blinded, Bane’s assault stopped as he staggered away. (I feel like I missed my calling as ringside announcer in wrestling. That is if the wrestlers were superhuman. As old as some active wrestlers are, you’d swear they were!)
Recovering quickly, Bane attempted to boost his Venom intake once again. Batman was ready this time, however. Using his bladed fingertips, he cuts all of the tubing protruding from the beast’s mask! Bane roared in panic and fled down the street! Batman fired several more razor-sharp shurikens into the villain’s back as he ran, but the weapons were ignored as he leapt the nearby train station turnstile! (He should hold onto all of those Bat-shurikens sticking out of his body. Sell those on eBay for a mint!) Bane dove into the train just as it was leaving the station. Jean-Paul would not let it end this way. One way or another, this ended tonight! Using his gauntlet, he fired a grapple onto the now-speeding train and let it reel him in. When close enough, he dug his claws into the train’s metallic frame and followed Bane from the outside!
The muscle-bound monster ordered the passengers to give him a wide berth as he approached the front car. When he reached it, he seized the engineer by the back of his neck and threw him out the front window of the racing locomotive! Bane fumbled with the controls and sped up the train. Just then, the Dark Knight came crashing through the engine’s side window and the fierce battle continued! As this was going on, Robin swung by and witnessed the dangerously speeding train. He spied the fight in the front car and the panicked passengers in the back. Using quick thinking, he pulled a strong acidic substance from his utility belt to serperate the engine from the rest of the train! The people were safe. (I bet it was a can of Coke. I hear that’s highly acidic. Tasty though.)
Robin helped the last of the passengers off of the train in just enough time to witness the lead car derail from the advanced speed and come sailing through the air! It crashed into a building before it finally stopped moving! Batman used this opportunity to use both feet to kick Bane through the remaining glass! The villain plummeted down to where the police stood, still amazed by the epic fight they were witnessing. Batman followed soon after. He picked Bane up by what remained of his torn, blood-soaked costume. Bane begged for death. The surrounding police and Robin all collectively held their breath. Would he do it? No. Let the prisons have him. Bane was broken. Jean-Paul Valley was a worthy new Batman after all. And the night had a new guardian angel. A fallen one, but an angel nonetheless.