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Thursday, July 28, 2016

A collection of Knightfall house ads - 1993

If you remember reading and/or collecting Knightfall, congratulations. For anyone else who was too young or was taking a hiatus from comics at the time, Knightfall was a twenty-issue story arc from 1993 that ran through 4 different titles (Batman, Detective Comics, Shadow of the Bat and Showcase '93) that told the epic tale of the downfall [and presumed death] of Batman and the introduction of his new successor. I honestly thought that this was going to be my generation's 'moon landing', and by that I mean I really thought this was 'it' — this was going to be the end of Bruce Wayne as we knew it. What can I say? I was a pretty naive 11-year old. DC had just killed off Superman a year ago, [and I honestly thought he was staying dead] and we were living in 'extreme' times where anything could happen.

I wasn't able to collect/read these as they were being published — my limited financial assets were being diversified among numerous short-term investments (i.e. I was buying a lot of Marvel comics and non-sports trading cards). I did go to summer camp in the summer of '93 and another kid at camp (who was a massive DC fan) had brought his comic book collection with him. He didn't have any issues of Knightfall, but the Knightfall house ads were plastered in every second DC issue I thumbed through. They say a picture tells a thousand words, and these full-page house ads told me that something BIG was going down. I liked the way the ads created a narrative informing the reader just how grim things were getting for Gotham's dark knight. The red eclipse that was slowly starting to swallow the bat logo was also a nice touch of foreshadowing.

(click to enlarge)







This event did two major things: it introduced me to a whole slew of new Bat villains (I have never heard of Amygdala, Film Freak, or Mr. Zsasz prior to these ads), and introduced a lot of non-Batman DC comics readers to the Kelley Jones Batman — the one with the foot-long bat ears on his cowl who always seemed to be stooped or crouching. That was the Batman that would leave the longest lasting-impression on me and would be found doodled in almost every high school notebook I've ever owned (and then some). For a 19-part story arc, I realize we are missing quite a few house ads here [at least 8, by my count]. Rest assured, however, that the house ad was not original art. It was just the cover of the issue being described in the house ad, combined with a bit of enticing ad copy meant to summarize just how dire Bruce Wayne's situation was getting. These covers are real eye-catchers, but I'd like to gently point out that the cover of the issue was not always representative of the interior art.

It was interesting the way that Knightfall chapters 1 through 10 kept escalating and then... bam! denouement! Batman gets crippled by Bane! But wait, there's more! The house ads for Knightfall chapters 12 to 18 build up to the final showdown between the *new* Batman and Bane. [The house ad for chapter 18 looks downright pornographic. Please tell me Bane is wearing pants....] The Knightfall saga would become 1994's Knightquest, and then Knightsend, and would ultimately resolve sometime in early 1995. I think by this point fans had had enough, realizing that this storyline had already dragged on too long. Even the Knightquest and Knightsend house ads lacked the zeal the in-house DC marketing team had put into the Knightfall promotional campaign.





While I wasn't able to collect the issues, I was able to purchase the softcover Batman: Knightfall and Beyond novelization written by Alan Grant (I was avid book reader back then — I think I read the entire thing in one afternoon). While it filled in a lot of missing gaps, I still felt it was 'lacking' — probably because it was packaged for the young adult crowd. Sometime shortly after, a friend lent me the much thicker, much more mature-looking (and hard-cover) Batman Knightfall: A Novel by Dennis O'Neil. I seem to recall the latter being on the New York Times Bestsellers list during it's heyday, so it was a 'big deal' to finally get my hands on it. I remember it being leaps and bounds better than the Alan Grant novelization.



The final resolution of Bruce Wayne healing up, training himself to become better than before, and becoming Batman again really shouldn't have come as a surprise to me. In hindsight, one year prior to Knightfall being launched, Batman Returns hit the box office and grossed $162 million in North American sales. That very same year, Batman: The Animated Series debuted on Fox to a North American audience and is still being referenced as one of the BEST animated shows ever made. Ads for the new Batman animated film, Mask of the Phantasm, were also being heavily promoted in every DC comic available while Knightfall was in full effect. It wouldn't make sense to permanently retire a creative property that was generating so much revenue for the company. In my defense, I was a product of the 80s comic book culture and fake 'deaths' were still a relatively new gimmick in the early 90s. At least, that's how I'd like to remember it.

What Knightfall ultimately did for DC comics was to keep DC (and Batman) relevant during the deluge of X-books and Image/Malibu/Valiant comics that were flooding the market in the early 90s. Interestingly, some comic book analysts have theorized that the Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightsend story arc may have contributed to the comic book crash of the mid 90s — readers were experiencing 'burn out' from having to buy too many titles to complete a story arc that lasted way longer than it should have. Would it have been the sole cause for the comic book crash? Absolutely not. But I'm positive it wouldn't have helped anything.

Looking back on this now, I don't feel tricked or cheated. I feel like it was a good memory and a good time to be a comic book reader. Feel free to share any memories or stories you have from the whole Knightfall saga in the comments section below.



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