Comic Book History: DC’s No Man’s Land (Batman)

Protecting Gotham has never been easy. Aside from the day to day criminals, and super villains, there have been plenty of times the Bat had to give everything to defend the city. Having his back broken by Bane was his greatest challenge to date, until a series of events proved otherwise. Righting many of the extreme-isms of the 90’s, the Batman books ended the decade with one of the best Batman stories yet, No Man’s Land.

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First, there was Contagion. Ra’s al Ghul unleashed a plague upon Gotham. The story continued through Legacy, which had Batman and his allies face-off against not only al Ghul and the League of Assassins, but Bane as well. This is the first time they’ve fought since Knightfall. Eventually, Batman found a cure and saved the city, though the damage was done. Things were back to normal, though the population was certainly still recovering. Then, a 7.6 earthquake hit Gotham in Cataclysm. The quake devastated the city, leaving it in shambles. Batman and his allies raced across the city, saving whoever they could. Eventually, the U.S. government gave up on Gotham. The citizens were given a short window to evacuate, then the city was cut off from the country, and declared a No Man’s Land.

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The main story took place across multiple titles with many tie-ins for most of 1999. Story arcs would continue weekly with the same creative team from title to title, similar to Superman books at the time. In total, there were 80 issues which weren’t collected properly until recently. Aside from telling a fantastic story, many new elements and characters were added to the DCU.

When the city was abandoned, Bruce Wayne, leaving Gotham without a Batman, fought on behalf of the city in Washington. After two months of failure, he donned the cowl and returned to Gotham, who was in desperate need of him. By now, the city had been carved up into different territories, with different gangs claiming ownership. The Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and the GCPD all had a portion. Gordon and his men, who chose to stay, fought, waiting for Batman to return. Eventually, they gave up hope, assuming the Bat had abandoned them as well.

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I loved this element. For the first time Batman’s duel persona worked against him in a catastrophic way. Thinking he could do more good as Bruce, he fought for the city, leaving Gotham undefended. When he eventually returned, he needed to regain everyone’s trust, but this left Bruce Wayne to languish. The world thought that after one failed attempt Gotham’s favorite son gave up on the city as well. Batman lost on both fronts.

The story arcs and subplots are too numerous to recount here. I highly recommend reading the trades. Before highlighting the major changes this story brought, I want to mention my favorite moment. Batman, needing help from the Penguin, sought him out. The Penguin made him a deal, defeat 100 of his men and he’ll agree. Batman’s monologue before hand, realizing he had not choice, for me was quintessential Batman. Don’t worry, he then proceeded to lay waste to this foes.

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In Bruce’s absences, the Huntress took up the mantle of Batgirl, making sure the Bat had a presences. Upon Batman’s return, he allowed her to wear the costume. When she failed, causing Batman to lose territory, she was fired, returning to the Huntress persona. Fan favorite Cassandra Cain, silent daughter of assassin David Cain was introduced. Eventually, she was given the Batgirl mantle, introducing the ninja look with the mouth covered, as she did not speak.

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Not only was Lex Luthor’s assistant, Mercy, from the Superman animated series introduced, but Harley Quinn, also from the cartoon, finally made her proper DCU entrance. It’s hard to believe she wasn’t in the comics before this. Finally, the climax of the series had the Joker commit one of his most heinous crimes to date, forever changing one character. Even he was somber afterwards.

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As I jumped back into comics, No Man’s Land was one of the first trades I picked up, plowing through the series in days. While I was happy to consume the books in a short span, it made we wish I was reading the monthly titles at the time. I couldn’t imagine how fun it would have been to read a weekly, long format story. I wish DC would do something like this again, thought I doubt they will. No Man’s Land was also published as a prose novel by Greg Rucka. I recommend.

What’s your favorite Batman story? Would you read a banner arc like this? Comment below!

Batman Forever doesn’t count.

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5 responses to “Comic Book History: DC’s No Man’s Land (Batman)

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