Batman #500 (Knightfall Part 19/Conclusion)
Batman survives the cliffhanger by somersaulting into the the hotel's pool. Feeling hampered by the traditional Bat-costume, he returns to the Bat-cave to create a new one.
Bane escapes, temporarily, then takes over the jumbotron in Robinson Square to issue a public challenge to "Batman" (he includes the name in quotes). Batman arrives in his new armored suit and beats Bane to a pulp as they fight on an elevated train. GCPD and Robin are on-hand and everybody is watching to see if Batman will kill Bane. Instead of killing him, Batman condemns Bane to Blackgate Prison. Robin begrudgingly acknowlegdes that Jean-Paul has proved himself and is the New Batman-- like it or not.
Nightwing makes an appearance to talk to Robin. Officially, Nightwing says that he would not have wanted to be Batman, but would have taken over if Bruce needed him to. Robin also feels some guilt over maybe turning Jean-Paul to violence, since he designed the "Junior Batman" costume somewhat similar to the villain Metalhead (from the issues pre-Knightfall and Bane).
We see that Harold and Ace have retreated to a remote corner/level/wing/whatever of the Bat-cave.
The dialogue in this issue is key. Robin and (New) Batman argue about stooping to the level of villains and "becoming darker". Robin counters that: "only lightness stops the dark". THAT line proves to be significant in "Knightquest" (a fact which a LOT of readers missed and, subsequently, were pissed off about. Most notably Wizard Magazine). Oh, and the letters page is full of readers comparing "New Batman" to "New Coke". They're also now referring to him as "Paul Valley", dropping the "Jean-Paul" part.
So...that's it for Knightfall. It now splits into "Knightquest", with two distinct parts: "The Search" which follows the adventures of Bruce Wayne and Alfred and "The Crusade" which follows New Batman with occassional splinters into other (new) titles. A little weird that "The Search" runs through "Justice League Task Force", "Shadow of the Bat" and "Legends of the Dark Knight". Maybe some issues of "Catwoman", too, I forget.
Looking at this, now, I'm wondering if they had originally planned for "Knightfall" to include the entire Batman/Azrael/Bane story. No "Knightquest" or "Knightsend". But sales were great and they had to expand it/milk it. Also led to the launch of the "Catwoman" and "Robin" titles. Despite what we want to believe, comics are always based on sales. If something sells, do more of it-- that's the mantra.
Is this a good story, overall? I'll say "yes", but only because we now know the eventual ending. At the time (Fall 1993), the fact that Bruce Wayne had been replaced by a 90's hero really depressed me. I remember thinking: "dammit, this is what people want. I guess comics aren't for me anymore". I mean, they were messing with BATMAN! Call me a sucker, because that's what they wanted me to think.