The lead-up story began with the arc Cataclysm which described a major earthquake hitting Gotham City. This was followed by the storylines Aftershock and then Road to No Man's Land which resulted in the U.S. government officially evacuating Gotham and then abandoning and isolating those who choose to remain in the city. The No Man’s Land story properly covered the residents of the city during this time of isolation until its time of re-opening and the beginning of rebuilding.
The main storyline ran through the monthly Batman titles Detective Comics, Batman, Batman: Shadow of the Bat and Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight with other spin-offs serving as tie-ins. In all, No Man's Land encompassed 80 regular monthly issues, 4 specials, and the Batman: Harley Quinn graphic novel, which introduced Harley Quinn to the DC Comics universe.
The storyline is divided into several arcs. A part of the story would continue from one Batman title and then to the next Batman title that would come the following week, much the same format used in the Superman comics for that time. Unlike the Superman comics, where a creative team is maintained for one monthly title, the same creative team is maintained for the duration of the story arc.
The core storyline is collected as trade paperbacks in five volumes. However, because of the large number of issues that were devoted to No Man's Land, only 40 of them made it into the collections. A novelization of the story line was also written by Greg Rucka and released as hardcover in January 2000.
Gotham City had suffered the results of a magnitude 7.6 earthquake in the earlier Cataclysm storyline. Previous disasters, such as two separate plague outbreaks, caused many to want to write off Gotham completely. The U.S. Government gave a timeline. At the end, all bridges were destroyed and all known paths out of the island city were covered by the National Guard. The Justice League of America were forbidden by law from entering the city. They kept busy defeating outside threats to the city, along with other crises. The situation inside was left to Batman and his allies; Superman offered his help in the city, but after staying for one day, realized this was not the type of problem he could fix with just power. Upon the realization, he leaves Gotham in the hands of Batman (although Superman, in the guise of Clark Kent, would appear again months later to check on Batman's progress).
The city was swiftly carved up by gangs and various supervillains Batman had battled over the years. Jim Gordon and several well known Gotham officers chose to stay behind and an unknown number of policemen willingly followed suit, all in an effort to protect the innocent people. Oracle and Huntress also ended up on the inside.
Huntress adopted the Batgirl persona in Batman's absence, realizing that Gotham needed 'Bat-Personnel' to keep the situation under control. As Bruce Wayne, Batman had left the city to try to solve the problem politically, using his name and money to convince the federal government to delay closing off Gotham. Unfortunately, his efforts failed, arguably because he appeared to the government as Bruce Wayne — an air-headed billionaire with little concern for serious issues — of which the No Man's Land was exemplary.
Some 100 days after the Federal Declaration of the No Man's Land, he returned to Gotham to reclaim the Batman title and his people, many of whom had long since given up on him. Even his former ally, James Gordon, believed that Batman had abandoned Gotham to the villains.
What Batman returned to was a state of unrest and disorder on a grand scale. Since there was no longer anywhere to spend it, money became worthless; people would barter anything from batteries to services to protection for daily necessities. It seemed the only person to have any use for cash was the The Penguin, who had nightly events where those few with cash left spent it all on such rare and simple items as an apple. The Penguin, despite his riches and implicit opportunities to flee the city, instead opted to stay. He had his own mysterious link to the outside and apparently enjoyed taking advantage of the dire situation in Gotham.
With Batman being gone for so long, and his very existence debatable in the Gotham underworld, the Huntress was able to pass off as not Batgirl, but Batman himself to many of the criminals she faced. Following the example of the gangs in town, she even tagged by graffiti her territory with the bat symbol. She went back to her Huntress costume when the Dark Knight confronted her after her failure to hold territory against Two-Face's forces, without any pleasantries. The third Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, estranged daughter of assassin David Cain, made important contributions to the effort during this time, as well as starting a lasting friendship with the Oracle.
In an effort to redeem herself, the Huntress went to the aid of a church that was open as a hospital and sanctuary to anyone desiring it in Gotham. Having no protection because of their benevolent intentions, the church and its kind staff were sitting ducks. The Huntress' desires to use her expertise to protect them was seen more as an unnecessary and warlike show of force than as help, even when she was trying to halt the Scarecrow's machinations to sabotage the church's efforts.
The weaker gang-leaders fell first, mostly to Batman and or James Gordon's officers. Street by street, battles were fought, with deaths on both sides. Eventually Gordon's forces split, with half the squad following the more violent Billy Pettit, who believed that the only solution was to meet violence with more violence rather than Gordon's more peaceful methods. Two-Face became a major warlord, acquiring and losing territory every so often, and caused major problems for the police. He kidnapped Jim Gordon, killing two of his guards, in revenge for breaking a previous alliance, although in the subsequent trial Gordon was acquitted by the defense of Harvey Dent, Dent concluding that since Gordon had been essentially blackmailed into the alliance the agreement was void. The Penguin, as previously mentioned, remained in the city and was approached by Mercy Graves, acting on behalf of Lex Luthor, to begin a rudimentary clean-up of the downtown districts for Luthor's eventual move-in. Poison Ivy took over Robinson Park. She ended up caring for numerous orphans and was left alone by Batman in return for providing food. Zsasz owned his own territory, as did Mr. Freeze. Bane, too, was involved indirectly as a strong man for Lex Luthor; he notably destroyed the Hall of Records to fulfill one of Luthor's goals. He also drastically reduced Two-Face's territory in the process, making him insignificant. Despite his status as a supervillain, the Scarecrow was welcomed into a church filled with refugees and manipulated various factions in a plot to send the church's refugees spiraling into fear and despair. The Riddler, strangest of all perhaps, actually fled Gotham and spent the year barely noticed. The Joker made the most of his rare appearances. He spent some time as the ruler of an apartment building filled with supplies. This ended up, naturally, with lots of dead people, many from his own gang. He later re-formed and attacked Pettit's territory. During the attack, he captured several of Pettit's men, dressed them up to look like him, and forced them to walk in front of Pettit; the now-insane cop shot all of them without even confirming whether or not they were the real Joker. After killing an officer who was going to go to Gordon for help, Pettit himself was shot by the Joker. Huntress subsequently faced the Joker and around twenty of his men all by herself, suffering near-fatal wounds in the process before Batman and Nightwing showed up to help her.
When Lex Luthor's money illegally brought in an army of construction workers, the Joker tried to kill his share. Bane, employed by Luthor now, appeared again, protecting the innocent workers from death, maiming and worse.
Near the end of the saga, as a statement to murder hope with the news that the No Man's Land was intended to end on New Year's Day, the Joker decided to kill all the children born during the No Man's Land storyline. Sarah Essen, Commissioner Gordon's wife, ended up confronting the Joker alone in Gordon's police headquarters. While saving a baby from a dangerous drop to a hard floor, she was shot and killed. Gordon restrained himself from killing the Joker, opting only to shoot out his knee. The Joker, quite naturally, found this unspeakably funny, since it had been he who crippled Barbara Gordon.
Eventually, thanks in no small part to the financial and political machinations of Lex Luthor — dipping his hands, as ever, in both legitimate and illegal means to achieve his goals — Gotham City was released and rebuilt, and rejoined the United States. However, his plan to own the city is foiled by Batman, after the Dark Knight recovered the original documents from Gotham's archives which would prove Luthor's attempt on fraud with his forgeries. Luthor left Gotham after the discovery.
Gordon and the surviving officers were reinstated as full policemen.
Much of the story line was narrated by Oracle, as she used her resources to become a low-tech version of herself. She used paper to document events and the passage of time, operatives and emergency phones (knowing which ones were still in operation) to gather intel, and maps colored by pencils to keep track of who controlled which portions of the city at a particular time. Her maps were frequently shown in the comics to help the reader follow the progression of territorial disputes (Gotham City maps in the current series are based in large part on Oracle's maps from this series). Oracle remained one of the few people in the city with the ability to contact the outside world. In his own series, Hitman, Tommy Monaghan had found his own ways in and out of Gotham (he spent No Man's Land protecting his own few blocks of where he had grown up, putting out the skulls of vampires as warning signs).
Like Oracle, all of the characters got serious testing of their mettle. Commissioner Gordon became more of a general leading an army than a police officer and held a grudge against Batman, even after he had returned. It wasn't until nearly the end of the story line before they talked again, and Batman even revealed to Gordon his secret identity, in a gesture to regain his trust, but Gordon turned away without looking. He didn't want to know who was under the mask, and told Batman to put it back on.
Organizations and Teams featured in Batman: No Man's Land
- The Joker's gang.
- Two-Face's gang.
- The Strong Men.
- Blue Boys (GCPD).
- Street Demonz
- The MASH sector (the hospital that Leslie Thompkins works at during NML)
- Mr Zsasz's gang.
- Killer Croc's gang.
- Mr. Freeze's gang.
- The Ventriloquist's gang.
- Mad Hatter's gang.
- Penguin's gang.
- Blackgate Penitentiary.
- Black Mask's False Facers.
- The Faith Centre.
- Lex Luthor's builders.
- Lynx & The Triads.
- Leo's gang (splinter group of Black Mask).
- The Jets.
- Unknown gang defeated by Batman (possibly Lynx & Triads.)
- Ghost Dragons.
- Jade Leopards.
- Batman, Oracle and Alfred.
- The power plant
The story ran through the following issues:
- Batman: No Man's Land #0
- Batman: No Man's Land #1
- No Man's Land: Secret Files & Origins #1
- Young Justice Special #1
- Batman: Harley Quinn (graphic novel)
- Detective Comics #730-741
- Batman #563-574
- Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #116-126
- Batman: Shadow of the Bat #83-94
- Batman: Chronicles #16-18
- Catwoman #72-77
- Robin #67-73
- Nightwing #35-39
- Azrael #50-61
- JLA #32
- Hitman #37-46
Two of the storylines immediately following No Man's Land were collected as TPBs with the subtitles New Gotham 1 and New Gotham 2 respectively playing up the fact that they were set in the rebuilt Gotham City following No Man's Land. These were Batman: Evolution from Detective 743-750 and Batman: Officer Down collecting the story from Batman #587, Robin #86, Birds of Prey #27, Catwoman #90, Nightwing #53, Detective #754, and Gotham Knights #13.
No Man's Land introduced the character of Cassandra Cain, who would become the third Batgirl. An ongoing quasi-relationship between Two-Face and Renee Montoya started as a result to this crossover and came to a head in the pages of Gotham Central's Half a Life storyline. No Man's Land also saw the death of Sarah Essen, the wife of Gordon, who is brutally murdered by The Joker in the arc's finale; an event that precipitated Gordon's temporary retirement from the force. The crisis also gave Luthor enough of a foothold in public opinion to win the candidacy of the President of the United States in 2000. This series also set forth the basis of the friendship between Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.
Behind the Scenes, No Man's Land precipitated the exit of longtime writer and editor Denny O'Neil from the Batman family of books. In an interview he stated that he retired three years before he was supposed to, due to the strenuous nature of editing. O'Neil was replaced by Bob Shreck.
Some of the stories were collected into trade paperbacks:
- Volume One (ISBN 1563895641)
- Volume Two (ISBN 1563895994)
- Volume Three (ISBN 1563896346)
- Volume Four (ISBN 1563896982)
- Volume Five (ISBN 1563897091)
There is a novel written about the story arc called No Man's Land. The book is mostly based around The Joker, The Penguin, Two-Face, Bane, Lex Luthor, and other villains, and the Gotham City Police Department along with the Batman himself. The novel addresses the relationship between Cassandra and her father David Cain, the infamous assassin. It also describes in more detail the various personalities left in the GCPD, including the militant cop Petit who is constantly belittling Gordon's orders as being too soft. Greg Rucka is the author of this novel. The book does, however, leave out Azrael and Superman, who were present throughout the story in the comics.
In other media
The No Man's Land storyline was adapted in the fourth and fifth season of Gotham. Unlike the comics, the event wasn't caused by an earthquake, but rather by a number of bomb attacks carried out by Jeremiah Valeska and Ra's al Ghul, which destroyed all the main bridges that connected the city to the mainland. In this continuity, the No Man's Land event lasted for 391 days.
Organizations and Teams featured in Gotham: No Man's Land
- The GCPD
- Penguin's gang
- Barbara Kean, Tigress and the Sisters of the League
- Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth and Selina Kyle
- Bane, Bird and the Delta Force
- Nyssa al Ghul, Hugo Strange and the League of Shadows
- Jeremiah Valeska, Ecco and the Mad Hatter
- Street Demonz
- The Undead
- The Soothsayers
- The Riddler
- Scarecrow and his gang
- The Mutant Leader and his gang
- Poison Ivy
- Victor Zsasz
- The Ventriloquist
- Mr. Freeze
- Firefly and her gang
- Mother and Orphan
- Jane Doe
- The Leopards
- The U.S. Military