Happy new book day, everyone! I hope your week is going well. This week, I want to return to my project of viewing real-world figures through the lens of Batman—martial artists, vigilantes, detectives, etc. In this particular entry, I’ll look at Jean-Louis Michel, widely considered to be one of the greatest swordsmen who ever lived.
Jean-Louis Michel (1785-1865) was born in the then French colony of Saint Domingue to a French father and Haitian mother. His father was a soldier and fencing instructor in Napoleon’s army and was renowned as an innovator in the art of French swordsmanship. Jean-Louis took up his father’s fighting style and perfected it, eliminating unnecessary, flashy movements and effectively creating a deadly, minimalist form of fencing.
Following Haiti’s secession from France in 1795, Jean-Louis chose to travel to his father’s homeland for an education, and he later followed his father’s example in joining the French army, ending up in the 32nd Regiment of the 3rd Division. It was during his time in the army that Jean-Louis participated in one of the most impressive displays of his fencing aptitude.
Though the details leading up to it are somewhat cloudy and mired in 18th century sensibilities, it is known that there was some immense falling out between the 1st and 32nd Regiments during some sort of celebration. The only acceptable solution during this time was for a duel to take place, and the involved parties decided that 30 swordsmen (15 from each aggrieved side) would represent the total of 10,000 French soldiers. The rules stated that a combatant could only leave the fight when he had fallen and had to keep facing opponents until he died.
Jean-Louis Michel stood as the first champion of his regiment, and proved the strength of his sword style by slaying 13 of his 15 possible opponents. At this point, a colonel involved in the duels eventually convinced everyone involved to let go of whatever slights had led them to this moment, citing Jean-Louis’s performance as evidence that the 32nd had nothing left to prove.
While he fought in many more duels before and after this grand display, his slaying of 13 opponents in a reported 40 minutes is perhaps the greatest example of Jean-Louis Michel’s abilities. Much like Imi Lichtenfeld, Jean-Louis eventually retired from army life and opened a school where he instructed pupils in his fencing style for the rest of his life. The school he opened in 1830 still stands today in Montpellier, France, with associated schools all over the world.
What do you think of this historical figure? I couldn’t find very much information on him, but I would like to know more. If you do have more information on Jean-Louis Michel, please do pass it along. That being said, who do you think I should examine next through the Batman lens? I have a few ideas, but I’d like to hear your thoughts. Let me know, and be sure to come back next week to see my decision.
My comic picks for this week:
Batman Eternal #10
Infinity Man and the Forever People #1
Justice League United #2
Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #2
New Avengers #19
Thor: God of Thunder Vol. 2: Godbomb TPB
More summer reading recommendations for superhero fans:
Supergods by Grant Morrison
One of the masters of graphic storytelling lays out his own thoughts on and experiences with the medium, and he also provides a useful and accessible history and body of criticism for it. Don’t pay attention to negative hype; give this one a chance.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
This is the ur-treatise on the hero. If you want to understand the heroic figure’s appeal and usefulness in any human culture, this book is worth a read.
Newspaper image from the Baltimore Afro American, Nov. 23, 1946