Written by Tom King
Art by David Finch, Sandra Hope, Matt Banning, Scott Hanna and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by John Workman
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
“I understand. You got hit. Hit hard. And now you’re hurt. But just because you’re hurt… doesn’t mean you get to hurt my city.”
While their initial installments suffered from some slow pacing, Tom King and David Finch show readers what they’re capable of in Batman #5, a battle royale pitting the Dark Knight against an all-powerful — and newly homicidal — metahuman named Gotham. There are a lot of moving parts to the conclusion of this opening arc, and some prove a little bit jarring, the rise and fall of Gotham ends on this run’s strongest note yet.
After last issue’s subversive winks at All-Star Superman as we saw Gotham slide into madness and violence, Tom King finally brings Batman face-to-face against this metahuman enemy. King’s juggling a lot of balls in the air, but the angle that I think has most potential is that his Batman isn’t operating solo — he relies on his support team consistently throughout this issue, and while some guest stars prove to be a little convenient in their sudden inclusion, Duke Thomas proves to be Batman’s emotional ace in the hole, while Alfred might have one of his funniest bits as he dons a cape and cowl in an attempt to distract this rampaging super-being. Even Gotham Girl, who still suffers a bit from her near-fridging in the previous issue, winds up getting a nice redemption in this issue, as King uses the fear-based mythology of Batman and transforms it into an inspiring mantra of embracing one’s own bravery.
Additionally, this issue also feels like King and Finch clicking in terms of their separate but distinct styles, with King laying out some rapid-fire fight choreography that Finch realizes beautifully, as he produces far and away the best page layouts he’s done in recent memory. A splash page of Batman literally hitting Gotham with a plane is a powerhouse of an image, and the way that Finch has Gotham dismantle some of the DCU’s heaviest hitters is a case study in superheroic brutality. In many ways, having a bloodthirsty ubermenschen might be Finch at his best — he’s able to channel a lot of the classic, sturdy superhero poses for Gotham, but he gives everything a shadow and seriousness that shows just how scary this character can be. Extra kudos has to go to the trio of inkers on this book, as Sandra Hope, Matt Banning and Scott Hanna maintain a largely seamless transition on each page.
With a character named “Gotham,” it’s also nice to see King tapping into metacommentary here, with Batman repeating certain lines: “We need to talk.” “Goodbye, Gotham.” Even the ominous finale page, which evokes King’s earlier work on The Vision, seems to herald that the status quo is due for a seismic upheaval — that Batman has to reevaluate his relationship not just with his new proteges (both superpowered and all-too-ordinary), but with the city of Gotham as a whole. That said, there are beats that hold this book back, as well — the biggest being that Batman rarely gets a chance to be more active in his own book, as he instead delegates much of the book’s biggest moments to other characters, ranging from Alfred to Duke to Gotham Girl to even more unexpected guest stars. Gotham’s fall, unfortunately, has little to do with the Dark Knight himself, and while I wouldn’t be surprised if King follows up on this thread soon, it does rob this opening arc of some of its potency.
Yet by the last page of this issue, it’s clear that King has other plans — and that just as Batman (and his readers) are finally getting steady and comfortable, he’s going to pull the rug out from underneath everyone soon enough. Of course, the problem with serialized comics is that you can’t just tease the future — the here and now has to also feel engaging and exciting. In that regard, Batman #5 succeeds with some caveats, as King and Finch raise the stakes by pitting the Caped Crusader against a foe that is way out of his weight class. There are still some rough edges that could stand to be smoothed out, but this is certainly the best issue of this run yet.