Written by Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin, Hugo Petrus and June Chung
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
For better or worse, “I am Suicide” has been a bit of a deviation from most modern interpretations of the Caped Crusader. Tom King has taken a lot of risks with this story, resulting in an increasing split amongst many Batman readers. Batman #12 ultimately proves to be King’s biggest risk yet, as we’re presented with a book that seemingly laughs in the face of traditional comic book storytelling. The question is, does the risk pay off, or is it dead on arrival?
When one pictures a standard superhero comic book, what comes to mind? You have your panels, your word balloons; maybe some caption boxes and a splash page or two. Batman #12, on the other hand, takes this traditional, formulaic approach to the medium and turns it completely upside-down. What King and Janin present us with is a narrative that plays out primarily through parchment-shaped caption boxes, much like the ones that housed the letter from Selina Kyle to Bruce Wayne in Batman #10. This time, it’s the reverse, with a letter from Bruce to Selina accompanying sequentials almost entirely made up of splash pages and double-page spreads showcasing the Dark Knight valiantly fighting his way through the confines of Santa Prisca, making his way to Bane’s throne room.
As the story unfolds, Bruce opens up to Selina in one of the most profound manners ever put to page in a Batman title, sharing his innermost feelings with the one person who can truly empathize with his pain. The dichotomy between Janin’s art, portraying a strong and fearless hero, and King’s script, depicting him as a man just as vulnerable as the rest of us, expertly embodies the dual-nature of the character’s complex identity. After all, it’s long been said that Bruce Wayne is the mask, and that Batman is the true persona. What Bruce reveals to Selina, though, is that the grown man underneath the cowl is simply “the mask under the mask.” At his core, Bruce is still “that little rich kid whose mommy and daddy got shot.”
King goes on to further humanize the Dark Knight, as Bruce acknowledges the real-world hilarity of a man dressing up as a bat. The armor and leather, the utility belt and bat-themed gadgets; suspension of disbelief allows us as readers to enjoy the concept of Batman, but even Bruce is cognizant of how the world must see him (“I want to laugh, too,” says Bruce). By fighting the urge to laugh and eventually surrendering to his pain, that same “little rich kid whose mommy and daddy got shot” chose to die - he chose to become Batman.
Towards the final page, Bruce’s letter finally addresses Selina’s controversial body count, which was revealed in Batman #9. The bond between Bruce and Selina, shaped by pain, allows the World’s Greatest Detective to see through the walls she’s built around her, and King’s execution plants some very intriguing seeds for Catwoman’s character progression in the remainder of the arc. It’s also becoming increasingly clear that Selina will likely play a major role in the series, even after the conclusion of the current storyline.
While King’s writing presents us with an engaging and thought-provoking story, Mikel Janin’s art tells an epic and captivating tale in its own right. The minimal dialogue and small caption boxes allow Janin to turn off the safety switch, firing round after round of intense splash pages and explosive double-page spreads right into the heart of the reader, including a page of Batman tearing through a crowd full of armed guards that evokes the iconic hallway fight scene from Oldboy.
Both Janin and fellow inker Hugo Petrus add brilliant depth to the painstakingly meticulous line work, especially in the spread where Batman ascends the castle-like walls of the Santa Prisca prison. No expense was spared in terms of detail, with line after line laid out with laser precision to add remarkably realistic texture to the prison walls and the stones that make up the island. Even the tiniest of ripples in the ocean are given the same level of care as the imagery in the foreground. In fact, the only artistic flaws to be found are a few minor instances of awkward perspective, particularly with Batman’s chest.
On the pages that do call for panels, rather than splashes or spreads, Janin still manages to show off his resourcefulness with unique, avant-garde layouts. Much of the imagery overlaps the bulk of the panels. In other instances, the imagery is overlapped, itself, by the gutters of the panels, like we see with the massive great white shark when Batman plunges into the waters surrounding the island.
Of course, what really brings the visuals to life is June Chung’s stunning use of color. The bright and exuberant yellows and blues are in direct contrast with the dark greys, blacks and purples of Batman, ensuring we never lose sight of him in the midst of all the chaos. Furthermore, it serves as a visual representation of the darkness Batman forcibly holds within himself in order to give the rest of the world the brightness he was robbed of as a child.
If nothing else, the “I am Suicide” arc thus far has made it abundantly clear that Tom King is a very distinctive Batman writer. With Batman #12, you aren’t getting your run of the mill superhero comic book - you’re getting something far deeper and incisive. The core concepts and values that make up what you know and love about Batman are still there, but King is definitely presenting us with an evolution of the character. The curb appeal, thanks Janin, Petrus and Chung’s breathtaking art, is reason enough to pick up this issue. Make no mistake, though - Batman #12 is a compelling statement about the character, making this book an essential part of every Bat-reader’s collection.