Written by Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin and June Chung
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
After a strong introduction to the “I Am Suicide” arc, Batman #10 brings the Dark Knight of Gotham from the manic confines of Arkham Asylum to the northern Mexican island of Santa Prisca; home to the prison of Peña Dura, as well as the man who broke the Bat - Bane. What’s that, you say? You weren’t aware that the Caped Crusader once had his spine fractured at the hands (or rather the knee) of Bane? Well, no need to worry, because broken backs seem to be a prevailing theme in a story that has a solid foundation, but suffers from an overuse of tongue-in-cheek references, and seem to imply that Bane is merely a one-note villain.
Batman #10 starts strong, with the titular hero engaged in an aerial dogfight as he attempts to touch down on Santa Prisca and retrieve Psycho-Pirate from Bane. Unfortunately, this sequence is also the start of some questionable dialogue, which prevails throughout the remainder of the issue. When referring to Psycho Pirate, Batman says, “I need him to save someone who needs to be saved,” an unrefined sentence plagued by redundancy, especially coming from an expert detective with a near genius-level intellect. Tom King is an incredible writer, so this minor faux pas could be easily forgiven, had it not been repeated multiple times throughout the issue. Even the clever spin on "Knightfall," where Batman threatens Bane (“Refuse to turn him over… and I will break your damn back”), which resonated firmly in the introduction, loses its impact by the third time it’s stated. Perhaps King intended for this to come off as poetic, but instead, it leaves a bad taste, evoking memories of the shaky, repetitive dialogue from Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s polarizing All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder.
When Batman finally does come face-to-face with Bane, King initially presents us with an intriguing new twist on the villain. No longer under the influence of Venom, the Bane we see is far removed from the comically over-muscular luchador we’re used to. This time, we see a leaner, unmasked and unclothed Bane, signifying a profound evolution of the character; at least, that’s what one would hope. Instead, he seemingly breaks Batman’s back again, an act which fails to elevate Bane as a villain. The shattering of Batman’s back is arguably Bane’s most iconic moment, but the character deserves better than a rehash of what he did in "Knightfall." In fact, in a few pages, we find out Batman’s back isn’t actually broken. What then, does Bane actually accomplish, aside from showing us he is no longer strong enough to manhandle the Dark Knight like he did in the past? Whatever King’s intentions were, this iteration of Bane comes off as a one-trick pony and a shadow of his former self.
Where King excels in this issue isn’t the main narrative, but rather the subplot, which plays out in the form of parchment-shaped caption boxes scattered throughout the issue. In them, a letter from Selina Kyle to Bruce Wayne provides some much-needed context to the circumstances which led Catwoman to be incarcerated in Arkham. The idea that Batman would align himself with someone who had a 237-man body count under their belt is, if nothing else, uncharacteristic. However, King’s revelation that the kills were in retaliation to a terror attack on the orphanage founded by Bruce’s parents helps paint Catwoman in a more positive light, as well as rationalize Batman’s decision to recruit her. After all, this would hardly be the first time we’ve seen Batman work with someone who does the wrong thing for the right reasons.
What this issue lacks in consistency from a storytelling perspective, it makes up for in aesthetics thanks to artist Mikel Janin and color artist June Chung. Janin’s line work is handled with the utmost precision, as evident by the sight of each and every minute ripple in the ocean as the Batplane blitzes towards Santa Prisca. The thick, rough inks he uses to form the jagged panel layouts that house the action are an inspired choice. As Batman crash-lands and engages in a melee with the awaiting soldiers, they serve to heighten the sense of chaos, further intensifying the visual pandemonium.
The explosive nature of this sequence is further emphasized by Chung, whose vivacious palette selection lights up the page like a warzone on the Fourth of July. A blend of pastel-like hues of red, pink, yellow, blue and green are hit with a heavy dose of saturation, exploding from the panels in a blaze of glory. This is later contrasted by cooler tones, as Batman tries to escape the watery chamber that Bane called home for 17 years. The deep aqua shades blending with light blues complement the greys and blacks of Batman’s suit, particularly in the splash page, where Batman screams out in agony.
While the outstanding visuals speak volumes about the talent of the art team, Batman #10 is a rare misstep from the generally consistent Tom King. The development of Catwoman’s arc was a valuable inclusion, but the main plot threads ultimately miss their marks. The repetitive nature of the dialogue results in a Batman that feels entirely robotic. Likewise, the ham-fisted references about broken backs and the overall treatment of Bane undermine everything the villain has done outside of Knightfall. The art conveys a visually compelling story, and the letter from Catwoman is crucial part of the “I Am Suicide” arc, so it’s certainly worthwhile to pick up Batman #10. However, it might best to check your expectations at the door before diving into this one.