Written by Tom King
Art by David Finch, Danny Miki, Trevor Scott, Sandra Hope and Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Bane has reached Arkham Asylum, a prison in Batman’s city, where the Caped Crusader is guarding someone important, Gotham Girl, who’s given him a reason to succeed.
You should, because Tom King and David Finch’s Batman #19 is a direct contrast to his previous arc “I Am Suicide,” where Batman went to Santa Prisca to take back the Psycho Pirate, who helped Bane suppress his need for Venom. If it wasn’t made clear by the last issue’s use of juxtaposed flashbacks, the two are similar in many ways. What’s different, is that while Bane has an army that he disposed to dispatch the Bat, Bruce has the villains of Gotham and because of this, King avoids the issue being just a role reversal of Batman #12.
This plays into the art of the book as well. In the previous arc, Mikel Janin provided these incredible depictions of motion as Batman swept across the spreads. But in the hands of David Finch, the villains have much more to say than nameless goons. Utilizing more and more panels, Finch captures the claustrophobia of the Asylum. Batman has the means to zip about the room, but Bane’s contained within the corridors, tinged with stains and mold.
And it’s Bane that is the true testament to how Finch has been performing at the top of his game. In wider shots, Bane’s a hulking behemoth, stomping towards the next inmate that likely won’t stop him but can at least buy Batman a little more time. In tighter shots, however, we’re invited closer to Bane’s rage, and as his blood-splattered journey continues, the façade of the red-eyed mask tears and fades, but the wide-eyed fury remains the same. All of these shots have weight that results in a visceral reaction when Bane lands a blow or palpable tension as he calculates how to do so. In the early days of this series, many of us posited this tension was due to Finch’s collaboration with Danny Miki, but as he’s joined by inkers Trevor Scott and Sandra Hope, the art continues to grow stronger. Everyone involved feels at home in Gotham.
This issue is also another fantastic spotlight of the Bellaire Effect: to boil it down, having Jordie Bellaire color your book is a guaranteed way to make it better. It shows in the bigger details like Bane’s primarily black costume being thrown against the white of the inmates’ jumpsuits. This arc is an homage to Rio Bravo, and this classic color scheme only helps tether the Western connection. And then there’s the little flourishes - the rainbow of backgrounds that takes us through a spectrum of the Rogues Gallery, or how her coloring of the walls of an expansive location such as Arkham Asylum defines various wings and allows for easy transitions that aren’t on the page turn.
There’s a conversation later in the issue that Bruce partakes in that is purely incredible. We may not have always been made privy to Bruce’s thoughts in the past, but it’s a tender moment which allows access and lays out the paradigm that Bruce finds himself within. This is not Grant Morrison’s Bat-God, who achieved seemingly impossible feats, died, and fought his way back. Nor is he Scott Snyder’s Batman, who was exactly that, a man. A man who died, almost didn’t come back and is aware of that. King’s Batman follows from the latter having to handle tasks that would better fit the former, shown from the first issue when he had to stop a crashing plane, a feat that fits comfortably in Superman’s wheelhouse.
Comic books have a habit of repeating themselves if you stick around long enough. Batman and Bane have engaged in battles of wit and strength before. Both have been broken by the other. We’re about to be at the point of physical conflict again, but not in the same way that it’s played out before, because this isn’t about saving a city. King’s Batman already did that at the beginning of his run, and now what’s at stake instead is the personification of the city in Gotham Girl. It’s an intently personal confrontation that’s on the horizon. It’s two longtime foes headed on a collision course, not to save the world, but to save just one life. It’s an unstoppable force headed to an immovable object. With this information in mind, the question that remains is… which one will break first?