Written by Tom King
Art by David Finch, Danny Miki, Clay Mann, Seth Mann, and Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
The sincere superhero heart of Tom King’s Batman run finally shows itself in #24, the emotional prelude to the upcoming “War of Jokes and Riddles.” King’s run thus far has been a hard one to pin down, opting to show a more poetic and theatrical human side to Batman’s stories as opposed to the more superheroic takes in All-Star Batman and Justice League of America. But it finally hit me as I read Batman #24, Tom King isn’t really all that interested in Batman as we best know him - he’s writing Batman as the ultimate romantic hero.
Batman #24 is divided neatly into two concurrent halves. “Today” is handled by the DC solo title debuts of Clay and Seth Mann after their stellar auditions with two issues of Trinity, while “Tonight” rendered by the returning David Finch and Danny Miki, with both pairs of artists given rich definition and tone by colorist Jordie Bellaire. This division is one of the issue’s smarter plays as it not only gives the Manns plenty of pages in which to inject a warm, lithe energy into the title but also gives it a sleeker, more youthful style than we are used to seeing in this series. The Manns nail the gruff, intimidating figure of Batman, but don’t shy away from showing just how silly he looks in direct sunlight, or how vulnerable he can be when standing next to the optimistic Gotham Girl. This is most explicitly shown in a sequence shown in bird’s eye view as Gotham Girl addresses Batman and his shadow looms over the foreground. “Why can’t you be happy?” she asks Bruce - as the Manns show Batman’s head drop, it’s a potent image that conveys the pain, loss, and fear that echoes through Batman’s mind.
During the “Tonight” scenes, Finch, Miki, and Jordie Bellaire stand as the direct inverse of the Manns’ scenes between Gotham Girl and Batman; all rain-soaked rooftops, heavy roiling shadows, and powerful character models. These pages instantly will call to mind the violent visual language of the first arc, but Finch is operating on a much softer level here. That’s right, I just called David Finch’s artwork soft, but once you read the issue, you’ll agree. Finch leans into Bruce’s vulnerability as he reveals his heart to Catwoman, spurred on by the raw honesty of his conversation with Gotham Girl. Artists usually try to give readers the hard-knuckled side of Batman or the more calculating side of Batman but never both. Miraculously, both sets of art teams do just that in Batman #24 and set the stage well for the kind of intimate story King is telling.
And what about Tom King? His run has been difficult to get a handle on but this issue operates as the Rosetta Stone for his characterization of Batman, and while it probably shouldn’t have taken 24 issues to get here, everything about King’s thoughts and characterization of Batman has finally locked into place for me. By now, the issue’s main water cooler moment has been spoiled, but that isn’t even the real story here - it’s Batman’s conversation with Gotham Girl and how much it reveals about King’s Batman. As they talk, it becomes apparent that King is framing Batman as DC’s quintessential romantic hero, someone ruthless, alienated from society, and standing as a force of nature against crime and super-villainy.
This narrative direction is given further credence by the very origins of Batman and the issue’s seismic shift in his personal life. Romantic heroes in theater are often associated with a fatal flaw or “hamartia,” as the philosopher Aristotle called it. This is the juncture between the character and their actions, described as “that which reveals the moral purpose of the agents.” This could be either an external force (“an act of God” like the shipwreck in The Tempest that sets the plot/character development in motion) or a character’s choice (Oedipus’...whole deal). We already know Bruce’s first “fatal flaw” - the murder of his parents - but with his proposal to Catwoman, he has another which he (and King) attempt to use as a push toward a sort of happiness behind the cowl; the best case scenario of the hamartia. Time will tell if Bruce ascends or is broken by this new, potentially huge development.
Now, do I think that Tom King and his art teams specifically dove into peripatetic school philosophy in order to produce a Batman issue? Maybe not, but whether on purpose or by chance he has managed to tie the Dark Knight Detective into dramatic philosophy in a way that doesn’t seem stuffy or cold. In a medium dominated by Byronic anti-heroes and dour deconstructions, Batman #24 is the right combination of intelligence, heart, and sincerity that we need right now.