Best Shots Review: BATMAN #26 'Violently Operatic' (9/10)

"Batman #26" preview
Credit: Mikel Janin/June Chung (DC Comics)
Credit: Mikel Janin/June Chung (DC Comics)

Batman #26
Written by Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin and June Chung
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Credit: Mikel Janin/June Chung (DC Comics)

The world’s deadliest rogues gallery draws battlelines across Gotham in the violently operatic Batman #26. Building off Tom King’s increasingly operatic scripts and Mikel Janin’s handsome artwork, Batman #26 is arguably the darkest “Rebirth” installment to date, but it retains the poetic voice King has employed thus far and takes full advantage of an art team more than capable of delivering violently splashy set pieces.

Framed as Bruce Wayne’s confession to bride-to-be Selina Kyle, Tom King wastes little time showing just why the title of this arc was spoke about in hushed tones in earlier issues. Batman #26 is almost relentlessly grim, with a high body count and an even higher amount of nightmare fuel along with it. But while King is racking up the casualties, he’s giving Batman some hefty psychological weight with this story, while also picking up the baton passed by Scott Snyder and making the Riddler and the Joker scarier villains than they have been in a long time.

Credit: Mikel Janin/June Chung (DC Comics)

King’s run has largely been character-focused and he is impressively spreading that focus across three very engaging leads. As the Joker and Riddler’s war starts to ramp up, innocents are caught in the crossfire that even the Caped Crusader can’t save.

“I tried to stop them,” Bruce says to Selina with a surprising vulnerability. “But all I did was... I took the names of the dead.”

King takes this a step further by making Bruce’s narration largely just about the victims, their names popping up in neat notations by letterer Clayton Cowles. You can feel the pain behind Batman’s words as he talks about these victims’ histories, showing the fallout and emotional toll they could - and should - take on our hero.

While Bruce broods, the Riddler and Joker blossom, thanks to King’s chilling take on the pair paired with Mikel Janin and June Chung’s horrifying depiction of their growing war. Punctuated with Batman’s narration throughout, King shows off these psychotic “generals” go on their respective recruiting drives, appealing to the villains of Gotham and allowing the art team ample opportunity for showy, stylish set pieces.

Janin’s Riddler immediately makes an impression this issue with an impressively effective homage to the 1989 Batman film, as the gut-shot Edward Nygma visits a backroom surgeon and demands a mirror to see his “repaired” chest. The scene is capped off with a skin-crawling time lapse panel sequence - a staple of Janin’s work - of Nygma carving a question mark above his newly patched bullet wound. Janin lingers on the path of the glass as it cuts into his skin, and June Chung weaves an intricate web of deep red blood set against the villain’s skin and the dingy, sickly green lighting of the scene.

Credit: Mikel Janin/June Chung (DC Comics)

And if you think that’s creepy, just wait’ll you get a load of the Joker. King moves him through the story like a wraith, having him travel to Metropolis to brutally murder Carmine Falcone’s mother with seemingly no explanation how at all. There is something even more unsettling about a Joker that is frowning, and Mikel Janin and June Chung completely lean into this. In a sequence reminiscent of the work of Brian Bolland, the creative team places the Clown Prince of Crime in front of a mirror as he tries to manipulate himself into smiling, twisting his rubber face in all directions as chases a comedic high. It is a simple panel sequence, harshly lit by Chung’s halogen lighting of the scene, but it’s a creepiness that’s likely to stay with you long after you’ve finished the issue.

While Batman #26’s big moment will surely be known as the showstopping double-page splash of the entire Batman villain roster taking their respective sides over a marked-up map of Gotham, the character moments sell this comic better than any splash page ever could. With Tom King’s emotional focus on character and mood and Janin and Chung’s precisely bone-chilling artwork, Batman #26 portends the opening salvos of a war that’s as lovely as it is gut-wrenching.

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