Written by Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
The gaslighting of Batman continues here as Tom King and company deliver the latest chapter of King’s Batman epic. Literally and figuratively, the narrative is unraveling for Bruce Wayne but compared to the seething intensity of the last issue, this one is a bit of a head scratcher. King gives us some parallel plotting with each thread illustrated by Jorge Fornes and Mikel Janin respectively. But by the book’s end, some readers will feel just as lost as Bruce Wayne surely does. Whether that’s by design or not doesn’t make much of a difference because the approach makes the whole experiment fall a little flat.
You’ve got to give King some credit from the outset for trying to wrangle this huge narrative over the course of 70+ issues to this point. But where past writers’ have felt more intentional in their approach (see: Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder and others), King’s writing almost feels like he’s making it up as he goes along. That accounts somewhat for the wild changes in pacing, the heavy leaning on other narrative works to try to make a point and the seemingly random pick up plot threads from issues past. While we do se a throughline from Bane’s emergence early in the run to now, King picks up some details from Batman #59 in order to shine a light on the competing visuals we get throughout the book. And of course, so much of this is still fallout from Batman #50. But where the last issue had something of a driving rhythm to it that frankly was refreshing given King’s penchant for meandering at times, this issue can’t keep a beat. We oscillate between the Bat family getting together in the wake of the red Bat signal and Bruce’s face-off with Bane. But it’s not totally clear what either of these are meant to show us. It’s hard to know what’s real and while that’s something that will likely read very well in trade, it doesn’t make for the most satisfying single issue.
And the big moment on the final page really serves to echo what Alfred tells Bruce earlier in the issue but it feels a bit hollow. So much of fiction is getting characters to the places where they’ll react a certain way (look no further than the recent Game of Thrones discourse) but often it’s hard to know how an audience will react to that. King has spent so much of his run tearing down Batman that it feels like he’s running out of time to really celebrate him. Because as he’s torn him down and peeled back layers of his psyche, King hasn’t been able to say anything about the character or what he means. Under Morrison and later Snyder, we were routinely reminded that Batman is eternal in concept and execution. But to King, Batman is just a sad, mean man who inflicts himself on others.
Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, and Jordie Bellaire also have a bit of a change from last issue but I think that’s got a lot to do with the script. Where the last issue saw Bellaire’s colors really weaving the two artist’s styles together, we get a much more disjointed approach in this one. With the narrative split, Bellaire’s coloring works more to contrast the artists styles and Fornes’ work in particular stands out in its simplicity while Janin’s sometimes over rendered style gets the best of him at times. This isn’t a bad look book by any stretch but there’s a bit of whiplash in going between the two artists. They aren’t the most organic fit when the coloring is working to separate them visually.
We still have some 30 odd issues of King’s Batman yet and it’s hard to know what that means. It’s hard to really know where we stand right now. And again, I think a lot of that is by design but King’s work leaves a lot to be desired in terms of execution and it relates to the larger mythology of these characters. I still don’t know what King is trying to say about himself or Batman or Bane or Gotham or any of it. And as Batman continues to be punished by his writer, it’s understandable that some readers have felt similarly about this run.