Best Shots Review: BATMAN #74

"Batman #74" preview
Credit: Mikel Janin/Jordie Bellaire (DC)
Credit: Mitch Gerads (DC)

Batman #74
Written by Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Credit: Mikel Janin/Jordie Bellaire (DC)

It’s taken plenty of twists and turns to get here, but the conclusion to the "Fall and the Fallen" arc is finally upon us, with Batman and his father — the Flashpoint Batman Thomas Wayne — reaching their desert destination to resurrect Martha Wayne’s remains in a Lazarus Pit. But when you think about where this arc started — with Bane breaking the Dark Knight physically and emotionally, capping off a 70-plus-issue megaplot — it’s hard not to feel like writer Tom King has stuck his landing in a completely different storyline altogether.

Of course, it goes without saying that King is an ambitious writer with big plans and an appetite for intricate, sweeping sagas divided by action and shorter chapters. And while some fans might still have a tough time suspending their disbelief at any version of Thomas Wayne operating alongside Bruce, King also sells the father-son angle effectively, putting a lot of heart and emotion into the father and son bonding, which makes the final confrontation between these two Batman all the more crushing and dire as the fists start to fly.

Credit: Mikel Janin/Jordie Bellaire (DC)

But at the same time, as far as an issue-by-issue basis, this can’t help but feel like a major departure from what King has already established. While he’s made it clear that Thomas and Bane have been working in tandem — Bane trying to vanquish his longtime foe, Thomas trying to “rescue” his son from the crushing burden that is Batman — King has lost sight a bit of the themes he’s established. Bruce has gone from doubting himself to his very core to bouncing back to stand up to his interdimensional father once more, but it feels as though we’re missing a step as to how the Batman found his spine again (both literally and metaphorically).

Nonetheless it helps when a writer has a great synchronicity with their artists. A great team is very telling on the page and the bond between King and Mikel Janin goes a long way to mask the faults of this issue. His clean linework and detailed plotting of the fight between Bruce and Thomas is brutal. There is weight and impact behind every landing punch. His layouts, especially as Bruce and Thomas descend deeper into the pit, provides some great visual focus on what is essentially a dialogue-driven segment.

Credit: Mikel Janin/Jordie Bellaire (DC)

That said, Janin’s lines are a little sketchier than they have been in the past. With the story taking place in the desert, there’s a lot less detail in the background since we’re in the desert and not at illustrious Wayne manor or sprawling gothic jungle of Gotham city. When he can, Janin hammers in texture and substance into a cave or the immediate surroundings of the pit. But this is a tale of two men stripping things down to their most primal instincts, and the visuals reflect that appropriately.

Jordie Bellaire, meanwhile, does a near-perfect job on colors. She builds suspense and mood as she delivers the feel of the desert heat or the chill of the foreboding darkness, all with the use of her palette. Perhaps more importantly, however, Bellaire and Janin work wonders together in providing a clear distinction between the two Batmen for the entire issue, not just through costume design but in subtle facial expressions and performative character work.

On the one hand, King’s poetic weaving of previous story beats are really something to appreciate when you step back and look at the whole canvas. The way he revisits the story of the animals in the pit reaches a new level of grit, and King’s intricacy, effort, and detail will likely only be more appreciated as his series winds down. But on the other hand, the pacing of this arc in particular has weighed down this series just as it heads into its final arc. What could have been a showstopper of Batman facing two of his most defining traumas — both his late father’s legacy as well as the costs of his own cape and cowl — doesn’t hit quite as hard as one might expect. Like this finale’s desert setting, the "Fall and the Fallen" feels built on a foundation of sand, and while there have been several narrative oases to keep things moving, hopefully King and company will move to some more fertile storytelling ground with their next arc.

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