Written by Tom King
Art by Jorne Fornes and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
We’re officially at the penultimate issue of writer Tom King’s truncated Batman run, and he’s still setting up backstory even as his readership is preparing to say 'goodbye.' And this issue might prove to be as divisive as any of the others in King’s run - his sense of structure and artist Jorge Fornes’ impeccable linework makes the overall execution intriguing, even if this issue winds up feeling like the answer to a question readers haven’t been asking.
Starting his story in the present and telling it in reverse, King tells a story that feels like a companion piece to Batman #72, only this time told from Thomas Wayne’s perspective rather than Bane’s. To his credit, this isn’t a Rube Goldberg-style mega-conspiracy, either - instead, King pieces together the backstory that bridges Flashpoint’s (anti)heroic Batman to becoming the downright malevolent Batman that’s been pulling all the strings. That might be the most satisfying angle of the issue, seeing how even in parallel universes, history still rhymes - seeing Thomas’s different but no less close relationship with Selina Kyle, watching his twist on The Killing Joke, seeing how Thomas’ most profound loss as a physician transformed him into a murderer, using only the most banal tools at his disposal.
But on the other hand, one might argue that with so little time left, if King is harping on plot points that have been readily apparent for numerous issues now - and in that regard, those critics might have a point. We’ve had so many issues now where Bruce Wayne feels like an outsider looking in on his own book - it’s been a lengthy climb back from self-imposed exile to fighting for the good of Gotham City, and since DC elected to cut King’s run a few issues short, it feels like this is the time for intensity rather than introspection. We’ve seen Batman be broken in every way that matters - the canceled engagement with Catwoman, the near-assassination of Nightwing, the (fear-)gaslighting from Bane, the death of Alfred Pennyworth - but when we’re so close to the end, it can’t help but be a little disappointing to see Bruce cede the spotlight, especially when a decent chunk of the book is just Thomas creeping in the shadows for stories we’ve already read before.
Yet given the potentially divisive subject matter, having artist Jorge Fornes on board is a sure bet for success. To call Fornes the second coming of David Mazzucchelli is both reductive and assuredly accurate - he’s got that same simplicity in the distance shots that hardens into immaculate detail when you get a closer look. Combined with colorist Jordie Bellaire, who seamlessly transitions mood and setting with each new palette, the artwork on this book looks superb - in particular, I’d say Fornes’ homage to Brian Bolland’s work on The Killing Joke is a highlight of the issue, if only because it’s so unexpected.
If there’s anything I respect most about Tom King, it’s this - even if the actual content of a story isn’t necessarily what I was looking for, he always find unique and interesting ways to tell that story. Some might consider that a gimmick or a crutch, but I’d argue that imbues a straightforward story such as Batman #84 with a perspective and point of view you might not have had otherwise. That said, the timing for such a story does feel a bit out of place when you consider where this issue rests in Tom King’s grand scheme - the backstory for Thomas Wayne might be an interesting read given a different context, but even with Fornes and Bellaire's exceptional artwork, as far as penultimate issues go, one might wish King's foot was pressing a bit harder on the gas.