Written by Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin, Hugh Petrus and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
“What we are today, we’ll be tomorrow, same as we were yesterday. Nothing ends, nothing begins. It’s all the same. It all just keeps going.”
Tom King’s run on the Dark Knight's main title comes to a close in Batman #85, wrapping up his tenure in a surprisingly haphazard fashion - and perhaps with even a bit of a cynical note. King’s plot threads fail to really coalesce here, and the writer who has made a career so far out of generally being able to deliver some sort of treatise on human nature in 12-issue chunks mostly just flounders here. Is it that a character like Batman is too big and all-encompassing to bend to King’s will, or was he simply biding his time, hoping to find something to say before suddenly having the keys to Gotham taken away? Artists Mikel Janin, Hugh Petrus, and Jordie Bellaire do their jobs well, but for an oversized issue that’s capping a three-and-a-half-year run, this book has very little to say.
In a lot of ways, this ending has a lot in common with the ending of Game of Thrones. A lot of plot happens, but the audience is left holding the bag as all the work really offers up is that stories and storytelling are important. Obviously, that’s not the most satisfying way to sunset someone’s years-long investment in any property. King twists that a little bit here. Kite Man (hell yeah) is back, and he’s the one who delivers the lines at the start of this piece. They might sound familiar if you’re a Peanuts fan - fitting especially because Kite Man’s civilian identity is Charles “Chuck” Brown - and yet again, King undermines his own intent because he can’t even come up with his own words to communicate the ideas that he has about Batman.
In a way, maybe he’s saying that much like the various works that he’s referenced throughout his run, Batman is this gigantic idea that belongs in the same pantheon of literature. But I don’t think King really gives any indication that’s the case. Instead, he does what he almost always does when he writes himself into a corner: present an idea and leave the audience to make whatever assumptions they would like to make about it. It robs his run of any sort of impact. This is the writer essentially shrugging his shoulders and saying that this run is about whatever you get out of it, an idea that runs pretty counter to the best of King’s work, not to mention any previous long runs with the character. King presents hope as an inevitability rather than something that should be treated with urgency. That’s disappointing for this critic, who was hoping that King could muster something more substantial than “life is a choice you make every day… and I choose Batman” as his thesis.
As mentioned earlier, the art team does a great job with this one. Janin and Petrus’ work blends seamlessly together. The pages have a great flow to them. It’s not their fault that the scenes themselves are sort of presented in an odd order than feels designed more to pad out the page count than provide any sort of significant boost to readers’ understanding of the work. Janin is really a strong draftsman when it comes to putting people on the page. He has absolutely no problem selling us on the chemistry between Selina and Bruce. His backgrounds are a bit sparse at times, but King is a writer who is always trying to put focus on the characters more than the setting, so I think that works here. That said, I’d love to see Janin stretch those muscles a bit more because when given the opportunity to bring background characters to life or great location establishing shots to the page, he does a good job.
It feels like Tom King only got to end his run in broad strokes here - racing to a conclusion as he knew his page count was running out. “City of Bane” ends with a whimper, and King doesn’t have enough room to really collect his thoughts and reflect on his work. In a way, Chuck Brown’s words to Bruce Wayne feel like a frustrated writer talking to his readers. There will be a new creative team in 2020. It all just keeps going.
It will be interesting to see what elements of this run remain a part of Batman’s legacy, but arguably King was at his best when he was trying to tell a good story rather than deliver on some master plan. (The date night with Lois and Clark stands out as a particular highlight.) Bruce’s last words this issue feel like King trying to psych himself up for what’s next: “Maybe he knows how to go down and how to come back up. Maybe that’s enough. Maybe that’s just enough.” Maybe. We’ll just have to wait and see.