Weekend Superhero: Batman Comics are the Best They’ve Been in Years
Let’s shift gears this week to the comic book world of, well, comic books. We get so worked up over the latest Marvel and DC movies that we sometimes forget that comics are the reason we have them at all.
In May of 2016, DC overhauled its entire universe with a new event known as “DC Rebirth”. The shake-up was divisive, as this Rebirth proclaimed that “Watchmen”, the brilliant 1980’s classic by Alan Moore, is now part of the DC canon. That means that up on Mars right now is Dr. Manhattan. And it’s that self-same blue near-God that has been pulling the strings of the DC universe for years now.
I’m a huge fan of “Watchmen”, so I loved this idea from the beginning. Others feel the Moore characters have no place in the DC continuity. Either way, the change is here to stay, and with that came an entire staff of new writers. Scott Snyder had written the main “Batman” title for the entirety of its “New 52” run, and it never really impressed me. Snyder is a brilliant idea man (the Court of Owls is a fantastic concept that fits perfectly into Gotham) but ultimately his execution is lacking. Enter Tom King.
Tom King had a shaky start to his “Batman” run, but has since brought in the reins of this stallion and is now barreling forward at an impressive pace. Below, find my descriptions of all of King’s storylines thus far, along with my gut reactions to them.
I Am Gotham – The first arc of King’s run started out with tremendous promise. It begins with Batman literally standing on top of a crashing plane and trying to steer it with his gadgets. It’s over-the-top and awesome. When it is apparent that Batman is going to fail in saving the plane, another figure swoops in and simply lifts the plane and lands it gently. Bruce thinks it’s Superman, but in the reveal we see that it is two brand new heroes: Gotham and Gotham Girl.
I loved the idea that Batman – who has no superpowers and has fancied himself the shadowed face of Gotham for his whole career – would suddenly have to contend with Superman-level metahumans that are literally walking around calling themselves Gotham. Unfortunately, the arc doesn’t really go in that direction and it turns into Batman trying to tutor the new heroes, who eventually turn on him. It’s a disappointing end to the arc, in which it’s revealed that Psycho Pirate is responsible for their drastic behavioral change.
Night of the Monster Men – A complete fizzle. This was a crossover event but it never gained any traction. I barely remember it and I think it’s only real impact is that the toxin used within it is now the inciting incident for the solo “Batwoman” line.
I Am Suicide – Now this is where things get crazy. Batman tracks Psycho Pirate to Santa Prisca, where his leash is held by Bane. Bane is using the Pyscho Pirate to ween himself off of the venom he’s known for. Going into Santa Prisca alone is suicide – so Bruce recruits his own Suicide Squad from Arkham. Among the recruits is Catwoman, recently incarcerated for the deaths of over 200 people. The plan to infiltrate Bane’s fortress is masterfully crafted by Batman, who has also pushed the limits of his body to lengths heretofore unknown. King has reinvented Batman as a master detective and strategist, but also a man who has finally reached the point of doing anything for justice.
Rooftops – This is a brief two-parter after “I Am Suicide” ends, and I think it’s an instant classic. Batman and Catwoman converse on the rooftops of Gotham, her playing one more game of cat-and-mouse with Bruce before she has to go back to Arkham. The exchange is emotional and the artwork by David Finch is breathtaking. If you’re a fan of the Batman-Catwoman relationship, you owe it to yourself to read this story.
I Am Bane – Back to the action, Bane is pissed because he was defeated at Santa Prisca and has to go back on the venom to stay sane and strong. So he launches a one-man assault on Gotham to destroy everything Batman loves. First up: all the Robins. While reading this arc, I was astonished at the relentless pace that King manages to convey in his writing. I could almost feel a driving drum beat underneath the action, propelling the characters forward. The final confrontation between Batman and Bane is an exchange of power so massive it is barely contained within the page. Again, Finch’s artwork is impressive here and helps drive home the intensity of what King is setting up.
“Batman” has become the comic I look forward to most every Wednesday. Every issue leaves me on the edge of my seat and provides me with a new image that I will never forget. Tom King’s new, ruthless Batman just might be my favorite iteration of the character. Next up, Batman and Flash will be investigating the mysterious smiley face button that was found in the Batcave during the Rebirth issue. The first two issues have already been released and it’s already shaping up really well. Let’s hope they don’t push things too far.