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This comic gets my official pick as the best issue of Batman since Tom King took on the character.  This story has sooo much going for it, it’s ridiculous: An amazing opening that mirrors a classic yet often forgotten story, references galore, great cameos, and the use of obscure characters.  But hey, that’s hardly everything.  Read on for the breakdown on these and other exciting developments contained in this week’s issue of Batman!

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Excerpt from Batman: Vengeance of Bane (1993)

The first couple pages of this story are a great reminder of the events that forged Bane into the person he is today.  Considering that his tale was divulged in a one-shot that wasn’t incorporated into the numbered ongoing series at the time, it’s possible that some people might have missed it or aren’t even aware that it exists.  If you’ve never read it, I highly recommended it.  It will probably change the way you view Bane.  Other than the fact that Bane has it in for Batman, which should make us hate him, Batman: Vengeance of Bane (1993) basically has you rooting for Bane.  Any story that can make you root for the guy that you should be hating on is definitely doing something right in my book.

I’d also recommend reading it because supplemental material helps hammer out character moments that might not always come across fully in the immediate work.  Comics, afterall, are a series of stories that can build upon one another.  While single issues can work in and of themselves, having read more of them can give you a richer and more fulfilling experience.  This is why I always have such a hard time expounding on why Batman is my favorite character.  I can’t point to a single issue or event and say, “here, read this.”  It’s the accumulation of hundreds, even thousands of moments that have made the character endearing to me.  But I digress.

Other than harkening back to Bane’s origin story, the opening also puts into perspective why Bane needs Psycho Pirate: he is off Venom and needs a new way to mask his “pain”.  This makes me really happy.  I’m sure that some people see Bane as nothing more than a muscle bound oaf, but there really is so much more to the character than that.  He’s actually incredibly smart.  When most people think of Bane I’m sure they picture the classic shot of him with Batman over his knee.  Me…I see him sitting in an arm chair, drinking tea, and watching the news.  It’s kind of the same way that so many people over-focus on Superman’s powers instead of the man behind them.  I’m interested in the person Bane, not the fact that he can lift a truck.

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But just because Bane isn’t on Venom shouldn’t make you think that he is some kind of pushover.  Even without the drug, he is a physically formidable and imposing opponent.  Just look at that shot above.  The guy is huge.  This won’t be the first time they have done a Venomless Bane story, and to be honest, those have usually been my favorite.  Venom is usually more of a handicap for Bane anyway.  Seeing him free of it should generate a much more interesting story since it won’t be there as an expected go to backup scenario.

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After the intro, we get a quick scene involving Bruce before he heads off to Arkham Asylum to form his suicide team.  And for my money, it’s got the single most moving and evocative image in the entire book.  Bruce essential tells Claire to let her “pain” fade away.  After which he turns and looks over his shoulder at a portrait of his parents.  If ever there was a moment where the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” were applicable, this is it right here.  It’s obviously Batman’s motivation, but it’s also a reminder that his pain will never fade.  It’s something that he always carries with him.  In a way, telling Claire to let it fade is almost hypocritical of him as he knows it’s possible it will never entirely go away.  Since his primary goal has always been to make sure that no one ever has to feel the pain that he felt, it also stands as motivation for helping Claire to expunge her own suffering.  While he might never be able to be at peace, perhaps he can do something to ease the suffering of another, even if not fully erase it.

While everything the book has done up till this point has been grade A, King really turns up the awesome level once we get to Arkham.  It starts off with a magnificent two page spread by Janin that features Batman standing outside the front gates of Arkham Asylum in the middle of a lightning storm with Gotham City looming in the distance.  It’s the kind of thing you wish you had a 20ft mural of.

From there, we go to the recruitment phase of the issue.  Batman visits 4 cells with each character getting two pages.  The thing that stood out to me is that each one is a little short story unto itself.  They could have easily just been Batman going around and asking each character if they wanted to join or not, but King goes above and beyond giving us mini beginnings, middles, and ends for each scene.  With so much content fit into so few pages I really got the sense that I was reading a trade and not just a single issue.  The scenes also leave a memorable imprint of the characters that Batman interviews.  These aren’t mindless pawns but people with their own obsessions, goals, and friendships.  The fact that they are each being built up in this way should make the story much less of a straightforward mission/goal oriented adventure and much more of a character-centric endeavor.  In regards to the individuals picked, I hope Batman has a very specific plan that actually requires each individual.  A role that only they could fill.   Something that will show me that Batman needed them and it wasn’t just King wanting to write about these specific characters.

 

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Art for this issue is handled by Mikel Janin, and while I love his work as always, I noticed something today that was throwing me off a little.  When looking at the ink, it goes from clean solid lines at times to were you can almost make out each stroke.  As if someone just took a sharpie and quickly threw in a bunch of squiggles.  Maybe this is something Janin’s work has always had and I am just now noticing it for some reason, but it was really distracting me today.  It’s not really something that I would call out as bad, but the simple fact that I kept noticing it over and over was enough that I felt it worth sharing.  It had me wondering if perhaps this was a form of cutting corners to keep up with the demanding release schedules that they are currently under.  When you look at some images in the book that are nice and sharp and clean, and then see ones that don’t look that way, it stands to reason that there must be something dictating the change.

Spoiler

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  • I’m sorry….what?  I truly hope that isn’t something they are trying to include in the character’s status quo going forward.  Since it is on the last page, I’m guessing that it’s merely meant as a cliffhanger to get us talking till next issue and that we will find out that she was actually framed or something.  Maybe she is being held accountable for all the people who died during her tenure as crime boss of Gotham or something.  As long as it is indirect, mistaken, or a frame job I’ll be fine  because Catwoman as a killer is a serious breach of character.
  • I loved how the story opened with Bane saying he could always stop and ended with Batman saying he will never stop.  It’s an interesting juxtaposition that’s kind of hidden since so much material is between the two lines of dialogue.  It also kinda brings the issue full-circle.  It just feels right.

Best line:

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Alfred is the best!

Best Cameo:

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  • Holy Moley.  It’s Mitchell Mayo, the Condiment King.  That…is…AWESOME!  Get the joke?

My moment of confusion for the issue:

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  • When they bring up “The Clown Girl”, I naturally though they were talking about Harley Quinn.  Couple that with the fact that this is Batman forming his own Suicide Squad and I thought it was a shoe-in to be Harley.  When I got to the end and Harley wasn’t there, I was confused.  Who was “The Clown Girl”?  I couldn’t remember what Punch and Jewelee looked like because they are such obscure characters.

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  • Once I pulled up an image of them it came back to me, but then something else occurred to me.  Jewelee looks kind of like the prototype designs for Harley Quinn.  Hmm, is everyone’s beloved Harley Quinn just a knockoff of some lesser known character?

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Interesting Facts:

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  • I’m sure that some of you were probably bothered by seeing Batman bested in one-on-one combat.  Afterall, many people see Batman as the unbeatable Bat-God.  But there are a select few out there who have combat skills that rival and occasionally surpass Batman’s.  Bronze Tiger is one of those individuals.  On their very first meeting in Detective Comics #485 (1979), Tiger incapacitates Batman with a single kick.  Later on, at their rematch, the two are much more evenly matched as Batman goes into the fight with a higher level of caution and understanding in regards to his newest opponent.

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  • WooHoo!  It’s the Shakespeare bust entrance to the Batcave from the 1966 Batman TV Series.

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  • Killing Joke References.  KILLING JOKE REFERENCES!!!  I love how the mask that the inmate is wearing mimics the Joker’s pointy chin.  And there is all the other obvious stuff too.  The dialogue.  The table with the shadow.  Batman standing and the inmate sitting.  Totally awesome.

Recommended if…

  • You love the character Bane.
  • You like when obscure characters get their time in the spotlight.
  • You like when a comic completely maxes-out on reference usage.
  • You love when a story focuses on compelling character moments.

Overall:

This bears repeating, so I’m saying it again: this comic gets my official pick as the best issue of Batman since Tom King took on the character.  Sure, anything that has a heaping ton of references is always going to turn my head, but it’s so much more than just that.  This comic is a shinning example of proper character portrayal.  From Bane to Bruce Wayne and all the way down the line to Punch and Jewelee,   everything just feels so right in this comic.  Couple that with meaningful character scenes and excellent art, and this comic is win all around.  With so much going on, you’d think it would feel bloated or overcrowded at times, but no.  It all flows seamlessly together to create an absolutely riveting first chapter to “I am Suicide”.

SCORE: 9.5 / 10