Tom King’s work can be very polarizing, and likewise, unpredictable.  I used to be someone that could simply say, “I love Tom King’s work”.  But after the highs and lows I’ve witnessed on his Batman run, I must now resort to saying, “I like this issue or that issue”.  I can’t even say I’ve liked any particular Batman arc he’s delivered thus far in its entirety, because within each arc, I’ve found parts that I both fully loved and equally despised.  Having said that, I’m happy to report that I found this issue of Batman to be one of the good ones.  That’s not to say it’s perfect, as I can find fault in almost anything, but we’ll get to those hurdles when they come.

The story starts off with Bronze Tiger holed up in a seedy motel going through Venom withdrawal.  As the scene wraps up, it immediately raised my trepidation going into the story and encouraged me to pick up my reading pace in order to figure out what just happened.  While great, it did raise a question:  Why didn’t Batman let Tiger use Pirate?  After all, the only reason Tiger is suffering from Venom withdrawal is because he took Venom while at Santa Prisca in order to escape his cell to help out Batman.  Then in the last issue, Tiger “helped” Batman take out one of Bane’s henchmen.  So what, Tiger helps out Batman twice and is only in this predicament because of Batman, but then Batman is all like, “Later…have fun convulsing in a dank dark dirty dive somewhere.”  Kinda cold if you ask me.  But that’s not really so much a negative as it is me merely questioning the why’s of the situation as we are left in the dark to the specifics.

Next we are off to the North Pole and the Fortress of Solitude.  No, you read that right.  Superman makes an appearance in this issue.  While their exchange was actually rather amusing and semi-important to the conclusion of last issue, it brought up a question in my mind: Why not use Superman against Bane?  For me, when I read Batman comics, I pretty much pretend that the rest of the DC Universe doesn’t exist (Except when they are an integral part of the story I’m reading and I have to).  Having them around just diminishes the semi-realistic atmosphere that Batman stories usually afford.  If King hadn’t reminded me that Superman was an option for Batman to use, I simply wouldn’t have considered it.  But when you throw him right in the middle of the story, you can’t help but ask the question, “Why not?”

You could always go with the “It’s my problem so I’ll deal with it” approach, which is essentially what King does.  And in a way, I’m fine with that.  But I’m also not.  I get Batman not wanting others to get hurt, which includes Superman, but I can’t see Batman dismissing a perfectly viable option.  After all, Batman doesn’t need to prove himself against Bane.  Which got me to thinking about this excerpt from another comic:

While the most satisfying climax for me would be to see Batman beat Bane one-on-one with no trickery, this dialogue is enough for me to accept him using Superman’s help…even if I’d rather the rest of the DC Universe stay out of my Batverse.

As I said above, something important to the conclusion of last issue takes place at the Fortress of Solitude.  But since this part actually took me completely by surprise, I’d like to drop it in a spoiler tag for anyone that hasn’t read the issue yet.

Spoiler
  That really was Dick, Jay, and Damian hanging in the Batcave at the end of last issue!  Batman brings them to the Fortress of Solitude in order to keep them safe because he knows they will simply try to help him again and next time they might actually die.  So he puts them in suspended animation to keep them safe.  I’m actually fine with all of that.  But as always, it raises some questions.

How did they survive a hanging?  I know that you can resist being hung by tightening the muscles in your neck, but you’d have to be awake for that.  And if they were awake to tighten their necks, certainly they would have just freed themselves.  As you can plainly see in the last issue, their arms aren’t bound (but Dick’s might be).  That would lead me to believe that they were strung up when they were already unconscious.  If that is the case, they would have only had minutes before drain death set in.  So what are we saying.  Batman strolled into the cave seconds after Bane left.  That’s pretty convenient.  But I guess a lot of what happens in comics is about conveniently arriving in the nick of time.  So I guess I’ll just let it go.  But it is a little silly if you ask me.  And really, it just bugs me how often King glosses over important details.

You know, it seems that no matter how much I like what is going on, I still have plenty of questions.  Probably stems from the fact that King is far too vague in his story telling.

Alfred is a BOSS!

Alfred has a fairly sizeable role in this story, and if there is one thing you can almost always count on, it’s that Alfred is awesome.  We get to see Alfred demonstrating his mad skills, sharp wit, and unwavering resolve to do whatever it takes to get the job done.  It’s pretty excellent.  I can see where some people might take issue with Alfred basically threatening to kill Pirate if he steps out of line, but sometimes a threat is all you need.  Pirate doesn’t know Alfred won’t shoot him.  And really, who’s to say he wouldn’t.  Alfred has never been shown to have any qualms about brandishing firearms.  Over the years, I’ve seen him fire them off dozens of times…shooting several people in the process.  In some iterations of the character he was a war hero, field medic, and even served in the SIS.  Basically, Alfred has probably killed people before.  At least some version of him has.  I think what it boils down to is trust.  Bruce knows that Alfred wouldn’t just nonchalantly kill someone.  While Bruce would rather die than take someone else’s life, I think he would accept it if Alfred had to. 

Spoiler
Can I just say how happy I am that Alfred actually used a physical mask instead of some holographic nonsense. 

The Psycho Pirate shares page time with Alfred, and while he doesn’t have as much to say or do, his comment on worlds being reborn is very interesting.  Since Pirate is one of the few individuals who is aware of previous “continuities”, he’s a prefect character to use if one is interested in referencing older comic stories that aren’t necessarily cannon anymore, since it’s all cannon to him.  It’s just interesting to think about it from that perspective. 

Spoiler
  The fact that Alfred can handle Psycho Pirate seems to me to be further evidence that The Ventriloquist was not integral to completing the mission from “I Am Suicide”.  Since Pirate’s powers are rooted in whether or not he is wearing his mask, anybody should have been able to smack him around before he put it on.

Much like the opening scene with Bronze Tiger that had me all in a panic to get to the ending so I could see what was happening, the story is laced with several other such scenes.  Just when you start to get a little composed, another one is thrown in to reinvigorate your reading pace (and your heart rate).  It’s in these scenes that King decides to incorporate one hell of an unexpected cameo.

Spoiler

The boys are back in town!

Holy crap!…it’s Bane’s entourage!  Man, I never expected to see these guys again.  I’m sorry, but that’s just straight up awesome.  For those of you not familiar; that’s Trogg, Bird, and…Zombie on the ground there.  While I think that only people that have read Vengeance of Bane and Knightfall would bat-an-eye at these guys showing up, I’m super excited about it.  Granted, there isn’t much here to get the uninitiated pumped up at their appearance since King does nothing to really introduce them, but I’m not sure it’s all that necessary.  While these characters did have backgrounds and interactions with Bane that were distinctive, ultimately, they were just his entourage.  So, bad guys working for Bane works for me.  I mean, after their initial introduction back in the day, they weren’t much more than that anyway.

Incidentally, while I was writing this, I looked over at my Batman-News feed and saw THIS.  Dixon and Nolan on Bane again.  YES!!!  Take my money now!

Art for this issue is handled by David Finch, and let me put it this way, I’d spend three dollars on this two-page spread alone:

If they don’t turn this into a poster, that’s a huge missed opportunity.

Random Questions:

  • Did Bronze Tiger just get shot in the stomach, or did someone fire three pounds of ground beef at him out of an air cannon?
  • I remember in the past that the key to the Fortress of Solitude was this giant gold key that only Superman could lift.  I’m not as familiar with Superman, so maybe some of the readers could help me out.  I’m guessing it’s still basically the same thing, but instead of it being massive in size, it’s only massive in density.  That way he is still the only one who can lift it, but it isn’t so ridiculously huge.  Am I on the right track?

Interesting Facts:

  • Reference to Graham Nolan.  The first artist to illustrate Bane.  They even recognized him in the credits for this issue.

  • Grant Morrison.  Morrison has worked on many many Batman stories, but seeing as how him and McKean are referenced alongside the name Arkham Asylum, it’s definitely a reference to their collaboration.

  • Dave McKean was the artist who worked on Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth.
  • The inclusion of Superman got me to thinking about an older Batman/Superman story where they teamed up.  Essentially, Luthor had some Kryptonite and was keeping Superman at bay.  So,  Batman dressed up as Superman.  When Batman approached Luthor, Luthor just kept trying to use the Kryptonite on him.  The deception allowed Batman the opportunity to snatch the Kryptonite, and once secured away, Superman swooped in to help out.  Having that running through my head, I started thinking about King’s unpredictable nature and his penchant for throwing older references in from time to time.  How funny would it be if Superman faced Bane dressed like Batman and totally trounced him.  Granted, if we were kept in the dark till the end, it wouldn’t be all that fun to think Batman beat Bane only to discover that he really didn’t.  It would devolve from the seriousness of two bitter rivals facing off in mortal combat with real repercussions to the realm of super campy silliness.

  • This is Doctor Double X, Simon Ecks.  Yeah, they spelled his name wrong.  They spelled Arnold Wesker’s name wrong during “I Am Suicide” as well.  Is this an inside joke now or is the creative team/editing staff just terrible with villain names?

  • Mister Miracle is viewed as one of the greatest escape artists in the DC Universe.  Given the number of times The Joker has escaped Arkham Asylum, I think it’s safe to say that MM didn’t do a very good job designing the Joker’s cell.  But hey, maybe the cell was built after the last time Joker escaped and he hasn’t actually been held in it yet.

Recommended if…

  • Bane!
  • Bane!!
  • Bane!!!
  • Bane!!!!
  • Bane!!!!!
  • Sorry about that.  Um…humor, suspense, Alfred Pennyworh, amazing art, references galore.  Oh yeah, and…..
  • BANE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Overall:

This just felt like a nice old-school throwback issue to me.  There’s just plenty of stuff to like.  It’s fun and enjoyable, but at the same time it has this pervasive ominousness.  There’s also plenty of fan-service, which I always like to see.  With so much stuff going on, you’d think it might get bogged down or lose focus, but King does a great job at driving the narrative forward while balancing out all these varying elements.  That’s not to say it didn’t have the occasional hiccup, but I definitely enjoyed the heck out of it, regardless.  And whoa, what an exhilarating cliffhanger.  If the rest of the issue hadn’t already gotten my pulse racing, those last 3 pages would have been more than enough to do so.  At the end of part one, I was indifferent.  But now I am fully on-board.  I just wanna see Batman and Bane throw-down.  Just some good-old no-holds-barred mano-a-mano action!  You hear that King?  I want an actual fight this time!  Not just Bane tossing Batman around like a rag-doll.  Now…LET”S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!

SCORE: 8.5 / 10