Bruce Wayne is summoned to serve jury duty, but what happens when the case he is assigned to is also one that the Batman was involved in? And worse yet, what if it’s a case the Batman may have actually goofed up on?!?
Initially, I was thinking about starting off this review with a quick recap of my feelings in regards to Batman #50. Unfortunately, I hit a snafu in my life that prevented me from reviewing the wedding issue (special thanks to my colleague Elena Carrillo for picking up my slack). When I eventually got around to reading it, I realized that little snafu may have been a blessing in disguise. So yeah, I won’t be talking about the wedding issue, and am happy not to be doing so.
Fortunately, reading Batman #50 is not a required precursor to enjoying this issue. And that’s a good thing, because Batman #51 (as opposed to the previous issue) is actually fantastic.
I’d almost say this issue could be a nice jumping on point for new readers. Maybe not for the long haul, since we are definitely headed back to the main through-line of King’s run at some point or another, but this first chapter of Cold Days can very much be read as a stand-alone story (so far). Previous events are not even referenced within the confines of this story. Yes, Bruce is angry and off his game, but we are never directly told why. Obviously, it’s over what just happened with Selina, but knowing why isn’t really that important. For the sake of this story, it’s enough to know that he is upset and may have made hasty calls in regards to an investigation he was conducting.
With Cold Days, we actually get to see a story about the Bruce Wayne side of Batman. And that’s a wonderful surprise, because far too often that aspect of the character is pushed aside in order to focus more on his Batmaning. On top of that, this story also features random Gotham citizens. We get a glimpse at what the average joe thinks of Bruce Wayne, Batman, and even how court cases most likely always turn out when Batman is involved. It’s a pleasant peak behind the curtain that gives us some much needed insight into what it means to live in Gotham City.
Early in the story, there is a scene where Bruce is being questioned as to his past associations with Batman, and if his allegiance is to the city or to Batman. It’s intercut with a shot of Mister Freeze screaming out in pain as Batman beats him to a pulp. Not only is it a wonderful juxtaposition showing the contrast between the calm sterile court room and what actually happens out on the mean streets of Gotham, but it’s insertion cleverly avoids going into detail about the specifics of what events in Batman’s history are or are not cannon. And while not, for example, answering things as to whether or not Batman Inc was actually a thing, it does show the reader the connection between Bruce and Batman. Obviously one we already know, but still, a clever little way to avoid going into detail about a subject and yet speaking volumes about it.
When I first heard about this story, it was mentioned that Dick Grayson would be slipping on the Batsuit once again. After reading #50, I was worried that it was going to be somewhat of a rehash of Knightfall. After Bruce returned to reclaim the mantle of the Bat from Jean-Paul Valley, he decided that he was in such a hurry to reclaim it that he hadn’t stopped to decide if he even still wanted it. At that point, he called in Grayson to fill in for him while he worked things out. I assumed that something similar was going to happen here. That the events with Selina would send Bruce off to do some soul searching and that he would need Grayson to fill in while he worked things out. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Bruce’s inability to be Batman had nothing to do with Selina, but instead was the result of being sequestered for the trial, and Dick standing in for him was an actual necessity.
Despite this being a fresh take, there are some similarities/intentional throwbacks to the Prodigal storyline from Batman #512 (1994). That story, along with this one, feature a Batsuit clad Dick Grayson at odds with Killer Croc. And then, there is also this scene:
GCPD rooftop scene where Gordon questions which Batman he is talking to.
Close enough in my book to say it’s a reference, or at least inspired by.
If this story had nothing more than what I’ve already mentioned, I’d still be giving it a glowing review. But hark, there’s more! We get detective work, and the promise of an actual murder mystery! You see, and here is where you might want to look away if you don’t want spoilers, Batman may have been wrong in deciding that Mr. Freeze was behind the murder of three women. And if that is the case, it means the real killer is still out there, with Bruce helpless to take them down. The potential here is insurmountable. I can just imagine a scene where it dawns on Bruce who might really be responsible, but he is unable to contact Dick to let him know. Meanwhile, Dick is unknowingly talking with the actual murderer and not even knowing it, while also potentially being vulnerable to a surprise attack for the individual in question.
There is also this fantastic scene where Gordon is on the stand getting asked questions, being repeatedly interrupted, and doing a poor job at hiding his annoyance. You just know that Gordon has to deal with this kind of stuff all the time, and it has to wear on a guy.
But I think the most appealing thing for me is the loose connection this story has with 12 Angry Men. If you aren’t familiar, 12 Angry Men is a film from 1957 that stars Henry Fonda. It’s about a murder case in which one of the jurors feels the convicted may indeed be innocent. The rest of the film is spent convincing the other jurors that the evidence presented was flimsy. Indeed, Juror #8 does a better job over the course of the film at examining and providing reasonable doubt for the evidence at hand than the public defender did. If you’ve never seen the film, I highly highly recommend it. While the first 10 minutes or so are kind of slow, the rest is highly engaging. It’s just 12 guys in a room talking to one another, but the conversations are mesmerizing. And the characters are just that. Actual characters. With motives and ticks and all kinds of intriguing details.
Aside from the obvious similarities, one juror thinking a man is innocent versus 11 who think he is guilty, I noticed another detail that is a polar opposite to the film. In the film, the characters are constantly talking about how hot it is. In Cold Days, there are multiple mentions to how cold it is in the juror room. The inclusion of conversations about temperature in conjunction with 1 versus 11 is enough for me to think that 12 Angry Men was indeed an inspiration behind this story. Plus, it’s fun to swap out cold with hot since this is a story about Mister Freeze.
Going with the assumption that this story will indeed roughly follow the plot of 12 Angry Men is also fascinating because, whereas Juror #8 was merely dubious of the guilt of the convicted, Bruce actually knows Freeze is innocent. And he can’t very well stand up and just say, “I made a mistake.” He has to convince people Freeze was innocent without divulging what he truly knows. A real chance for King and Bruce to shine by letting the character display the brains we all know he has.
Art for this issue is handled by Lee Weeks, and I absolutely love it. There is a gritty quality to his work that exudes this feeling of antiquity. I’d say he presents the illustrated version of film noir, which fits perfectly with Batman. There is also something about his work that I find vaguely reminiscent to that of David Mazzucchelli’s illustrations. Maybe not in the exact manner in which they are rendered, but definitely in the tone that they both put off.
The only negative I have for this issue, unfortunately, comes from the art department. If you take the time to closely examine the Jury, you’ll see that they aren’t always the same group of people. For instance, there is a guy with a red mow hawk that isn’t always there. A blonde that is replaced by a brunette.
That lady in the background that is inconsistent with any of the other juror members going forward.
And this dude that we never see again. There are actually more inconsistencies than the ones I just pointed out, but I’m highlighting these ones since they are the most blaring.
Aside from that, this is pretty much a perfect Batman comic.
**This issue is the start of the $1 price hike. Going forward, all standard issues of Batman will be $3.99 as opposed to $2.99.**
- “Then along came The Batman”
- Bruce Wayne is asked to report to room 37c. I’m not sure if I’ve brought this up before, but King has a habit of sneaking the #37 into his stories. In case it’s not clear to some of you as to why, it’s a reference to King’s work on Grayson where Dick Grayson was given the moniker Agent 37.
- You want to read a Batman story that shows just how truly good a Batman story can be.
I’ve heard some rumblings about fans dropping Batman from their subscriptions because of the events that transpired in Batman #50. How much of this is talk and how much is genuine won’t be clear until the numbers for #51 come out. But I think it’s a real shame if Batman #51 has to take the punishment for the perceived failings of Batman #50. And it’s even worse when you consider that Cold Days is actually leaps and bounds ahead of Batman #50 when it comes to the quality of the storytelling at hand. Cold Days has gritty artwork, the potential for a murder mystery, detective work, actual time spent with Bruce Wayne, wonderful character moments, examination of the judicial process with the inclusion of Batman as a factor, time spent with average Gotham citizens that give us a deeper understanding of what it means to live in Gotham City, and fun references to both previous Batman stories and landmark films. If you aren’t reading this story merely because you weren’t happy with the outcome of Batman #50, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. While I agree that the best way to stick it to DC and simultaneously show them you aren’t happy with what they are doing is to not give them any more of your money, I might recommend getting Cold Days and then ducking out on the title. I know it’s only the first chapter, but I really feel like we’ve got something special going on here, and I’d hate to see any Batfans miss out on what might end up being one of King’s best Batman stories to date.
SCORE: 9.5 / 10