Here there be SPOILERS!

For some of you the reveal of the identity of Karma may feel a bit like a letdown, but I’m frankly pumped at the fact that he’s so much of nothing: a street-level villain who’s just managed to make himself dangerous enough to get on Batman’s radar. This is the kind of fight I always yearn for in these comics: let’s just fight some crime and take a breather from all the overpowered lunatic supervillains for a change.

Karma does have some crazy powers, but that’s not his real weapon against the Dark Knight–that merely gives him a fighting chance against the Bat’s many gadgets and superior combat moves. No, Karma’s real weapon is that he’s gotten inside Batman’s head: he’s preyed on Batman’s sense of guilt (hence the name Karma). And between you and me, this kind of psychological warfare is far more interesting and intense than city-level threats from psycho-bombers, alien invaders, and Clodzilla monsters.

Oh, he’s very very real….

Batman and Karma have met before (of course they have–that’s the whole point).  We don’t even get the man’s name, but he’s a gun runner from Markovia who took a face full of Batman’s own variation on the fear toxin. And he suffers from something called hyperthymesia in which he continues to live in the past. It’s a not-terribly-veiled indication that Batman suffers this too (those dang pearls never do stop falling). Through this Batman feels not only guilt for the man who’s become Karma, but also a particular kind of empathy.

Meanwhile, Jefferson Pierce’s relationship with the Batfamily he’s been put to mind (Barbara Gordon, Cassandra Cain, and Duke Thomas) goes pretty much as well as you would expect. They’ve been doing this too long, frankly, to need a babysitter and they all know it. So resenting Pierce’s assignment is par for the course. What’s fun, however, is that Hill doesn’t swell on that expected dynamic: he flips it, and quickly.  The moment Jefferson admits he’s in over his head is one of the best moments of the comic book: it actually empowers him (and the rest of the Bat “kids”) in an unexpected way: it dispenses with the inevitable power struggle and puts them all on the same page of helping Bruce who is the one in real danger here.

And that’s another thing I really appreciate about this comic: Bruce isn’t crippled by his love for these kids; he is actually losing his way by alienating them.  It’s not a new idea, but I love the way Hill focuses on Bruce’s brooding and how it impacts the people around him, including Alfred and Gordon (+.5 for Gordon, by the way; you know the rules).

Meanwhile, Karma is willing to go to certain extremes to “restore” Batman to his former glory (as perceived by himself), which raises the stakes sufficiently for me in this book. We don’t like that reporter he hauls off to do his dirty work (Hill makes sure we judge her out of the gate), but her ultimate fate is still horrifying and the fact that everyone witnesses it knowing he’s got a busload of additional hostages has me already deeply invested in the outcome.

And right now given Batman’s current state of mind, I’m thinking prospects for a happy outcome aren’t exactly looking good. I have a feeling the Bat’s going to be needing an intervention.

HDTV: the new Bat signal!

We have a new artist for this issue: Phillipe Briones, and I’m loving his style. He hasn’t done work for DC comics since Aquaman in 2016, but he returns with a vengeance here. So many lovely moments throughout, but my absolute favorite has to be the action sequence in which Karma hijacks a busload of schoolchildren.  Just excellent cinematic presentation.

This is also a book with a lot of talking, but Briones keeps the chat dynamic (who would have ever thought watching Alfred dust a room could be so gripping!). I say that sort of tongue-in-cheek, but the truth is, these sections move really well. Part of that is Hill’s rich, but still-tight script (there’s a lot to say, but he doesn’t waste words), and the rest is all Briones’ ability to push nuances of the characters’ emotions through their conversations.

Also as an art note: the cover for this issue (by Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, and Adriano Lucas) is absolutely stunning, but just a wee bit misleading. The variant cover (by Mark Brooks), is also stunning and generic enough to not be misleading. I think it’s a win-win, but which one did you pick up and why?

Recommended If…

  • You’ve been longing to see the broad spectrum of Bruce Wayne’s life on full display.
  • You like a down-and-dirty straight crime story with just enough personal twist.
  • Alfred! Being awesome as always is his primary duty at Wayne Manor.

Overall

Karma isn’t the most impressive villain, but it seemed clear from the start this book is more about Batman that it is about his “nemesis-of-the-moment”. Black Lightning actually takes a step back in this book as we learn more about what Karma wants and why Batman is at the center of his obsession. Jefferson Pierce also have a surprising reaction to resistance put up by Batman’s proteges, spearheaded by Barbara Gordon who definitely does not need a babysitter! While Bryan Hill explores some well-trod themes of self-sufficiency and co-dependence, the story is wonderfully free of overwrought melodrama, and so far feels well-worthy of the Dark Knight.

SCORE: 8.5/10