Bruce Wayne has been sequestered in the Mr. Freeze triple-murder trial with a jury of his peers (if you believe Batman has peers). The jury is tired, cranky, and dead set on a quick verdict of guilty based on what appears to be overwhelming cur circumstantial evidence: cold bodies, a brutal take down of Victor Fries in full cold costume by the Bat, and a confession from the accused himself. And yet Bruce is having none of it because he’s the World’s Greatest Detective, first of all, and secondly: it’s clear that his conscience is nibbling about his bat ears.
Tom King is laying it all out on the table with this one, which reads like a session of Bruce Wayne in therapy at its worst, but a solid knuckle-biter whodunit at its best. It’s a delicate tug of war that’s working in King’s favor for the moment, and wildly buoyed by Lee Weeks’ wonderfully moody artwork.
We’re in the 11th hour: the jury has to make a decision or it’s going to end in mistrial, but Bruce, the sole holdout, convinces the other jurors to re-examine the evidence and the assumptions they are making. If alternate assumptions can be made, then none of the “facts” can be certified with impunity. One of the great strengths of this particular script is that frequent breaks give us a chance to two two critical things:
- revisit the beat-down as it happened; following Batman as he tracks down Freeze and tosses the snot out of him.
- provide some subtle moments of empathy between Bruce and the other jurors as they gradually seem to be warming to his concerns about the justice of their deliberations.
There’s, of course, an extra edge to everything as Bruce describes the events that landed Freeze on trial to begin with, since we know he’s intimately connected to the case and that when he’s talking about Batman, he’s talking about himself. It’s worth multiple reads to see how cleverly King layers in insinuations and potential context and how the way in which Bruce casts doubt on Batman’s frame of mind is so clearly connected to his recent breakup with Selina.
And then he’s not so subtle when he swings that Hammer of Obviousness down about our shoulders: my parents were murdered and I’ve never been the same since.
It’s too much, I think. It’s too on the nose. And it’s where this slips away from being a cool re-imagining of 12 Angry Jurors, and turns into “Batman Needs Therapy”. It doesn’t help either, to be reminded that all of this is happening because he and Selina Kyle are like hormone-crazed pre-teens who can’t decide whether they want to suck face or if kissing is yucky. Sorry about that. I might still be a little bitter.
But I stand by the feeling that Bruce’s over-sharing is too much melodrama where we really don’t need it. Much as I love Batman and empathize with his tortured soul, he needs to get himself together and be a hero instead of this trollish jerkbag. And maybe (I hope) that’s where King’s ultimately going with this. We close on an intriguing close up of Bruce Wayne who looks like he’s on the precipice of doing something very foolish or very brave (or perhaps both!).
But you’ll forgive me if I doubt King (and DC editorial) will have the wherewithal to follow through with it.
Can’t say enough about Weeks’ atmospheres throughout, and the colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser are amazing: evoke both a washed-out noir sort of lugubriousness, but occasionally shot through with something incongruously bright. Like Bruce’s red shirt, which echoes the large red sensor on Freeze, but also the splashes of blood during the fight. And, perhaps most subtly, the scarf around the neck of the most contentious juror of all.
I kind of don’t like that Weeks made that loud-spoken juror look a little too much like Kathy Bates (whether it was intentional or not). I just kept expecting her to start screaming: “He killed those cockadoody women!!!). But that’s the tiniest of nitpicks. For a comic with only a few pages of gloriously rendered action (shot through with some incredibly dramatic “lighting” via the colors and contrasts), this could have been a snooze fest of talking heads and reverse-angle shots. Weeks choreographs it beautifully, though. The pages just fly by, and it’s a smooth and wonderful read.
- You love comics with high re-readability. This story so far has so many interesting emotional layers, and all of them are worth unpacking.
- You’re still in recovery post-issue no. 50. A book like this goes a long way toward rebuilding confidence and hope.
- Mr. Freeze is among your darlings: we don’t see him do much but get kicked down, but so much of the story centers on his trauma and behavior out of that, his presence is thickly marbled throughout the pages.
King teeters close to derailing this story with a Bruce Wayne pity party just at the height of the action, but if you can just keep all the wheels on the track as you’re reading, this is a train well-worth taking so far: solid and interesting detective work (after the fact of the investigation), a room full of interesting characters full of presumptions and motivations, and a Batman who’s more man than Bat just now, and throwing all his cards on the table.