Batman #53 review

Tom King’s third installment of “Cold Days” has perhaps left me feeling disappointingly cold myself. In this issue, we will see the culmination of the sequestered jury deliberations as the fate of Victor Fries (and by extension Bruce Wayne himself, it seems) hangs in the balance.

SPOILERS will follow, folks. Apologies in advance, but the whole thing would just be under a drop cut otherwise as there’s not a great deal to talk about without getting into the specifics. I will try to keep it a little vague, though, for those of you who can’t resist reading the review before you get your copies.

The short of it is that I just want to take a moment to appreciate what I think King was trying to do with this issue.  It’s ambitious, but unfortunately I just don’t think it works in the end. Bruce is desperate to convince his fellow jurors that there’s reasonable doubt in the case of Mr. Freeze. He’s also desperate to somehow prove that Batman is human and fallible and should not be automatically presumed “correct” in every choice or deed.

This is an admirable crusade, and again, the premise of this story is wonderful! Bruce’s doubts, his guilt, his uncertainty are all palpable and create an amazing mystery around the events of Mr. Freeze’s arrest and the crimes he’s accused of having committed.

Unfortunately what follows feels like a an exercise in big metaphors about the nexus of transformation and entropy: Bruce talks about his loss of faith in God and how he found transcendence in Batman.

From the opening moment you can see where this is going

Our Kathy Bates juror literally asks him straight up if Bruce thinks Batman is God and Bruce challenges the jury to admit that none of them would even be alive if it weren’t for Batman.  I honestly think what King was going for was a capitulation in which Bruce acknowledges his own hubris, but this honestly just comes off as self-congratulatory. Bruce not only says Batman is God (and not “a” god, mind you, but God Almighty with a capital “A”), but reminds the jurors that they all owe Batman their lives, and therefore “exposes” their bias against Mr. Freeze–or perhaps the notion that Batman could be wrong (perhaps even assuming they all think Batman is God too).

First of all: we do finally get clarification that Bruce paid off someone to get on the jury, so in my perfect world, the whole thing is already undone by the fact that he’s already cheated the system.  Also, if he paid someone off to get on the jury, why not just pay the whole jury off? Or pay the judge off? Though I think many of us struggled to suspend disbelief that Bruce Wayne could get on a jury against Mr. Freeze, legitimizing his presence through bribery actually creates more problems than it solves. King tries to have Alfred address this bit of hypocrisy at the end, but Bruce blows him off.  I really don’t like Bruce. And he’s obviously learned nothing from any of this.

Secondly: Bruce’s argument is that the jury should find reasonable doubt because the jury is biased by their belief in Batman.  So how did the rest of the jury get selected? They’re admitting now that they own their lives to Batman, but when they were questioned for selection they were never asked?  Back up even further: why would Freeze ever be tried in Gotham to begin with? Yeah, the whole thing unravels pretty quick, unfortunately. Last issue Bruce sounded like a ranting maniac and here he’s no better–if I were a juror listening to this, not only would I only have the vaguest sense of what he’s talking about (it’s not like they can see his internal pictures like we can), but I would hardly be convinced by his polemics to change my mind.

Thirdly, that moment when Bruce confesses that he was “hurt recently” brings everything into focus: it’s almost as if none of this is really about justice (Bruce clearly has no regard whatsoever for the actual justice system, which is maybe okay–it’s part and parcel of why he’s the Dark Knight and not the big blue Boy Scout), but the absurdity of him talking about his breakup has all the hysteria of a Stephanie Meyer fiction. And this is where he brings it home that Batman is a failure? Because he couldn’t save Bruce from his relationship problems?

Gotham is beset by gang wars, super villains, corruption, human trafficking, domestic violence, addiction, and every other evil known to man. But this revelation of helplessness and failure comes from a woman writing him a note about his eyes (and yes, I’m still bitter, but come on–get some perspective, Bruce). It’s ridiculous. And before anyone says that breaking up with the love of your life is painful and requires a grieving process, yes, I understand that, but Batman should be no more crippled by his love life than any other hero. Let alone then make a public fool of himself over it.  This is not heart-rending drama, it’s just pathetic.

Lastly: Bruce Wayne learns nothing. His manipulation of the justice system clearly demonstrates that he’s still playing God. You could argue that the trial would not have happened if he hadn’t interfered with the case to begin with, but that final fan-service shot of him heading out on the streets only indicates that he’s changed his clothes. If he’s actually changing his whole modus, I’m not quite buying it yet.  To be clear: I do like that King tries to give us a final meaningful punch–just not sure that it’s earned or that it actually means something yet.

But he actually isn’t, so this is just pure theatre for Bruce

Lee Weeks and Elizabeth Breitweiser give this book everything it’s got going for it: the moody and slightly claustrophobic dull interior of the jurors room pens us in among the jurors. The closeups and focus on Bruce’s face as he tells his story allow us to sit across the table from him, and there’s an amazing twelve-panel page in which we get to see every reaction from every juror as he brings his plea to a climax.

Interspersed through, however, is the silent picture playing in Bruce’s head: the demons he’s encountered in the past, still fighting in the present; his loneliness and isolation, and vast canvases of black that create the gulf between Batman and the rest of humanity.  The art is full of worthy grandeur and maybe ought have run counterpoint to the story in many ways, rather than the story trying to rise to meet it.  This is a book where the pictures should shine and the words should underscore them. Instead they occasionally compete and that’s a shame because the visual beats out the words every time and, if anything, reveals the script’s weaknesses by compensating for them.

That’s not the whole experience of the reading the book, though. There are brilliant moments of balance. The last panels of the jury emptying out of the room with the Bruce and Alfred “overvoice” is a testament to a great marriage of art and storytelling. Just wish the story being told had consistently been less eye-rolling and histrionic. What will be really interesting going forward is whether the “Dark Knight No More” tag on the cover is earnest, or if we’re going to have to continue to suffer Bruce (and Batman’s moping and indulgent self-pity).

Recommended If…

  • You need to see the outcome of the trial (though there are likely no surprises here).
  • Weeks is killing it on every page and you want to die with it: the art here is just incredible.
  • The tortured soul of Bruce Wayne lays flayed upon your altar and you worship at it.


Tom King finally derails this runaway train with a lengthy theatrical screed about obligation and godhead which maybe could have worked out of the mouth of just about any other character other than Bruce Wayne. Unfortunately, Wayne is the chosen mouthpiece and while he spews a lot of interesting thematic ideas well worth exploring and considering, the character just comes off as narcissistic and melodramatic as ever. I want to believe that Bruce is just in this much pain to warrant all this outpouring, but the feeble truth is that he’s having a breakdown over a breakup. Hard to find anything pitiable or genuinely sympathetic in that; welcome to the real world Mr. Wayne.

SCORE: 6/10