I don’t want to get too excited about the developments in this book, but with “Beast of Burden” (Part 1), we definitely have an opportunity for Tom King to pull a true game-changer–as opposed to that wedding silliness from which many of us are still reeling (in the not-good way).

Your non-spoiler blurb: GET THIS BOOK. It’s not only immense because of what happens in it, but it will also simultaneously nourish and destroy your soul. With a light touch and in relatively simple terms, King maps out the long and awesome history of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson as the once-and-again Dynamic Duo. Yes, we’ve seen some bits of nostalgia bleed into recent books as Dick attempts to pry Bruce out of his funk, but Batman and Nightwing on the Gotham circuit together again is thrilling, funny, and will break your heart.

Again, this review can’t help but have SPOILERS, so even though I’ll put the big event under a cut below, read the book first.

Meanwhile, this guy arrived in Gotham and we don’t like him

So there’s a number of things going on in this book: Batman and Nightwing are out kicking crime like a good superhero team-up ought to–and that’s full of whimsy and action and King being still stuck in sillyvillain mode, but here it’s used to the best effect. Especially since that is played counter-point to our hulking one-armed mystery man, who has clearly arrived in Gotham to do no good. King perfectly balances these two storylines as they dovetail toward the conclusion, and everything from the pointillist writing and nine-panel layouts of mystery man vs. the chatty splashy sprawl of the action feed you clues help to ratchet the tension right up. This is comic book storytelling at its absolute best: every element contributing, even if only on a subconscious level.

Last time we saw Batman and Nightwing duking it out with Condiment King, the tone wasn’t quite right and the conflict between the villain’s murderous behavior and Nightwing’s quips fell utterly flat for me.  This time, Batman and Nightwing start out battling Phantom Pharaoh, and Nightwing’s running commentary is both hilarious and purposefully disarming. He continues to goad Batman into having fun, challenging him over the use of puns and wringing from him such old chestnuts as calling him “chum”. Readers of the most recent decades of the book who have never looked back to the original Batman and Robin years might be puzzled by the banter, but fans will recognize the bygone back-and-forth that was the hallmark of Batman comics for many decades prior.

And then King brings it all to a crashing halt.

Spoiler
DC can’t seem to understand the concept of not spoiling their own big events, so many of you who have been following along and reading the solicits already knew poor Dick Grayson was going to go down like a water buffalo at the height of safari season. King still makes the most of the moment, keeping the tension tight, letting the moment build, and, of course, making the shot when everyone least expects it.

For me, the fact of knowing didn’t lesson the impact. And as I’ve said elsewhere, now Batman truly has something to be in a disassembled rage over.  Let’s do this!

Say goodnight, Dick

I would pay good money for this series again

Tony S. Daniel and Danny Miki make magic with pencils and inks. Batman and Nightwing look glorious in the crusading array, and the attention to mundane details as our mystery man goes placidly through his evening routine helps round the world out in concrete ways that are both cinematically larger than life, but also just ordinary enough to ground it all. The ballpoint pen in the diner, the droplets of rain splashing off the cornices of the buildings, the way the weather whips at everyone’s hair.  There’s something especially wonderful about the way the lights of Gotham glow in this hazy rainstorm, and Tomeu Morey does an invisible but pitch-perfect job keeping it all from getting muddy or resorting to tricks of the light to help the figures stand out. This is a beautiful book cover to cover.

Though, speaking of covers: maybe skip the regular issue cover by Tony S. Daniel with the wonky-looking Bat-anatomy and go for the gargoyle variant by Francesco Mattina. Mattina’s isn’t quite in keeping with the events as they play out, but it’s stunning and snow and rain are both water, so it works, right?

Recommended If…

  • You’re always looking for that “master class” single issue that you can show people as an example of how intense and powerful comic book storytelling can be.
  • You need to be there when it happens.
  • You love Batman and Nightwing as a team and don’t mind having your heart stomped and kicked and stabbed and shredded and torched a little.

Overall

Now Batman has lost something of great and irreplaceable value to him. Now Batman can justify his self-doubt and pain and rage. The repercussions of this book will no doubt trickle throughout the Bat-titles, so you better strap yourselves in. Tom King has written something daring. Now all we can do is hope that editorial lets him follow through with it in an interesting and genuinely impactful way.

SCORE: 9.5/10