Every time I think King’s run has gotten as overheated as it can get, King manages to push it even farther. Maybe some fans like this direction (shout out if you do; I’m genuinely curious), but I think this particular arc is leaking like a sieve from entirely too much plot nonsense.

To wit:

  1. Several pages of Batman torturing various Arkham criminals. Nothing new here, but it’s also so excessive. And how do so many criminally insane people hop in and out of Arkham likes fleas on and off a dog anyway? I guess it always happens, but King doesn’t help the situation by drawing attention to it.
  2. And someone remind me again what Bats is looking for? Corroboration on Bane, who he already beat up in the last comic. This is the same “detective” who wouldn’t bother getting information from KG Beast and also is either too dumb or too insane to go about this investigation without just punching people in the face? Why isn’t he questioning the Arkham guards, doctors, nurses, janitorial staff. Why isn’t he looking at the video feeds, logs, wiretaps. You know: detective work!
  3. We just had an arc in which Batman’s hasty mauling of Freeze then had him arguing his innocence in the Gotham courts. But please, Batman, let’s hastily maul more people.
  4. It’s also not new to see Alfred cast in the role of jailor, but it’s always unpleasant…and illegal…and immoral.
  5. Speaking of which, he’s hand feeding Cobblepot…why? And he has to open the door to the cage to do it…why? The whole scene is idiotic. All of Batman’s tech and they’ve got Penguin in what amounts to a shark cage. With an opening in it big enough to pass a tray through. Also, Penguin is blindfolded, but his hands are free. I need a “banging my head on a desk gif” here.
  6. Finally: did that feel better, Gordon? Because that was really high-end over-the-top bit of melodrama there. Not to mention that’s someone’s prized collectible, which could potentially take damage in the process of breaking the glass. It’s silly, but King decided that he wanted to make a point of it being “bat”. It’s a wasted point. The whole of Gotham feels like they are off their meds.

It’s exhausting to even look at this scene

So yeah: welcome to yet another edition of hot-mess Batman behaving like a sociopath.

With a side-salad of other characters behaving bizarrely as well. And characters who spout both William Blake and Shakespeare. Lots of Shakespeare.

Let’s start with Maxie Zeus–yet another random King insert (I’m calling these throwbacks YARKIs from now on). The book opens with Maxie getting his clock cleaned. Now, I guess I wouldn’t not expect Maxie to quote some old dead poets, but Blake seems a strange choice for someone who runs around in the garb of a Roman god. But that’s not important. What’s important is that everything spouted by the characters (and from the lines of the narration) support a theme of birds, and the like. I honestly used to think Scott Snyder was one of the heaviest-handed writers on Batman, but King outdoes himself here. Absolutely nothing makes sense about Maxie Zeus quoting Blake except that it’s convenient to the writer.

King doubles-down on this silliness later between Penguin and Alfred. Do you know any grown men who commonly quote from lesser-known (literally obscure) works of Shakespeare? No, me neither. And I not only have a degree in English (in which Renaissance, Restoration, and Shakespearean theatre was my focus), but I continue to work in academe.

Now we know Alfred has roots in being a thespian and I like the fact that Alfred might know this work (even though it’s a not a sonnet, nor a soliloquy from one of the Bard’s plays). But does Cobblepot really read poetry in his spare time? And what are the chances of both of them knowing and being able to freely recite from this poem? And Alfred’s laughable “from 1601, I believe” line: at this far remove, does it really matter what year Shakespeare published this? It’s one of those lines that’s only there to show that the writer did his homework.

But apparently Alfred didn’t because the most obvious interpretation of “The Phoenix and the Turtle” is at least a bittersweet lamentation on the death of love. Ultimately I have no idea why King even feels the need to put this in a Batman comic except to give the characters something to talk about (even though we already know Penguin is grieving), and dressing it up in Shakespeare I guess is supposed to give it some gravitas.

And I’m just going to stop before I ramble on for another 800 words. The fact is: King could have impressed us by choosing a more modern author, a more relatable author, a different medium, a less “old dead white guy”. Shakespeare will always have a relative relevance in the literary world, but even at this obscure level, it’s probably more cliché than caché.

…tedious as twice-told tale, vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man

Mikel Janín and Jorge Fornes are tag-teaming it in this book, with Janín carrying the larger share of the work through the Gordon and Alfred scenes, Fornes covering the Bat-insanity moments, and then Janín pulling it all together at the end.

One of the moments that pulls this book out of the sludge for me is the final moment, which is worth talking about both in terms of the artwork and the reveal. Overall, the styles of Janín and Fornes are very dissimilar. Janín uses clean, fine lines and uses a lot of depth and detail in his environments. Fornes, on the other hand, is heavy on the inks and has much more of a poster-style: even Jordie Bellaire’s colors for these pages emphasizes that, with only a few background gradients, but mostly simple palettes with very little variation. The bold red backgrounds also lend those scenes more “pop” and less naturalism.

Far from being a detraction, I actually liked the contrast, and the final scene (though rendered by Janín), makes a nice marriage of the two styles: the darkness of the Batcave provides an opportunity for a monochrome set of panels leading up to the final splash, which takes advantage of those few hints of rest as callback to that bloody sunrise.

While the last two pages managed to help keep this one’s score above a 5, it’s unfortunate that they don’t really seem much earned based on the story so-far. While I feel like I should be excited to find out what’s going on with this particular character finally revealed, I’m mostly annoyed by the rest of the nonsensical corniness that’s come before.

Recommended If…

  • You just like MOAR beatings.
  • It’s the AU you didn’t ask for but you’re okay with that.
  • Mikel Janín still does awesome work.

Overall

Batman’s sociopathic behavior continues to escalate as he takes out his rage all over Gotham. Meanwhile Gordon’s got rage of his own. One begins to suspect (and maybe secretly wish for) some surprise reveal that Gotham’s water or air has been poisoned yet again and it’s making these characters act out like crazy people. Because nothing else really explains or warrants much of the behavior here. It’s just a hot mess of violence and really poor decision-making by a superhero who has almost always used a balance of brain and brawn in the past. Is Batman-unhinged an interesting story choice? Certainly not one we haven’t seen before. King needs to bring more brains back into the picture before this Bat runs the risk of being nothing but an insipid brawler–no better than the thugs whose faces he’s making into a mash.

SCORE: 5/10

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.