Before I say anything else, I just want to give a rousing round of applause to Francesco Mattina for an outstanding poster-worthy variant cover. And maybe that’s the best place to start with reviewing this book because the art makes the issue this week, with both the variant cover and Travis Moore’s crisp interiors.

We’re kicking off a new arc here, and Tom King gets it rolling with “Nightmares” (Part 1) in a story called “Suddenly Indeed”. I confess I had to read this book several times to decide how I really felt about it. Sometimes that’s a good sign: there’s layers and things to unpack and think about, and that’s why you need a couple of rounds with it to start to form conclusions.  And sometimes it’s just a case of needlessly convoluted storytelling interfering with your experience connecting to the work.

For me and King it definitely feels much more the latter.

I don’t want to go week to week bashing King. I want to like these stories and I want to enjoy reading Batman. But I’ll also be the first person to admit that I don’t like “clever” story structure in comics unless it’s accompanied by a mindblowing narrative. I feel like King consistently puts all of his eggs into the clever basket to try to tart up what’s otherwise fairly ordinary action. And here, once again we get a comic that needlessly jumps in time between characters, pushes juxtapositions that are already obvious without them being shoved in our faces, and quotes old dead guys in a bid to give the arc depth or meaning or profundity.

And yet everything about the tension in this simple moment is brilliant!

Maybe it’s just me, but the specific juxtaposition between “Master Bruce” and the real Bruce Wayne doesn’t pack a lot of power. Bruce is a grown man who has taken full control of the power he didn’t have back when he was a kid. “Master Bruce” is just a psychotic punk. Could the real Bruce Wayne have ended up just like him? No, because the real Bruce Wayne had Alfred to raise him and a desire for justice, not just homicidal privilege and rage. And if it’s King’s intention to rewrite that particular piece of the mythos, I feel like it’s a poor choice for a truly great hero.

All that personal preference aside, does the story work? Does the storytelling delivery work?

It does and it doesn’t. I mean, by the end of the pages, you find there’s not much here. It’s an arc-opener that barely sets the stage for what’s potentially to come. And a lot of that stage doesn’t feel especially necessary either. In fact, I don’t have a strong sense of where this is going except to remind us about the Master Bruce character and to insinuate that he’ll be the villain of the forthcoming plot. But other than him attacking an inmate, no real action has been set in motion. This is largely flashbacks and ruminations and literary allusions that no one especially needs.

Does it serve to set up atmosphere and stakes? I honestly don’t know, but my gut feeling is that it doesn’t. To be fair, we might need to see how the rest of it plays out to determine whether any of this contributes in any meaningful way, but past experience with King tells me he’s just revving the motor before pulling out of the garage and nothing more dramatic than that.

Same story, different rendition

Meanwhile, Travis Moore does some wonderfully delicate and nuanced things throughout this book, particularly with regard to young Bruce’s expressions. Bruce is also rendered to look vaguely like David Mazouz, the young actor who plays Bruce Wayne in the Gotham tv series. Even though I don’t watch the show, I think it’s a nice tie-in choice for readers who do. And as much as I didn’t enjoy the story, I really appreciate the sensitivity with which Moore treats both boys’ emotions and how their feelings come through in the art–especially in scenes during which their behavior or body language may be suggesting one thing, but their eyes are saying something else completely.

At the end of the day, while the book may try your patience in other realms, in terms of the look of it, it’s quite lovely. It’s just unfortunate that such good work is spent trying to make sense of a script that’s unnecessarily complicated and mixes some otherwise nice light interactions and dialogue exchanges with too many otherwise ponderous narrative devices. For more of the team’s thoughts on this book and other releases for the week, don’t forget to check out our Weekly Roundup on Friday!

Recommended If…

  • You were a fan of “Master Bruce” from way back in Batman No. 38, and haven’t had enough copycat killing and retread of the Wayne murders yet.
  • Travis Moore: he’s got it going on.
  • Child psychosis is your jam.

Overall

King decides to double-down on Batman’s psychotic behavior in a story that appears to be reaching into the past to demonstrate that Batman hasn’t been turned psychotic by his recent setbacks, no, he’s always had this latent irrational violence creeping around his dark little boy brain. Seriously, this is so edgy, everyone. It’s almost possible that there’s not enough cotton candy, rainbows, and unicorns in the world to take the rot this might leave on your soul. That said, maybe you like child Bruce Wayne being a vicious vengeful little beast. In a world that so desperately needs heroes, once again, seek that elsewhere. Or just look at the pictures, because Travis Moore is the real hero of this book.

SCORE: 6/10

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