Peter J. Tomasi kicks off the countdown to issue no. 1000 in the second part of his “Mythology” arc, titled “Ring Them Bells”. And the bells are definitely tolling a death knell, as whoever is targeting Batman by playing on Bruce Wayne’s past demonstrates their deadly intent.

We still don’t know much about who this mysterious assailant, and the further clues we get in this book will likely confound you more than reveal anything particularly salient. But it’s still early in the investigation and Batman has caught to be more determined than ever to solve this one quickly since the targets are near and dear to him.

And just up front because it bears repeating at every available turn: Doug Mahnke’s work in this book is incredible. The tension he brings to each panel: the agony and outrage in Batman, the exhaustion and fear in Alfred, the horrifying rictus of Dr. Leslie Thompkins. So much of the action is in the expressions, and so much of that carries the real weight of the story.

It’s not looking very good for Leslie!

But don’t worry, it’s not all just character drama here, there’s plenty of actual action in this comic, and not just the wild-swinging roundhouse type nonsense that fills pages with punches. And just to be clear: I don’t have an aversion to that sort of thing. I like big splashy artwork and I like well-choreographed and rendered fight sequences. These are comic books, after all: action and adventure should absolutely be a big part of that. Unfortunately, a lot of writers sacrifice story to get in those big moments, or absolutely make those big moments the focal point (even the point altogether) of the book rather than something that happens out of the natural progression of the story.

Tomasi does not seem to suffer from this inclination. When action is called for, he doesn’t hesitate, but he also understands that action has to have meaning. It not only needs to be a response to some driving conflict, but also must result in meaningful change. Beating up the bad guys to defeat them or even simply to get information is pretty standard fare in a Batman comic at this point. We really need more. And Tomasi delivers that.

This books does something unfortunate and brave that makes me think the lack of stakes in other recent Batman offerings may not be as editorially-driven as some are inclined to believe.

And it very well may outrage some fans, but I think Batman needs a real shakeup in his world. Dick getting shot in the head could have been that shakeup, but the less said about that the better. Here, we finally see something happen (several somethings, really) that actually could have a profound effect on our Dark Knight.

Batman at Arkham: now this is exciting!

Hello world! This is now Batman breaks into Arkham to get answers. It’s impossible not to draw comparisons between this and the narrative in Batman’s title book during in which the caped crusader similarly visits Arkham to pry information about who is going after his “family”.  There’s menace in his stillness and the inmates know he means business. This is the truly scary Batman: not one so full of rage he can’t even control himself. I’m reminded of the end of the KnightsEnd storyline (1994), of the the contrast between the outrageously and bloatedly designed Azrael encountering the hauntingly sleek Batman at Wayne Manor in their final confrontation–when Azrael is revealed like the emperor with no clothes: just an overblown imitation of true power. Batman never needs to look nor act like a beast to be a beast and it seems Tomasi and Mahnke both understand that.

And speaking of Doug Mahnke, I just want to reiterate how much I’m enjoying his work here. He has such a careful sensibility for little telling details. Like Alfred’s vulnerably exposed ankle, or Dr. Arkham’s flying papers and pen. It’s so easy to absorb these things in a blink and move on without even thinking about them, but they’re a wonderful part of the story in that they keep the world solid and specific (something too often overlooked in superhero comic books). Mahnke also makes the best use of facial closeups: Alfred’s tears–and his reaction to their late-night visitor, Bruce Wayne’s terror, and later Batman’s shaded-eyed threat at the ending. Just lovely well-focused beats that allow you to savor the moment.

I knocked off a point for two nitpicks: I felt like Leslie’s fate hanging in the balance went on just long enough to make her cackling a bit annoying (not the emotion I wanted to be feeling at the time), and the defibrillating was just straight out of a hospital melodrama. I also would have liked a smidge of a better look at Alfred’s assailant–though on further reflection, perhaps the effect of hearing Alfred’s description from Batman’s point of view is actually more powerful than recognizing the character ourselves (half a point restored!).

Recommended If…

  • Revisiting intimate details of Batman’s past in new and surprising ways is definitely your jam.
  • Doug. Amazing. Mahnke.
  • Remember Leslie Thompkins? She was a cool part of Batman’s world.

Overall

If you are feeling sour on recent Batman offerings elsewhere, Peter J. Tomasi has the cure for what ails you. And even if you’re okay with the current state of Batman’s world otherwise, this book ought to still surprise and delight you. Though maybe “delight” is a strong word at this stage: there’s some terrible, shattering stuff going down in Tomasi’s “Mythology” opening arc, and we’re only two books in!  And not only is Tomasi wasting no time on filler here, but Doug Mahnke is absolutely giving this book the intensely cinematic treatment that it so richly deserves. I can’t speak for everyone, but this book is making me a Batman fan all over again!

SCORE: 9.5/10

 

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