Batman has bad dreams. This is one of them.
Here’s the thing. I’ll be the first person to complain about boring rote fan service or books that don’t take chances (though I equally have no problem with “safe” stories done well). In a weird way this book irritates me less than, say, the now-notorious Batman No. 50, largely because King has thrown pretty much all sense out the window as this story takes place completely in the realm of the netherworld.
Is that a spoiler? It’s in the title. We’re doing variations on Batman’s internal psychological landscape and the arc is called “Nightmares”, so I don’t think it’s a spoiler. That said, I can’t shake the feeling Tom King is trying to set this story up as having a good deal more ambiguity than it actually does? Did it work for you? If so, bravo! Here’s your spoiler then:
On the one hand, I’m okay with the whole premise of “Lost” because as far as I can tell that’s part of the plan with these issues. Some people might read this and feel cheated and some people might read this and get to the surprise at the ending and think: whoa! That’s so deep and mysterious and…pointless?
Yes, what I actually think is that it’s mostly navel-gazing filler:, a lot of irritating self-narrative, and art that gives me a staggering headache. But I’m going to try to approach this review from the perspective that Tom King is trying to do new and interesting things with the medium and maybe burp people out of their comfort zones. Which, in my case he absolutely succeeded because I’m so uncomfortable with this book I not only wish I hadn’t read it, but wish I could somehow unread it.
This is it: this is illustrative of what this comic is
But let’s talk about what this book does well: knocks the reader upside the head with a narrative voice and visuals that put you right into the nauseating sense of being trapped in a lucid nightmare. Batman finds himself in the hands of Professor Pyg (good choice for random nightmare fuel) and can’t recall how he got there, but he will meticulously tell you how he’s going to get out of his predicament–in painstaking, mind-numbing detail down the last twitch of a finger. And he’ll track his every thought and emotion in the process as well. And dredge up every flake of trauma he’s suffered recently from Selina’s dumping on forward, because that’s always helpful to meditate on when you’re battling a homicidal maniac in a pig mask in his own blood-flooded abattoir.
Honestly, if this book had just been pictures, I’d have given it considerable more points. I like Professor Pyg as a villain and the fight here is interesting enough for a bit of eye-candy, but the words are always what seem to trip King up. His concepts are occasionally wonderful, his themes relevant, and his plots ideas are fine–even when they are borrowing from other sources. But when it comes to execution, he just dooms his stories to long narrative slogs full of allusions, metaphors, and self-analysis ramblings that frankly aren’t that interesting. In the middle of a full-on battle royale with Pyg, Batman decides to wax rhapsodic on the myth of Pygmalion.
King makes a connection between Batman and Pygmalion and sees himself as both a figure of tragedy and of power for his creation of not only the love he shared with Selina but of his “children”. Professor Pyg by extension, is a metaphor for his own self-loathing at the godhead he’s taken upon himself by being Batman. Part of me wants to admire the sheer audacious hubris of this, but at the end of the day Batman under King persists in being a crybaby narcissist singing woe is me for the burdens he chose to bear. It’s not a good look for Batman. Or any superhero.
I keep hoping the endgame is that Batman realizes all of this and take responsibility for his choices and stops wallowing in self-pity. If you’re enjoying that journey, great. I’m not at all sure why we need it or what it gets us, but if we ultimately land in a better place with Batman being the hero that we need, then I’ll continue to muddle through with maybe some modicum of patience. But to say books like this don’t test that patience sorely would be dishonest.
Enough talking, indeed
I can only suspect Mitch Gerads got the gig for this particular book based on his ability to create disorientingly near-psycho-hallucinogenic imagery, especially with regard to offset coloring that might have some of you reaching for your spare 3D glasses in the hopes of making the jitter stop. At the end of the day it works for the story, but it’s an absolute assault on the eyeballs. Underneath all that, he does the best he can with a mostly two-character performance in a single setting. And there’s a certain dirtied look to the environment that’s appropriate for a slaughterhouse. But it’s hard to appreciate any of that when you don’t want to look at the pages. This book really ought to come with a trigger warning and I don’t even mean that facetiously: this is a seizure-inducing layering of colors and images.
Ultimately, this book doesn’t do much to advance the plot; it’s just a character study of Batman’s inner gears, none of which I feel we need to actually see. We do get some tie-in to the main storyline vis-à-vis Batman’s line of inquiry as to what he remembers last, but the psychological challenge here doesn’t actually seem that interesting; superficially he’s just talking through a fight with Professor Pyg. When you peel back the layers, he’s just fighting himself. Does King treat these themes in a genuinely new and interesting way? It’s a fair point to say that he does: we’ve seen the Dark Knight go through some dark nights of the soul, but not quite like this.
And then again, I’m not sure why we would want to. As the old saying goes, just because a thing can be done, doesn’t mean it necessarily should.
- You just haven’t done enough damage to your eyes watching television and being glued to your phone or computer all day long: now books can destroy your cones as well!
Tom King’s Batman psychomachia continues with more self-drubbing from our caped crusader, this time in the form of a nightmare experience with Professor Pyg as an adversary. Pyg’s abattoir runs with blood as our hero talks himself through the predicament of finding himself slung up like a side of sow. The rabbit hole narrative combined with the trippy offset print-style art from Mitch Gerads makes the whole thing feel like an acid trip. You be the judge whether that’s a good thing or bad.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.