I’m going to get my big criticism of Peter J. Tomasi’s first arc out of the way up front and this is it: these issue titles are cracky at best, sorta schlocky at worst thus far. Last issue was “Ring Them Bells” and this issue is “See Paris and Die!” I don’t know if Tomasi is coming up with these himself, but I’m amused on the one hand, yet find them mildly irritating on the other. Perhaps because they seem to take the work lightly and frankly, this is the best Batman we’ve seen in a good while. I feel like it deserves a little more gravitas in the opening impression.

But that’s it: that’s my “big” complaint. Otherwise, strap in, everybody, because countdown to 1000 continues with another insanely packed installment of the “Mythology” storyline.

Mild spoilers below: there’s just too much to talk about to drop it all under a cut.

Where we left off: Leslie Thompkins is dead by a Smilex gas so pernicious even Batman with all his resources could not counteract the toxin. Alfred has been gravely wounded by an assailant dressed as Zorro, there is some kind of creature on the loose who is either the agent of all of this chaos or the thrall of the mastermind who is. And that foe is targeting Batman–and knows his secret identity as Bruce Wayne.

Also, Damian is back in the Batcave and he’s surprisingly helpful and level-headed:

The plot thickens–with more blood to come!

The logical conclusion is that whoever is targeting Batman must be someone from his past who knows all his most intimate secrets. And outside of his fellow superheroes, that makes for a relatively short list. I absolutely love the back and forth deduction between Batman and Damian; it feels organic and they behave like a team (there’s really not enough natural teamwork between the Batfamily these days). The trail Batman decides to pursue makes perfect sense, and Damian’s willingness to hold down the fort and look after Alfred is both touching and sensible: it’s a division of labor that’s necessary and critical. I would like to know where the rest of the Batfamily is during this time, but the less said about “Ric” the better, I suppose.

So Batman is off to Paris to pursue this whiff of a lead. Everything that capitulates from this is almost pure awesomeness. We get to see a brief montage of Batman assuming various disguises as he works his way to finding the one man who he thinks may be behind this whole cabal: Henri Ducard.

Tomasi could have milked this encounter for all it’s worth. It’s been a good while since Batman last saw this old mentor and his relationship with Ducard has always been sketchy. Here we find Ducard living in the underbelly of Paris (literally underground in the catacombs), and apparently just barely eking out an existence. Not exactly the base of operations for launching a calculated attack on the Dark Knight (which he amusingly points out to Batman, quite succinctly).

Everything happens fast. Like I said before, Tomasi doesn’t waste our time on sentimentalities or long expository sequences of how it all came to be. No sooner does he get these two into a tight space together than he unleashes yet another salvo of catastrophe on our beleaguered hero.

All the excitement of a standoff, none of the disappointment of it coming to naught

Issue no. 996 gives us our first up-close-and-personal look at the crazy beast that went after Leslie Thompkins. Oh yes, it’s back in a big way and it isn’t pretty. Right about now we can begin speculating in earnest what it is and/or who might have constructed it–or where it came from.

Spoiler
The short end of it is that it’s a perfectly horrific amalgam of all the foes Bats has battled (or at least many of his most recognizable ones). Question is whether it has a sentience that can be reasoned with or if it’s just a nightmare that the real mastermind–whoever and wherever that person may be–has let out of a box.  

Tomasi pulls no punches and he’s clearly determined to set actual fire to Batman’s past. Once again, this is a book with high stakes and serious ramifications for Batman’s world as he’s known it.

And I haven’t even mentioned that the book isn’t even halfway done at this point. Batman will ultimately leave Paris in search of someone else from his past, and will find them as well–in yet another straitened situation!

So what are you waiting for: go get the book and find out all about it!

Meanwhile, Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, and Mark Irwin crush the art in this book with every stroke of pencil and pen. This is a book that ranges all over in terms of locations and environments and characters, and every bit of it feels rendered with a depth and care. Remember that montage sequence I mentioned earlier? It occupies a tiny percentage of the whole, but every panel has a sense of place, every costume pays attention to details, every random walk-on looks like a real person off the street. There’s no cardboard here.

And the layouts overall just push this story with the sort of relentless pacing and breathlessness that Barman himself must be feeling. At the risk of making an odious comparison to other Bat-books, there’s a genuine sense of urgency from page to page. Batman is at the center of it all, but he’s the last person he’s concerned about, given the attacks on his family. Which feels exactly right.

Extra credit for the beautiful cover being 100% relevant to the story without just being a glamor shot: though Batman still does look fabulous!

Recommended If…

  • You’re in for the mystery of it: who is behind all this treachery? And what is that thing Bats and Ducard face off against in the Paris catacombs?
  • Batman’s history is a critical part of your connection with the character–because it looks like Tomasi is visiting it all!
  • Thrilling comic books make you squee with glee: this is exactly the kind of superhero adventure storytelling we all deserve.

Overall

Three issues into the “Mythology” arc has Batman retracing his past to prevent certain mayhem in the future. But this is no sentimental mosey down memory lane: destruction and death is following our caped crusader wherever he goes. Solid rapid-fire writing and a dreamy art team of Mahke, Mendoza, and Irwin make this book a must buy! If this review feels stingy for not doling out the 10/10 score, it’s only because this book is so good it gives me hope that Peter J. Tomasi can actually top it!

SCORE: 9.5/10

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