This is it, everybody!  The final issue before we hit the big one-triple-aught. The bad news is, we have to wait until March 27th (a whole month!) before it gets here, and then you’re going to have to pick between literally dozens of variant covers from artists all across the spectrum.

But first, let’s wrap up Peter J. Tomasi’s first arc.

Maybe to call it a “wrap up” is a bit of a spoiler, but there’s almost no way to discuss this book without it being wall-to-wall spoilers. You are forewarned, though I’m going to write as generally as possible about the themes in this week’s final installment of the “Mythology” story without giving away too much of particulars of what actually happens.

Noteworthy first is the title of this book, “The Price You Pay”, which is similar to the “Price” arc which is also concluding, having run in Batman and The Flash. This is relevant especially because both stories deal with the psychological cost of what it means to be Batman. More on that later.

I’d also like to give myself a point: I surmised early on that ultimately Batman would have to fight himself and he does–though not the way I could have ever predicted.

Whakk, krakk, and frakk: love the SFX throughout

The question most of you have been waiting to have answered is answered in this book, but we’re not going to focus on that fin this review: go and discover it for yourself.  What I will say is that under a lesser scribe this might not have been able to be pulled off. Though I was left with questions, I was not disappointed (and in some ways relieved) at the final solution. I’ll drop those thoughts under a tag so as to not give anything away outright.

Spoiler

Three Things I was Relieved about

  1. Leslie and Ducard are not dead! Yay! I think we can all celebrate this one. I love how this book ended with Bruce and Leslie spending some downtime together.
  2. There’s no silly convoluted revenge plot at the center of this.
  3. The question of where the heck are the Batfamily in all of this is duly answered.

Three Things I Have Questions about

  1. Ah man, does this mean Thaddeus Brown isn’t really around? Not necessarily; I hope we see him again.
  2. It’s now even more of a black bean as to why Dr. Stone instead of Lucius Fox.
  3. It almost makes you wonder if Batman was twigging to what’s going on in the last issue and that’s why he allows the suit to nearly kill him. Seems like cheating to me, but then again, he does seem genuinely surprised in this book. What do you think? Do you think Batman knew what was happening before the final stroke, or did the World’s Greatest Detective manage to construct a crime he couldn’t crack?

On a broader level, as much as I liked this, there are some things that don’t quite work for me, starting with the first issue of the arc in which the case is kicked off with the copycat Wayne murders in the aquarium tank. I like that it ties into a leitmotif of drowning that almost (but not quite) carries through the whole. But I also feel like it’s almost too subtle or disconnected.

On the one hand you can look it as deliberately building in water/drowning as an element (but why?), or, you can imagine the scenario generates itself somehow around Batman’s subconscious so that who and what appears is driven purely by his own mind–in which case maybe he was literally trying to codebreak from the onset. It might not bother others, but I found it very distracting in the final moments when we discover the tank. Immediately I started trying to make those connections instead of staying in the current moment with the story.

After that, however, I was fully engaged and found this both exciting and, perhaps more important, emotionally satisfying. Is it a little bit of a mind game? Of course! But I feel like Tomasi totally made it work. The point of the story reaches well beyond the twist, and that’s where I think other writers sometimes fall down trying to be too clever.

Which leads to make this, I feel, necessary comparison:

Spoiler
King and Tomasi seem to be telling essentially the same story–stripping Batman down to his roots, examining the inner clockworks of the man, the hero, and the legend. Both stories are about the burden of responsibility and the challenges of bearing that–the cost of being Batman.

But while King has been laboring over these questions for some time and deconstructing every facet of the Dark Knight, Tomasi goes straight to the heart of the matter within the span of a handful of issues.

I don’t really point this out to say one is more correct than the other: they are both legitimate storytelling methods and even though King’s story isn’t complete yet, I have a feeling they will both come to the same conclusion. What I appreciate about Tomasi’s take on the theme is that he wrote a tight, thrilling tale without belaboring the “meaning of it all”, relying on Batman’s own mythology to layer in some metaphor rather than dredging up literary quotations, and he did it without tearing Batman down as a hero. He’s still a man, he’s still fallible, but every moment he strives to be more and refuses to give in to irrational, vengeful, holier-than-thou behaviors and decision-making.

This is the Batman I grew up with and know well. This is Batman.  

The art is all spoilers, so this is all you get

What else is there to say about how Doug Mahnke’s work consistently delivers. And this, in spite (and perhaps because of) the bewildering number of support inkers on the book.  This time around, there are four of them, including last issue’s Jaime Mendoza and Mark Irwin. Additionally lending their talents are Christopher Alamy and Keith Champagne. My absolute favorite moment (both story-wise and visually) is the scene in the graveyard when Batman takes up the shovel and does his duty. It’s a powerful moment and the choice of angles–particularly looking down into the grave–are especially evocative. The gap between who Bruce is and who he might have been hasn’t been so profound for me in a good long while.

Kudos, too, for Mahnke’s handling of the slow progression throughout the book as Batman’s nemesis gets up to punching size (as it were). I also really love that Batman refuses to engage until the fight is actually fair and every panel demonstrates the growing threat. Not sure how I felt about the sudden “costume” change in the middle of it, but by then the jig is up on what’s happening, so anything goes, and frankly, in many ways I’m pleased with the choice to make this about Bruce since it seems like the default choice lately is to emphasize that Batman is the person and Bruce is merely his alter-ego.

I could go on talking about this book endlessly, but this is getting long in the tooth already, so I will leave Lastly, as a bit of trivia, the Italian restaurant Bruce mentions at the end, is likely an homage to David Mazzucchelli, the artist who worked on Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One.

Recommended If…

  • You love Batman.

Overall

The final piece of Peter J. Tomasi’s “Mythology” arc may be polarizing, but it delivers on multiple levels as it brings Batman’s journey full circle. Thought you knew who the “big bad” was going to be in this scenario? Guess again! But don’t get too caught up in the reveal of Batman’s nemesis; this is a story about becoming, about roads not taken, and about the courage to reconcile the two.

SCORE: 9.5/10

 

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