Tom King makes the absolute best of derivation in this 5th installment of the endless “Knightmares” saga. Do yourselves a favor and just forget about all 66 issues leading up to this one for a moment: just flip through the pages divorced of all the baggage that precedes this and all the still-unanswered questions. Because as a stand-alone this is a little jewel box in an attic full of junk.

First off, Lee Weeks returns (with Jorge Fornes on the interior art). Weeks gets us right in the mood with a beautiful four-color cover that’s as much a design piece as a bit of narrative. The emphasis on so much black, the bright almost-copper rings that serve as ripples of water, and the dusky silhouette of Gotham in the chunky stacked title are all gorgeous elements. Which is totally maddening because then Dave Johnson comes in and does a full greyscale variant of Bats overlooking the city streets and that one is stunning as well. Either or both are already worth the price of admission, but what’s in store boosts that up a notch.

And I’ll tell you what: the covers and the interior both have something in common: simplicity.

Although King is working with tried and true tropes, a whisper-thin-story that basically just involves the pursuit of a masked villain, and can’t quite resist being referential, what he manages here that I’d really love to see more of throughout his Batman run is real restraint. In fact, the only lines of dialogue aren’t spoken until nearly two-thirds of the way into the story, and one broken up line of narrative that concludes the book completely eschews all of King’s usual monologuing impulses, explaining nothing, and allowing the reader the joy of putting the simple 1+1 together.

Nothing but SFX here, f-f-f-f-f-olks

I have to be honest: I’ve been so jaded with King’s nightmares that my first read through the book was rather a desultory flip-flip-flip; my eyes barely registered the action and I hardly even attempted to look more closely at what becomes so obvious on second pass.

In the back of my brain, some little synapse was still firing: doesn’t that hat look familiar? Haven’t I seen that scrawly-face on that mask somewhere before? Why is the bartender stuttering? And what keeps making that beeping sound? Why does this all look so familiar?

After the not-so-surprising (but still welcome) reveal of the villain at the end, and after reading the last page, I chortled a little, but then suddenly realized that the sequence of events is even better to read the second time through when you know the “punch line”. Because then you can pay attention to things–like the BEEP BEEP–and it gives the action and tone a whole different take. And yeah, go ahead and do the voice in your head (or out loud!) when they get to the bar scene. The whole thing is actually pretty hilarious.

King really could have wasted the potential of this by telegraphing everything too much or too soon. The bar could have had a big obvious sign, the victim on the rooftop could have been named up front. There could have been other goofy visual gags tucked in every corner of the pages. But he didn’t do any of that. Bravo, King. I applaud you.

I know some people will complain that there’s absolutely no real story here and it does nothing to further the narrative of the ongoing series (which is why I opened with the caveat to forget all that). This book is a chase scene, nothing more. Just as pointless and yet just as entertaining as the source it draws from. As an added bonus, it’s beautifully rendered by Weeks and Fornes, classy, and taut. And it’s a book that relies heavily on the art being spot-on. Every panel needs to track–and it does. From rooftops to fire escapes, to spiraling staircases; we can almost feel the pounding of the footsteps every leap of the way. The use of silhouetting is spectacular throughout.

Clayton Cowles’ lettering is its own brightly burning character

Spoiler about the “meaning of it all”:

Spoiler
There’s a critical part of me that wants to dissect what it all means. What casting the villain in the role of the roadrunner implies, and what that makes Batman as the “new” coyote. But let’s face it, how many of us have empathised with poor Wile E., and wanted that pesky beeping roadrunner dead? It makes sense, then, that the Joker would assume the “innocent” role of the roadrunner who is always darting away from Coyote’s schemes, harassing him at every turn, and turning every trick or trap back onto him. Again, King could have really been unsubtle about it all: made more one-to-one correlations, had the artists literally stick Batman and Joker into a Gotham-version of the Warner Brothers’ cartoon. Instead, it’s not obvious until the ending, and the joke feels genuinely clever.

And this is the nature of the relationship between Batman and Joker anyway, right? They are perennially trapped in their own version of this endless, fruitless, frustrating chase.

Extra points for the gag horn that makes the beep sound; I don’t think it would have been as funny if it had been spoken aloud (also, obviously the circumstances would not have allowed for it). Again, little touches that work really well. I would have preferred the beeps on the final page to be closer together (in the same panel), but that could just be nitpicky on my part. Also in the realm of nitpicking, I couldn’t reconcile why the victim was wearing what looked like some kind of superhero costume.

Spoiler
Maybe it’s a missed opportunity to put him in the green ACME Batman suit? But again, that probably would have been too obvious.

Recommended If…

  • Relax, this is a giggler, and a well-crafted one at that.
  • Bats and Jokes never gets old.
  • Weeks and Fornes (can we keep them forever?)

Overall

King is winding down the nightmares arc “All the Way Down”, it seems, but in the best way possible. This issue is a big hit after what’s felt like a mix of short flies, punts and whiffles. Hands down, this has been my favorite of this set because of its simplicity, its humor, and its reliance on the visuals. In the future I would welcome King to draw more inspiration for Batman from fun material such as he did with this one, and leave the heavy literary ruminations to the realm of literature.

SCORE: 9.5/10

 

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