Are… Umm… Are we sure we’re not in the “Knightmares” arc still? Because it kind of feels that way.
This issue consists of two separate narratives. One of which involves Batman, Bane, Thomas, and Alfred, while the other consists of Batman and the Bat family… And yet, despite this, barely anything happens in the issue. Now, considering there still isn’t much in the way of plot progression, it is nearly impossible to discuss Batman #71 without touching on spoilers. So, this is your warning. If you haven’t read the issue, hit the back button and check this review out later.
I’ve read this issue four times now. I’ve examined it. There are things that I like, and things that I don’t. One of my biggest gripes with this issue is structure. It’s not my only gripe, but it is a big one. For this chapter, King has interwoven two narratives into one another to create a non-linear story. Basically, we get a page of the first narrative, then a page of the second narrative, then two pages of the first narrative, two pages of the second narrative, back to a single page each, and so on. This approach isn’t new for King, and while I think it can be an effective technique to mirror or oppose themes, I don’t think he manages to accomplish either of those tasks here. There are moments when it works, but they’re few and far between, and overall a miss.
On my second read of the book, I started trying to determine why King chose this structure. What benefit does it create for the story? On one hand, this structure is simply a means to an end. King needed to get to a reveal, but also needed to have an interaction with both Bane and Thomas as well as the Bat family, and he needed to accomplished this without sacrificing either “reveal” prematurely. I use the word “reveal” lightly, because much in the way that King doesn’t fully commit to reveals in Heroes in Crisis, he does the same thing here by drowning the reveal in ambiguity.
And then, on my third read through, it hit me. The plot itself isn’t very interesting, so King has to do something to make this book interesting. Approaching a narrative with this structure is a bit unique, therefore, hopefully, interesting. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work here, and it is, quite possibly, one of the contributing factors as to why his work is considered pretentious. He’s doing some very technical things in his books, but that doesn’t mean he’s executing them well or effectively.
Turning our attention to the individual plot threads, the opportunities continue. The book starts with the Batman, Bane, Thomas, and Alfred plot. This portion of the book is illustrated by Jorge Fornes, and looks incredible! Fornes’ ability to create sequential art is top notch, and I consider him one of the best in the business because of it. The gritty texture of his work also helps create a sense of dread and suspense. It’s simply great.
The narrative opens with Batman in the cave, as an alarm sounds warning of a breach. As Batman makes his way into the house, he discovers Bane and Thomas, as Alfred serves Bane. There’s an attempt at dialogue, but mostly it’s just King regurgitating lines like “Bane!” and “I’m going to break your damn back!” Throw in an obligatory, “Crack.” for unintentional comedic effect. But seriously, the dialogue is bad. We’ve joked about King’s dialogue before, but it’s gotten to the point that it appears as though he doesn’t know what to write for dialogue anymore. He just keeps writing the same lines surrounded by guttural moans or grunts (“Hm.”).
Meanwhile, you have Bane talking as if he’s Swamp Thing. The words are all spaced out as if he’s having trouble forming words. It’s weird. These are clearly supposed to be pauses for effect, but it doesn’t work… at all. Then there’s Thomas Wayne. He says nothing. Nothing. Beyond that, Batman doesn’t even address his father. It’s just weird. Needless to say, I’m not impressed. Eventually, Batman and Bane come to blows, before Bane knocks Batman out. If this physical exchange sounds exciting, it’s not. It’s something that just kind of happens, and it feels incredibly anticlimactic following the previous issue. It’s even worse when you compare this fight to Bane sparring with Thomas.
Moving on to the second plot, we have Batman rallying the Bat family. This starts with a verbal exchange between Batman and Gordon – who is still pissed at Batman for attacking Bane in Arkham. I haven’t been a fan of their dynamic since Batman punched Gordon, and I’m still not a fan of it now. Anyway, Batman lit the sky with a red bat signal, which apparently means it’s an emergency for the team to meet. The only person who knows the signal was lit is Batgirl though, so she takes it upon herself to call all of the team members.
One by one, we go through her calling the team. On one hand, I like this. I like seeing the Bat family, and it is nice to see each of them in their element. Orphan kicking ass? Awesome! Jason telling them to stick it? Well, I’m glad somebody has a good grasp on his character. Huntress getting a call at all? Hell yeah! (Granted, I am extremely biased with this one.) Spoiler not answering? Mmm… Fine, but it kind of goes against recent developments in Young Justice. Ric? Well, even King seems to know this whole approach is awful…
Again, all of this is quite fun to see. As a fan of the Bat family, I hate that they haven’t really operated as a unit since… well… the launch of the New 52. I miss the days of them being together, and I applaud King for infusing some idea of their unity here. And, yet again, King benefits greatly thanks to his artists. Mikel Janin delivers the goods here, and, as always, it looks great.
Batman decides he’s going to pull the team together to stop Bane, once and for all. He fills the team in on everything that’s happened, they rush Arkham, and… then they’re back on a rooftop talking. Why? Because apparently none of what Batman claims happened, ever really happened. The rogues haven’t taken over Arkham. They were never loose. Batman was never even at Arkham being tortured by his nightmares. Bane isn’t running the city. In fact, he’s comatose. And Alfred never saw, nor was attacked, by Thomas Wayne… But this is only one of the twists. The final twist is Alfred telling Bruce (and the Bane plot) that Batman has lost, and that Bane has broken him. (Insert obligatory eye roll here).
It’s clear King is trying to create a mystery. In some ways, he has created the initial aspects of a mystery, but I’m not confident he can carry through. If Batman truly is broken, when did it happen? There are heavy implications that Catwoman walking out broke him, and therefore Bane broke him since it was his doing. I don’t buy this. I don’t support the idea that Catwoman walking out on Bruce would break him when the death of his own son didn’t (something I’ve expressed countless times).
And what’s really going on in Gotham? A number of fans will probably respond to this with great excitement. I suspect there will be a ton of “Oh my God!” or “What the… This is epic!” I, however, am not one of those people. I’m the opposite. If this story were being penned by another writer, then perhaps I’d share those sentiments… but this isn’t another writer. This is King. And I’m the guy that continuously analyzes his work as he over promises and under delivers.
I’m sure King has some explanation cooked up, but considering his attempt at a mystery in Heroes in Crisis, will he actually be able to provide an explanation that works? I can’t imagine anything landing from this twist. I get the sense that King thinks he’s delivering a mystery simply because he provides an incomplete story… but that’s not a mystery. It’s just an incomplete story.
And this brings me to the biggest problem with King’s run. Over the repetition, bad dialogue, padding scripts, and overuse of non-traditional story structure to create effect… There’s simply no payoff. Yes, I understand that this is supposed to be a long-form story. I know it isn’t finished yet. I know there’s a chance that all of this could turn around and be epic (though I highly doubt it). I get it… but despite all of that, even within what King has delivered, there’s been little to no payoff. Multiple plots have happened with barely any explanation or resolve. Seventy issues in, and there hasn’t been a single defining story for King’s Batman other than a failed attempt at a wedding. And that is his legacy for this title.
- You’ve enjoyed King’s run on Batman thus far.
- Also, can we stop destroying the Bat signal? Thanks.
Overall: King’s Batman will, undoubtedly, continue to be a polarizing topic of conversation for many fans. Many will love this issue, and many will hate this issue. Yet again, I feel as though the art team does most of the leg work to make this an enjoyable read, as King continues to fall into bad habits concerning dialogue, lack of progression, repetition, odd story structure, and potentially another “mystery” that will lead nowhere. I enjoy seeing the Bat-family together, but I can’t say that this did much for me outside of that. Maybe next month?