Believe it or not, I actually enjoyed Batman #74.
Put your pitchforks and torches down! I’m allowed to like a chapter of Tom King’s Batman if I want to. Despite what many of you may think, I don’t hate Tom King. I’m also not going to lambaste every issue of his Batman run specifically because I dislike the run as a whole. While I have found many recurring problems with Batman lately, this issue doesn’t fall victim to a number of those problems – or, at the very least, the problems aren’t as egregious.
Continuing where we left off in Batman #73, Bruce and Thomas continue to trek through the desert to find one of Ra’s al Ghul’s hidden Lazarus Pits. How did they get here after Bane broke Bruce’s back? We don’t know. Why did Bane let Thomas take Bruce? We don’t know. These are questions I would still like to see answered, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to get them at the moment. So, for now, I’m just going to set this on the backburner. What I do know, is that they’re traveling through the desert, and Thomas’ intention is to resurrect Earth 2 Martha Wayne by using one of Ra’s al Ghul’s Lazarus Pits.
The chapter somewhat serves as a father/son bonding trip, as the two recount various memories of one another, Martha, and things they’ve each endured. For the first time in a while, we actually get to read a linear conversation between two people that is interesting! Not to mention, most of us have desperately wanted Thomas and Bruce to get the opportunity to talk, which is exactly what happens here. There’s also some nice action with Bruce, Thomas, and members of the League of Assassins to help give the book a little energy. Honestly, this is an improvement over what we’ve been getting.
So, what do I like about this issue? Well, first off, Batman actually feels like Batman here! From beginning to end, he does things that feel true to his character. For instance, while fighting the League of Assassins, Thomas stabs one of the assassins with a sword. And what does Batman do? Check to see if the wound was lethal. But what really makes this portrayal of Batman feel accurate, is what’s revealed at the end.
Once Bruce and Thomas reach the Lazarus pit, Bruce actually turns on Thomas. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all been waiting for this to happen, and we finally get it. Beyond that, there’s an interesting exchange. It becomes clear that Thomas’ motivations aren’t completely centered on the fact that he wants Bruce to stop being Batman, but more so that if he doesn’t get Bruce’s buy-in with this, he knows they’ll always be at odds. Subsequently, what seemed like an incredibly odd, awkward moment in the previous issue where Bruce puts on the bat cowl, now proves to be a defiant statement of “I am Batman. Nothing you say or do will change that.”
For me, this development is key. I kept waiting for the other pen to drop, and, admittedly, after Heroes in Crisis, I wasn’t really sure if King would deliver. But he does here to a degree. It’s not even Batman’s confrontation with his father that feels right either. It’s his entire approach. From referencing the story about the animals (yes, that creepy story from Batman #57) to win his dad’s favor, to burying his mother in the desert while Thomas was asleep, to waiting to confront Thomas until they were at the pit in case he wasn’t capable of winning… It all feels like the calculated, careful Batman we’ve loved for decades.
The most defining moment would have to be Batman’s final words to his father. “I remember the alley. Seeing you. In that moment… I learned the one truth. There is only one… One truth. And it… It will not be denied. My mother is dead. My father is dead. And I’m still here.” I don’t often praise King’s writing on Batman, but this piece of dialogue is quite good because it says so much in a subtle way. I’ve called King out for not having Bruce acknowledge that while this is Bruce’s father, it’s not his father. Seeing this happen here is rather satisfying.
Now, the book isn’t all sunshine and roses. There’s still a bit of a pacing problem. I’m hoping King’s shortened issue count will help solve this to a degree. Also, while he does use the story about the animals to narrate portions of Bruce and Thomas’ journey through the desert, it only takes up a fraction of the issue, and ultimately has more relevance to the story itself. Regardless, these are welcomed improvements, and I genuinely hope King continues this trend for the remainder of his run.
Mikel Janin delivers the art for this issue with Jordie Bellaire on colors and Clayton Cowles as the letterer. I can’t quite place my hand one what Janin does differently here, but there’s a roughness to his art that I appreciate. While I love his art, there are times where his work looks like 3D models that he morphs, while his approach here looks more like genuine pencils… And I like it. There were panels where the proportions looked a little off though. Batman had some stubby arms at times. Seriously though, that’s a minor, minor gripe considering how spectacular everything else looks.
As always, Bellaire kills his work with the colors. The bold use of orange and yellow for the daytime scenes in the desert helped the book look and feel unique. Then there were the scenes at night where the red from Thomas’ costume contrasted well with the darkness around him. There were just too many textures and colors not to appreciate the work from the art team.
- You’ve been waiting for a confrontation between Bruce and Thomas.
- You’re a fan of Janin and Bellaire’s art.
- You’ve been wanting some plot progression.
As we wrap this arc up and prepare for “City of Bane,” I can’t help but feel we’ve taken a step in the right direction. There’s no denying that I haven’t enjoyed King’s Batman, but I was quite pleased with this issue. We finally get some moments that many of us have been waiting for, as well as some distinct answers to a few questions. With that said, King still has a lot of ground to cover before closing out his run. And considering Batman ruined Thomas’ plan, I have no doubt that he’ll become even more of a threat to Bruce in the near future.