Buckle up and hold on to your butts, kids… I’m about to give this book a good review.
Tom King delivers the second chapter of “City of Bane” this week, and while there’s still a plethora of problems stemming from past stories, this issue, within its own confinement, is quite good! This chapter digs into the current state of Gotham, but rather than just tell us what’s taking place – something King has made a bad habit of doing since the beginning of his run – he’s actually opting to deliver a linear story that shows us what’s taking place. That’s right, this issue actually delivers a narrative and plot that we get to experience. Instead of just glossing over the details as he’s made a habit of doing lately, here, he actually delivers the meat and potatoes.
There are essentially three different plots running throughout this issue: Batman’s (Thomas Wayne) hunt for rogues, Gotham Girl’s blockade of Gotham, and Selina’s attempt to heal Bruce. In the grand scheme of things, there’s nothing new here. The plots mentioned are all plots that were set-up in the previous issue, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t feel good to actually witness and experience them. Why? Because it gives the book an energy that’s been lacking in previous arcs.
The issue starts with Catwoman in Paris, France. Selina is up to her thieving ways, but we don’t learn why she’s stealing valuable items – especially during a time like this – until later in the issue. As it turns out, she’s doing it for Bruce. He’s a wanted man, and hiding him, much less tending to him medically, is an expensive task. This is a simple plot thread, but it’s effective. It’s nice to see Selina interacting with Bruce, even if he’s unconscious. This isn’t an indirect conversation. There’s no need for some prose or poetry running in the background to try to narrate their story. It’s just honest emotion, and it’s good. In fact, these scenes remind me of King’s earlier work between the two characters leading up to the wedding. For me, those moments make up the highlights of Batman in Rebirth.
Meanwhile, the rogues in Gotham who aren’t controlled by Bane and Psycho Pirate are actively working to try and protect themselves from Bane’s reign. Last week, we saw Harvey’s opposition. I didn’t feel like it was handled or written well, but this week, King delivers the goods. We get to see Kite Man, Scarecrow, and the Tweedle Twins unite to escape Thomas Wayne. The Tweedles are mostly cannon fodder – as expected – but each is dealt with in a unique way, so that’s a plus. Scarecrow is used surprisingly well considering how brief his appearance actually is. He plays an interesting role, and I hope it’s one that doesn’t end in this issue, though it looks as though that might be the case.
The real gem of the group though is Kite Man. He has no hope in stopping Thomas Wayne. He knows it, and yet, it doesn’t stop him from trying. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something incredibly gratifying and inspirational about watching someone who knows there’s no chance, but he still does everything within their ability to fight back. That’s what we get from Kite Man here.
When reading his scenes, you find yourself actively rooting for him. I mean, who doesn’t love an underdog story, right? Who doesn’t want to see Kite Man come out of left field to play a role that helps turn the tide for Batman? I wouldn’t mind it. It could give Kite Man an incredible arc for King’s run.
The final thread follows Gotham Girl and her attempts to keep heroes and the government out of Gotham. In many ways, this is the best part of the book while also serving as the most problematic part of the book. The fact that Gotham Girl is keeping everyone out of Gotham is a stretch for many reasons. On one level, this exchange is quite good because it provides an energy to the title that’s been missing for over a year now! For that, I applaud King for not letting his pretentious tendencies get the best of him. On the other hand, the use and depiction of Gotham Girl has been highly inconsistent. When Gotham and Gotham Girl were first introduced during “I Am Gotham,” they nearly took out the entire Justice League. Based on that alone, one could make the argument that she would be able to hold her own against Captain Atom.
But then they established the narrative that when Gotham Girl uses her powers, it kills her. They even went so far as to set it up that she was literally on the brink of death, and that using her powers a few more times would definitely signal her end… But she’s been using them non-stop and nothing is happening. How convenient.
There’s also the pesky little problem of “The Price.” Not only did this story show Batman and Flash besting Gotham Girl – which diminishes the idea that she’s all-powerful and able to hold of all heroes and the government for this arc – but it also set up the idea that the story about her powers killing her was a lie… before quickly walking it back to reconfirm that the use of her powers would, in fact, kill her.
Because of this, I question whether she should have – or even could have – beat Captain Atom, much less do so with such ease. Captain Atom is no joke, and portraying him as one doesn’t necessarily make Gotham Girl look like a badass as much as it reminds readers that King doesn’t have a grasp on these characters. It also begs the question, “Why not use numbers to win back Gotham?” This is a simple and obvious solution that would work. If your rebuttal is that Bane is controlling the city thanks to Psycho Pirate, the recent Batman: Secret Files proved that thwarting Psycho Pirate isn’t as hard as one might think.
The only heroes who would refrain from returning would most likely be the Batfamily, due to reasons that are established in this issue thanks to a wonderful exchange between Tim Drake and Damian Wayne. Seriously, it’s the best depiction of either of them that King has ever presented… Mainly because they’re actually in character here. But even if that’s the case, why didn’t the Batfamily fight back to begin with? Why have they just been sitting on the sideline up to this point? Yes, I understand that Alfred’s fate is keeping them at bay for now, but what about before? Are we really supposed to believe that the likes of Robin, Damian, Batwoman, Batgirl, Huntress, the Outsiders, Young Justice, the Teen Titans, and the Justice League wouldn’t have stepped in the moment Bane started turning the tides? It’s just too much of flaw, and it, unfortunately, hinders what should’ve been an incredible issue.
I’ve lambasted King time and time again for not working his stories, and this is why. Had he worked his stories properly to begin with, this problem of questioning or dismissing Gotham Girl wouldn’t exist, and “City of Bane” would work much better. But this isn’t the only problem that’s damaging the foundation of this story. We still don’t know how Bane got Thomas Wayne back to Gotham, much less to this earth. These details are pretty critical, and I still feel that the whole, “Psycho Pirate is controlling all the rogues” argument, without any actual context, is quite lazy. Work your stories kids. There’s no point in letting a good story fall apart because of a poor foundation.
Tony Daniel is an excellent artist, and as expected, he delivers here! I’m a huge fan of how he draws his characters – with Catwoman perhaps being the one exception. It’s something about the ears and the look of her face in the costume. That’s merely minor and a matter of preference though.
What really excels here is Daniel’s storytelling. We get such a wide range of emotions and reactions from the characters featured here, that it completely elevates Tom King’s script. In fact, Daniel created such good performances in this issue that I almost forgot about the greater problems plaguing this title.
Despite whatever shortcomings King may have, Daniel more than makes up for it. From the action between Gotham Girl and Capatain Atom, to the despair of Kite Man, the emotion between the Robins, and Selina’s unconditional love for Bruce… He knocks all of these elements out of the park for an incredibly satisfying read.
Tomeu Morey’s colors also add a nice breadth of personality to the issue. The story and circumstance of everything call for darker tones, but there’s enough of a range in color gets to play with some cool themes. Take the panels with Kite Man for example. He interjects as much yellow as possible into all of Kite Man’s panels, and it tells it’s own, incredible story. Yellow is often a color that is associated with cowardice, and as we see Kite Man run and hide, Morey interjects more and more yellow into each panel. Then when Thomas appears and Kite Man decides to take a stand against him, the yellow is literally shattered… It’s details such as this that take artwork from good to excellent, and I have to hand it to both of these gentlemen for their impeccable work here.
- You’re a fan of Kite Man.
- You’ve been waiting for King to actually tell a linear story.
- You’re all about that love between Bruce and Selina.
Tom King’s run is extremely flawed, and while I’m not ignoring that, I don’t want to take away from the quality of this issue alone. Batman #76 is a high-energy issue where King abandons many of the bad habits that I’ve spent years complaining about! Does it undo the shortcomings that have preceded this? No, but it definitely deserves praise for what it does well, and there are many things to praise here between King’s script and (especially) Tony Daniel and Tomeu Morey’s art.