This month, Tom King continues to bastardize characters and write ridiculous plots and reveals as an excuse for how his entire run has been planned from the beginning. Needless to say, it’s more of the same nonsense that has many people anxiously waiting for him to leave the title and move on. Personally, Batman #86 can’t come soon enough.
Just a heads up, this review is going to be really long and full of spoilers. Consider yourself warned.
Last month, Batman and Catwoman returned to Gotham, and while I’ve been waiting for this to happen for sometime now, the execution left me wanting more. The reality is, Damian’s return to Gotham was way more entertaining than what we got from Bruce and Selina, and that alone dials down the “climactic nature” of this story. Am I shocked? No. I’ve come to expect to be disappointed by King’s execution on Batman. King disappointing me has essentially been a trend since Batman: I Am Suicide though (give or take some really nice moments leading up to the not-wedding), so I don’t know why I remain curious or hopeful that he’ll actually deliver now. Maybe it’s because his previous works – aside from Heroes in Crisis – are incredible? Maybe I just love Batman so much as a character that I feel ashamed that I don’t like this run? Maybe I’m just trying to convince myself that King’s Batman isn’t really that bad… Unfortunately, it is… And this chapter just continues that trend.
We left off with Thomas Wayne preparing to kill Damian per Bane’s orders. I’m not going to lie, I was looking forward to seeing how this thread would unfold. I wouldn’t put it past King to kill Damian – the dude has been all about shock value lately – but at the same time, he tends to write Damian well. And, thankfully, Damian is written well here, and that leads me to enjoy the opening pages of this issue!
Damian reveals he’s playing Thomas before quickly turns the tides. The entire Bat family (minus one Ric Grayson) appears, and it becomes clear that Damian’s capture was a total coup on Batman’s part! I’m all for this! Continuing the pros, together, the Bat family beat the snot out of Thomas Wayne; and while I’ll admit that I thought they did so rather easily, I also feel like every single one of them should be able to best Thomas in a one-on-one fight anyway (more on this later), so yeah… All of them together? They’d definitely make it look easy. Could it be? Is King actually going to deliver?
No, he’s not. Thus, despite a solid start, the inevitable problems begin to snowball from here.
To kick off my rant, we’ll start with characterization. Thomas Wayne. This isn’t anything new. It’s something I’ve discussed many times before. Tom King has gotten Thomas Wayne wrong since the reveal in Batman #50. Now, there’s no doubt that Thomas has always been a little unsettled and unnerved. Nobody is denying that, despite King’s need to recently tweet about how people are forgetting that Thomas is a little unstable.
Reminder. Thomas Wayne is not a well man. pic.twitter.com/4yF9a0HcHB
— Tom King (@TomKingTK) October 9, 2019
Trust me. Many of us are well aware of Thomas Wayne’s nature. We’re also aware that King is taking him to a whole new level of crazy. This Thomas Wayne doesn’t match the Thomas Wayne we’ve met from Flashpoint or Earth 2. Hell, this Thomas Wayne doesn’t even match King’s version of Thomas from The Button. The Thomas Wayne/ Batman that we know – the version that was created, established, and defined in previous publications – is driven by vengeance and rage, but unlike his son, will go so far as to murder people. But that version – the version that established and defined Thomas Wayne Batman – is at a 3 out of 10 on the crazy scale, while King’s version is a 9 out of 10.
King tried to spin it as if Thomas was opposing Bruce because he didn’t want Bruce to be Batman anymore. I completely understand the notion that a father wouldn’t want their son to carry this burden. It’s what made the idea of Bruce and Thomas interacting so exciting and beautiful… But to then have Thomas oppose Bruce and side with someone who wants to kill his son makes no sense! Thomas, if accurately depicted, would be siding with Bruce and saying, “Please, let me take this burden. I can’t bare to see that this is your life.” It would be painful, but rewarding and justified. Instead, we have this nonsense.
But then King tries to backtrack to a degree in this issue. When ordered to kill Damian, Thomas can’t. He claims he can’t kill his family. Really? Thomas actively helped Bane psychologically and physically torture his son. He personally left Bruce for dead in the desert. Why show compassion now? It doesn’t add up. King’s version isn’t an accurate depiction of a character to begin with, and even then, he can’t remain consistent with his own version of the character. You know how I accuse King of being a lazy writer? Yeah… This is an example of that.
While discussing characterization, we also need to look at the skillset King has given Thomas. To be clear, there’s a reason Thomas Wayne/Batman uses guns and Miraclo in previous stories. It’s because he isn’t good enough on his own. Thomas would never be able to hold his own against Bane, Bruce, Damian, or any of the Bat family (with the exception of Duke who just hasn’t had much training or experience) without these aids, or without getting really lucky… And yet, time and time again, King has Thomas one-upping them. In this issue alone, Thomas takes out Tim, Barbara, Helena, Kate, Damian, Cassandra, and Duke at once. All of them at once!
Are you freaking kidding me!?!? This book is awful.
Cassandra alone would mop the floor with Thomas, and she would do it with one hand behind her back. No matter what continuity you’re reading, Bruce has openly acknowledged that Cassandra’s skillset would most likely surpass his. But then you have Tim, Helena, Barbara, Kate, and Duke as well? I just… I can’t. This book and King’s interpretation of these characters are a joke.
And the crux of all of this, is that King’s characterization of Thomas’ wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal had he taken the time to actually set up how Thomas got here, where he actually came from, and why he’s actually here. But since King can’t be bothered to actually work his narrative, we’re left with a butchered interpretation of a character with absolutely no context. I don’t think I’m asking too much for a storyteller to tell a complete story.
Again… This. Book. Is. Awful.
I get these are fictional characters. I do. But as a writer who is continuing a legacy of characters, you need to respect the work that’s come before you, and all King appears to be doing is pissing on it, then giggling like a child because he’s that smug and immature. It’s frustrating to experience the lack of care King and DC exhibit here. In fact, it’s essentially what I would expect from Marvel.
By the way, in case you were wondering, Batman and Catwoman are in this issue, but it’s nothing more than a bunch of monologuing and grand-standing. We learn that everything leading back to Bruce punching Tim was all part of Batman’s plan. Apparently Bruce wasn’t losing it when he punched Tim. He was just communicating with Tim as a means to set his plan in motion.
I’m willing to suspend disbelief for many things. I’m a long-time comic book fan. I love mystical stories and science fiction, and you need a certain level of suspension of disbelief for these mediums and genres to be enjoyable. But this… Come on… A little effort would be appreciated…
Looking past the ridiculous notion that Bruce taught his allies how to communicate with one another by beating the crap out of each other in case “someone was watching” (WHAT!?!), King also implies that all of this was actually part of Bruce’s plan. Bruce acknowledges that he realized what Bane was doing when Arkham was empty, but that he couldn’t win then. King also reveals that it was Bruce’s plan to let Bane take over, lose to Bane, have heroes shunned from the city, let Bane take complete control of Gotham, go vacation on a beach in Hawaii, stop the shipment of venom into Gotham – which he wouldn’t even need to do had he not let Bane take over anyway – and then come back to stop a city controlled by Bane once all of that was said and done…
So, what King is actually saying is that everything from Bruce punching Tim till now was basically pointless in the grand scheme of things, because the moment you start to analyze the details of this plot, it doesn’t hold any water.
Bruce goes on to claim that he didn’t know Bane’s weapon was Gotham Girl, but it became quite clear that Gotham Girl was a weapon against Batman – whether led by Bane or not – well before any of this, so that doesn’t hold much water either. Plus, the plan used for Damian to stop Gotham Girl to begin with (magic) seems like it would’ve been one Bruce’s first options in trying to stop her, so I’m not sure what the hangup was, or why he needed to wait.
King continues Batman’s monologue to reveal that Gotham and Gotham Girl originally got their power from this super venom (yes, the very venom that Batman and Catwoman intercepted from the beach), and that Batman discovered this when he sent Gotham Girl away to train (which was early in King’s run). Really? If that’s the case, then why wasn’t this touched on before now? Is it because King just thought of it in a desperate attempt to tie up loose ends, and this story isn’t as well-planned as King would like everyone to believe? Probably. I mean, introducing this fact earlier in the run would only build anxiety and suspense for what was to come. Maybe he just ignored this plot because he would’ve then been forced to answer why Batman didn’t take action upon learning this. If you’re Batman, discovering that your new protégé is dependent on venom to have powers should be concerning. Also, this would mean that Gotham Girl had gone almost her entire tenure with Bruce without having the venom… So, why didn’t she ever fully reach her current state before (ie: can’t use her powers until she gets more venom)?
Oh, hold on… It gets worse.
During all of his monologuing, Batman tells Catwoman that he “spent considerable resources to destroy this super venom to prevent it from killing others like it killed Gotham.” Umm… Didn’t King just establish that it was actually this venom that was keeping Gotham Girl from dying when using her powers? Pick a lane, dude.
Batman also tells Catwoman that he destroyed all of this venom except for one dose for research purposes, and that that single dose was hidden with the Memory of the Mountain. Sure. Whatever. I’m just trying to figure out why Bruce is telling all of this to Selina, when Selina is the one who informed Bruce that the venom taken from the Memory of the Mountain was going to be sold to Magpie in Hawaii! Bruce is literally telling Selina what Selina originally tells him. Again, it makes no sense! This is maddening! While we’re discussing the beach, what in the hell took so long to get the venom from the Memory of the Mountain to Bane? Selina was able to save Bruce, take him to France, nurse him back to health, travel to a beach in Hawaii, train him, and essentially have a couple’s retreat before the venom could reach Gotham. I would say I’m at a loss for words, but I’m clearly not…
Also, in case you’re not keeping count, this is also the point in the story where Bruce tells Selina that he had given up and didn’t have a plan to stop Bane, despite previously stating that all of this was part of his plan… And now… Now Bruce is saying he’s going to win because they think he’s alone. No, they don’t! Selina made a point to send a message! She made that clear with the boys she stopped on the mountain and Magpie. Plus, Damian was sent into Gotham – which in and of itself is a message. And Bane knows that Bruce has his entire Bat-family waiting in the wings. Bane was threatened enough by them on their own that he set up precautions in Gotham Girl to keep them out of Gotham… But with Gotham Girl out of commission, why would Bane – who is a strategist, mind you – still think that Batman is alone? He wouldn’t.
But wait! It actually gets worse!
We then get to the pesky reveal that Batman has had a man inside Gotham this entire time… Who is it? Clayface! Wait. What? How in the hell is he here? Basil Karlo is dead. Are we going to acknowledge that? Nope. Are we going to provide any context as to how or when Batman brought a dead guy back to life to help him? Nope. Are we going to explain why Psycho Pirate’s abilities don’t work on Clayface? Nope. Are we going to question where the Joker is since Clayface was imitating him? Nope. It’s just more examples of lazy writing and unworked narratives. Why? Because it’s Tom King. Because the editors didn’t do their job properly. Because DC is letting King do whatever the hell he wants.
And guess what? There’s still more to rant about!
King then goes on to reveal that Alfred isn’t dead! That’s right. According to this issue, Alfred escaped Thomas, and that is why Damian was sent in. This issue makes you believe that Thomas needed a hostage, so Damian played the fool and allowed himself to be captured. I guess we’re going to forget that Damian was captured while Alfred was still being held hostage, and that it was Bane who shot Alfred? I guess King is just going to pretend like that didn’t happen?
At this point, I’m done. No matter how you break this down, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s a lazy attempt to try and justify an outrageous story. This book is awful. That is genuinely the nicest way I can say it.
John Romita handles the art for this issue again, and I’m honestly not crazy about it. I grew to respect the quality of his work while reviewing it for other titles, but I’ve never been a fan of his aesthetic with Batman. His style just doesn’t seem to match with the tone and world of Batman – which is honestly strange because I enjoyed Romita’s depiction of Daredevil.
Anyway, Romita is one of the best storytellers out there, and we get to see glimpses of that here, but it’s not as strong as what I’ve come to expect. The “blocky” look of his characters also hinders the intensity of some of these scenes, and with a script that’s already failing to pack a punch, you really don’t want that from the art as well.
Mitch Gerads also contributes a few pages to the book, but I honestly don’t know what the purpose is. Don’t get me wrong. It’s visually stunning – as Gerads work generally is – but completely pointless. It almost comes off as if King couldn’t come up with more pages to fill the book, so they just threw in some nonsense with Harvey Bullock dancing and singing naked in Gotham to meet their required page count. Perhaps if King and Romita had shown the fight between Thomas and the Bat family instead of showing multiple panels of the grandfather clock accompanied by sound effects, then they wouldn’t have needed this bit with Harvey…
- You like stories that appear to have more work and effort put into trying to justify it than was put into actually writing it.
- You like when writers, editors, and publishers bastardize characters.
- You’ve been a sycophant of King’s Batman since the beginning.
- Hey, maybe you are finding something you enjoy in this issue and run. I’m sorry I don’t see it, but I’m happy you’re entertained. Genuinely.
Overall: Tom King’s Batman is an irresponsible mess, and while he deserves most of the blame, the editors and publishers at DC deserve their fair share of blame as well. The carelessness of disrespecting characters, not working narratives, and failing to properly structure their story has prevented this book from being as good is it could and should be. Add in the reactionary nature of this creative team walking back past plots or throwing in half-assed, shoehorned excuses for previous actions only make the book worse.
Batman #81 – like most of King’s Batman run, especially the back half – is utter nonsense. I do not recommend it. Batman should be leading the comic book industry, and King’s attempt has done anything but.