We all have varying opinions concerning Tom King’s Batman run, but if there is one thing that a majority of us seem to agree on, it’s that his one-shots and Annuals have all been pretty stellar! For me, this issue is no exception. Yes, this story is very different than anything he’s ever done, and while it might not be for everyone, it does a lot of things right.
This issue is told from Alfred’s perspective via entries from his journal. Now, I’m not going to lie, my expectation of what I thought we were going to get, is very different from what we actually get. Because of what’s happened to Alfred in the “City of Bane” arc, I fully expected this chapter to attempt to tug on the heartstrings. That’s not the case. In fact, this issue is really nothing more than Alfred documenting various missions that Bruce has been on. Not much emotion to it. Mostly just factual details tied to a few memories.
Sounds boring, right? Well, for the first two entries, it kind of is. The first entry recounts a mission of Bruce stopping criminals using horses to escape from the scene of the crime by going rooftop to rooftop. It’s fine. There are sentiments about Bruce riding a horse for the first time, but it isn’t exactly gripping. The next story features Bruce fighting a dragon – which I will admit, is quite fantastical and features an interesting plot idea – but it was also at this point that I thought, “If this is what the entire issue consists of, I’m going to be really disappointed.”
Thankfully, the next journal entry features a story that is quite good, and was the turning point of the book for me. In this entry, Alfred documents an MMA fight that Batman has with the current undefeated champion. As interesting as the fight is – and trust me, it’s incredibly engaging thanks to Jorge Fornes’ spectacular art – it’s the story behind the fight that’s the real draw. See, this fighter, Henry Feder, wanted to fight Batman to prove he really is the best of them all. Uninterested and with nothing to prove, Batman never accepts the challenge. Feder turns to taunting, and still, nothing. But something is eventually revealed about Feder that results in Batman accepting his offer. I don’t want to give away the specifics because I’d rather you experience it and enjoy it yourself. But, it is a simple, solid story.
Ok, Mr. King. You have my attention.
Alfred’s journal entries continue. A murder mystery. A reconnection with an old love interest. A story about challenging and conquering fear, and so on. The themes become clear. King’s message becomes clear. Each of these stories up to this point are four or five pages. A week’s worth of adventures captured in a week’s worth of journal entries. And, most importantly, a week’s worth of endurance. Endurance. Purpose. Drive. Each story, compelling and unique in their own way, capturing the reality that Batman has been, and is, many things.
From here the stories become shorter, as King expertly plays with pages featuring an ever-growing number of panels to capture additional days, more journal entries, and more adventures. A splash page. A two-panel layout. Three panels. Four-panel grid. Five panels. Six. Seven. Eight. And, finally, what King has become synonymous with, a nine-panel grid. This is the Tom King I grew to love. This is the Tom King I was hoping we would get on Batman. There is no question, on a thematic and technical level, this issue is excellent.
And that brings me back to the theme of this issue, as well as the message that King appears to have delivered. The daily journal entries capturing Batman’s adventures is a testament to his commitment to Gotham, as well as his mission. Rarely faltering, but always enduring.
But more importantly, or at least perhaps to King anyway, is the idea of this message that “Batman is and has been many things, and none of them hold more accuracy or weight over another.” While there is validity to this message – after all, a binge-reading of Batman through the decades will prove this – there is also a rebuttal. While Batman is and can be many things, he can still be written “incorrectly” or “out of character.” Many of us can make that argument, and have, regarding King’s run. And it should be noted that many of these same themes and representations have been attempted during King’s run. But this issue… This issue succeeds in ways his arcs have failed to. This spectacular issue doesn’t fall victim to King’s missteps, and that makes me one happy Bat-fan.
Good work, Tom King.
As brilliant as King’s script for this issue is, there’s no doubt that the art, especially Jorge Fornes’ work, deserves special praise. This guy is incredible, and he’s one of the best in the industry when it comes to sequential art and storytelling. I love highly detailed art that leans heavily into realism when it comes to character presentation (Fabok, Janin, Finch), but there are times that, that type of art is so detailed that it actually takes away from the emotion. But, sometimes, as is the case with Fornes’ art, refraining from such detail can help bring emotion and impact to the story. We saw this with the likes of Mazzucchelli and Cooke, and we see that in certain panels of this issue.
But where Fornes may refrain from detail in character work, he embellishes it in his background. His ability to capture locations in such detail greatly elevates the story by creating believable and lived-in environments. Dave Stewart also deserves praise for the execution of his colors in this issue. Page after page, this book is just a masterclass of art!
- You love Batman’s history and diversity as a character.
- You enjoy reading stories that focus on a theme.
- You don’t mind a break from the status quo.
- You feel like Tom King hasn’t been getting it right.
Overall: Tom King delivers an excellent Annual, and while it might not be for everyone, for me, it is spectacular. There’s no deep dive into characterization here. No attempt to try and make Batman different. This is merely a presentation of who and what Batman has always been and always will be. A hero in every facet. Every. Single. Day.