This review is late, but it’s late on purpose. If I had posted this yesterday when I sat down to finish this review, I would’ve been saying “$%@# you, Tom King!” repeatedly! So, prepare yourself, because while I’ve let some time and rest provide a little separation from my initial anger, I’m still freaking pissed. And if you haven’t read Batman #83, then turn back now because this is going to be a spoiler-filled discussion.
Before I start ranting, I want to start this review off by acknowledging Mikel Janin. His work here is incredible! There’s wonderful, emotional character work here, and this is probably the best work I’ve seen from Janin in some time. That’s not to say his work has been bad – quite the opposite. He’s an incredible talent, and even on his bad days, his work is great. But… It does look as though he’s phoned it in for a few issues by simply copying 3-D models. Here, however, he really takes the time and effort to create something special, and had this artwork not been tarnished by Tom King’s script, then this really would’ve been special. Unfortunately, yet again, Tom King had to shit all over a beautiful thing.
But seriously, I appreciate the care and attention that Janin put into this issue. Two pages, in particular, really stood out to me. It’s the pages where Bruce picks up Alfred, lays him on a couch, then removes his cape to cover Alfred’s body. It’s such a simple, yet effective display, and had there been no dialogue, this would’ve been perfect! There are many visual moments like this throughout the issue, but this one stands out for me the most. If there were an option to purchase a silent issue, I would. But there’s not, so I’ll refrain from actually buying this book.
So, what exactly does Tom King do that’s so egregious? Well, on a surface level, we merely have to endure Tom King’s bad habits. Overall, there’s no plot progression for the story, so there’s that for starters. He also starts the issue off with a poem. I’ve commented on his use of this technique many times. It’s a crutch that King uses way too frequently, and thus it makes its use less effective. At this point, it honestly just comes off as pretentious and lazy.
I will give King some credit though. Of all the times he’s used poetry to narrate a scene/ story, the symbolism of this specific poem (“The Children’s Hour” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) comparing Bruce and Alfred’s relationship is quite fitting. The poem recalls the late-night hour in which a father gets to play with his children. This mirrors Bruce and Alfred’s bonding time after he returns from his missions as Batman. It’s honestly nice. However… It takes place at a terrible moment in the overall story.
All of this unfolds as Bruce wakes to discover Alfred’s body. I’m not sure what goes through King’s head – or the editors, really – when it comes to pacing, but his/their choices are so weird. This issue is supposed to be the big emotional climax of Alfred’s death. The problem is that the death of Alfred was featured three months ago. Too much time has passed for this to have the impact that it’s intended to have. If they really wanted this to resonate well, they should’ve placed Bane snapping Alfred’s neck at a different time within the narrative to allow this moment to fall immediately after. It would’ve played much better.
I also would’ve changed the placement of certain scenes. I’ve already mentioned moving the neck snap and the opening of this issue so that they would be back to back, but I would also do more. For example, if I were to keep the general plot intact (to be clear, I wouldn’t write a plot this awful, but just follow me for a second), I would’ve had “The Children’s Hour” run throughout the issue leading up to Bane snapping Alfred’s neck. It would’ve played much better from a narrative standpoint. Then, I would’ve trusted Janin. Janin’s work is far more effective than anything King could’ve written, and had King not been so arrogant or pretentious, he would’ve recognized that. Sometimes you just need to let the art speak for itself (minus the occasional “No!” or “Alfred!”). At the very least, these minor changes would’ve taken a terrible plot, and allowed some resonance for some moments and scenes – none of which really appears to come through well here.
Lack of plot progression and the overuse of poetry aren’t the only bad habits of King that pop up in this issue though. He continues to throw continuity out the window, while also glossing over key details of the story by abandoning plot details so that they unfold between issues with no explanation. Not only does it shortchange readers, but it also prevents King from having to work his stories properly. The approach is lazy, and as a fellow writer, you’ll be hard-pressed to convince me otherwise.
Specifically, for this issue, King neglects the damage that has been inflicted on all of the characters recently. Unless there’s something we’re not keen to (which wouldn’t surprise me), only a few hours, at most, have passed between Batman #82 and Batman #83. During this time, Batman apparently healed from gunshot wounds, Tim has healed from the arrow that was stabbed into his chest, and Thomas has completely recovered from the beating he took from the Bat-family, and vice-versa. Again, all minor problems that are just irritating in the grand scheme of things, but the frequency of these shortcomings are quite infuriating. Overall, there’s nothing to actually be pissed off about, right? Well, prepare yourself…
Much in the way that King will use poetry to narrate his stories, he’ll also use letters to the same extent. He does here, though, as far as I can tell, via a recording opposed to a letter. Like the examples above, this is nothing more than a technique that I find irritating because of its overuse. What really angers me isn’t the technique, but what Alfred relays in his message to Bruce. Seriously, this is your second warning now. Prepare yourself.
So, Alfred decides to record Bruce a message discussing a number of topics. The message starts out well enough, with Alfred remembering Bruce as a young child. Carefree. Happy. He remembers the way Bruce would play, and laugh, and smile. He speaks positively of the emotions. Then he recalls the death of Martha and Thomas. He remembers how it impacted Bruce, and how closed off and depressed he became. He goes on to mention that Bruce never showed any emotion from that point on, and that he didn’t see emotion in him again until the day of Bruce and Selina’s wedding. That dawn, on the rooftop, when he finally saw Bruce smile again (Batman #50). He goes on to say that he finally saw Bruce as the man he’d been waiting his entire life to see, and that he would forever remember him as that man, in that moment.
This might seem innocent enough, but if you actually stop to think about it, it’s not. First off, this essentially confirms that Bruce hasn’t had a single moment of joy or happiness in Alfred’s presence since before his parents’ death. It’s ludicrous. Decades of no smiles. No laughs. Nothing. Just misery and depression from the age of ten until a few months prior to this moment. I can’t take this seriously. If this were true, then Dick, Tim, Babs, Jason, Damian, etc would’ve never joined Bruce on his crusade. Or Alfred for that matter. It’s just a ridiculous notion. I don’t know why King has been so hell-bent on making Bruce a miserable prick, but he has. Also, I’d encourage you to go back and read Batman #50 again. I’d hardly consider Bruce happy during that book. He questions everything during the issue. The only sign of happiness is a mere smirk for one panel, but there’s definitely no sign of happiness on the rooftop. Anyway, moving on…
To make matters worse, Alfred goes on to say that he was watching the ten-year-old Bruce as Bruce made his vow to become Batman. Now, this… This is where I start to get angry. Alfred watched Bruce make his vow to fight crime, you say? Really? That’s sentimental… Except it isn’t! Does anyone remember what ten-year-old Bruce was doing when he decided to make his vow? HE WAS ABOUT TO COMMIT SUICIDE!
Yes! Lest you forget, Tom King retconned Bruce’s vow so that a ten-year-old Bruce Wayne was going to commit suicide in front of his parents’ portrait by slitting his wrists with a razor blade! It was in that moment that he made a vow to be Batman, and instead admitted to saving his suicide for when he died on a mission. Don’t believe me? If you have a physical copy of the issue, then go re-read Batman #12. If you read digitally, you won’t be able to do that because DC has deleted those pages from the digital version! Thankfully, we have full documentation of it in our review for Batman #12, as well as Brandon’s open letter to Tom King.
As infuriating as a suicidal Bruce Wayne made us, it’s worse once you put two and two together. Alfred lovingly comments on watching Bruce make the vow, which means Alfred was just standing by while a child contemplated, and nearly attempted, suicide… And Alfred’s going to look back on that memory fondly? Seriously? What the fuck is wrong with you, King? What’s wrong with you DC? I mean, my God…
But wait… This actually gets worse! As Alfred’s message to Bruce plays out, it becomes clear that this entire message is actually a suicide note from Alfred!
Why is Tom King allowed to write heroes? There is nothing heroic about any of this! This isn’t a heroic sacrifice. This is giving up! Alfred didn’t need to die. Alfred, himself, makes that clear. Alfred admits that he knew Batman had a master plan, and that he (Alfred) lies and says he’s safe so Bruce will send Damian in, when he (Alfred) knows that he doesn’t need to. It’s stupid. It’s shock value for the sake of shock value. It’s offensive to the legacies of these characters.
To continue this insanity, he has a whole portion about Alfred lying to Bruce all the way back in Batman #1 when Batman asks if sacrificing himself to save the city would be a good death. Alfred lies to him then and says, “yes,” but admits here that there is no good in death. There’s only good in life…. At which point Alfred chooses to have himself killed.
Seriously? I mean… Seriously? I fucking can’t with this nonsense anymore.
Yes. I’m heated. I’m pissed off! And not because Alfred is dead. Not because something happened in a comic book. I’m pissed because this is irresponsible! Actions speak louder than words, and sending this message does not help others! Saying “there’s no good in death, only good in life” is an incredibly strong message, but it’s a worthless message when you follow it with actions that present and justify the opposite notion. People considering suicide that read this are going to receive the message that it’s ok to kill themselves if they feel they’ve had a good life, and that’s fucked up. It is incredibly fucked up, and I can’t believe Tom King, the editors, or the publishers are ok with sending this message. I can’t imagine that they really are. I’m sure that, as they did with Batman #12, they’ll go back and edit this issue in the future.
This is a disgrace.
- You’re cool with romanticizing suicide.
- You’re cool with Alfred being ok with the idea of a 10 year old Bruce trying to kill himself.
- You don’t mind the fact that Alfred ultimately chose to die when it is completely unnecessary.
Overall: The art for Batman #83 is beautiful, but the message and character revelations are complete trash. I don’t know what’s up with King, but the guy needs some help. The way he brandishes and romanticizes suicide isn’t healthy, nor is it effective or helpful for people who are contemplating suicide. The approach is careless, and clearly DC agrees, otherwise they wouldn’t have removed pages from Batman #12. At this point, I can’t help but feel that Tom King is a miserable person who only copes by making everyone else miserable, and then tries to mask it through juvenile humor. This man should’ve been pulled from this book forever ago, and it’s a shame that he’s been able to damage these characters in such a way for so long.
As much as I want to recognize and praise Janin’s art in my score, I can’t. The theme and message of this book is too vile and I refuse to stand behind it in any way.