In the second to last issue of Tom King’s Batman run, King decides to forgo plot progression for the sake of highlighting Thomas Wayne. Do we need this context? Yes. Do we get the answers we’ve been waiting for? Mmm… Kind of? Do the revelations in this issue justify everything Thomas Wayne has done leading up to this? No. Not at all… And that, quite frankly, is why this issue is a failure.
There are spoilers past this point, so continue reading at your own risk.
I’ve been lambasting King for quite a while now because of the technical decisions he’s made concerning structure and pacing, as well as his clumsiness in crafting a long-form story. When I started reading this issue, I was actually excited because I thought, “A spotlight on Thomas Wayne? Finally! We’re going to learn how he got here and why he’s been doing all of this!” Unfortunately, that was just wishful thinking, and I should’ve known better. While this chapter offers “reasons” for Thomas being here or opposing Bruce, they don’t, logically, line up for the character. So, while we do get some answers, they don’t help the run in any way.
First and foremost, the biggest problem with this book is that it ends where it begins: at the cusp of the final confrontation with Bruce and Thomas. If you were hoping for some plot progression or serious action, I hate to tell you that you won’t find it here. What this issue does accomplish is skip through the past to show the big moments that brought Thomas to this point… Or, at least, how King’s screwed up logic brought Thomas to this point.
If I’m being honest, there are pages that are quite good, and because of this, I’m a little torn as to how I should speak to this issue. If I look only at this chapter, then I would probably give it a solid score, but there’s a lot of context that needs to be taken into account here. When you factor that in, everything kind of falls apart.
Before we dive into the negatives, I want to highlight what I enjoyed about the issue. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed the structure of the story. Using single pages to capture various moments through Thomas Wayne’s life is a brilliant move. The structure is similar to what King did for the recent Batman Annual, and, for me, it works really well when a lot of information needs to be covered quickly and efficiently. I’m not crazy about the story being told in reverse order, but only because it doesn’t serve a purpose. There’s no payoff or impact by telling the story this way, so it just feels like King is trying to be artsy for the sake of being artsy.
Despite my praise for King’s technique here, I think we’re getting this information way too late. Rather than present this information earlier in the run to build the story up, it’s now interrupting the story’s climax. The timing of this also makes me question if any of this was actually planned, or if it was shoehorned in by editorial or publishers due to the valid complaints of readers over the past year.
Also, looking at what this story accomplishes with Thomas Wayne, you have to ask how effective it actually is. If I were crafting this story, or if I were the editor – and I know I’m not, just bear with me so I can explain my reasoning – I would’ve approached all of this differently. For instance, I would’ve used pages 6 and 7 of this issue during their actual story, but I wouldn’t have revealed that it was Thomas. I would’ve just shown a shadowy figure watching Bruce and Selina, making the scenes subtle at first, then less subtle before finally revealing that it’s Thomas in Batman #49. Doing it this way would’ve created a mystery about who is following Bruce and Selina, and it would’ve added some momentum to the title.
I then would’ve used page 5, and pages 8 through 21 of this issue for Batman #51. Not only would this give insight into “how” Thomas was on this Earth during a more appropriate time within the arc, but it would have added into the intrigue of why Thomas was siding with Bane. I can’t say I would’ve done anything King did with Thomas past this point, but if I were the editor, I would’ve at least encouraged King to use Thomas as a means to show Bane’s plotting. This would’ve allowed everything the feel more connected and intentional, while also creating suspense for how other characters may be harmed. These are minor notes, and ultimately a testament that I like what King does here.
Unfortunately, what Tom King “reveals” in this issue is Thomas’ true motivations, and they completely contradict everything that’s taken place leading up to this point. If there’s one page, for me, that is a complete success, it’s the final page of the issue. We finally learn, specifically, what is driving Thomas Wayne, and it is honestly a beautiful moment. Yes, you read that correctly. I love the core of Thomas Wayne’s motivations because I think King nails it. The last page of this issue, for me, is absolutely perfect… but only if you ignore everything that has led up to this point in previous issues.
This is what I’ve wanted to see between Bruce and Thomas! This is the sentimental father I’ve been waiting for! Thomas knows what type of life comes with being Batman, and he doesn’t want Bruce to carry that burden. So why on earth would Thomas ever subject Bruce to everything he has? I mean, really think about the logic here. “I don’t want you to suffer with the tribulations that are a result of being Batman, so I’m going to torture you for months, putting you through worse treatment than a number of your rogues ever have. I’m going to do worse to you than ever happened to me, so you don’t have to experience what I’ve gone though.”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is Tom King’s logic. This issue literally reveals that Thomas takes a vow to protect Bruce from anything that would harm him, after spending roughly 30 issues harming Bruce in some of the worst ways possible…
I think the real shame here is that if editors had stepped in and prevented King from making Thomas a villain, we could’ve been treated to an earthshattering, groundbreaking story. So many interesting plots could’ve been explored by putting these two men together as opposed to pitting them against each other. And that’s not to say that there couldn’t have been a conflict between the two of them, but all of this would’ve been better had Bane just been the villain, while Bruce tried to navigate a more public life, creating additional targets for those who know that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Instead, we have an irreparably damaged relationship, and I fear that King is going to have Batman kill Thomas in Batman #85.
Expect an uproar if that happens.
As for other elements, I liked King’s use of Martha Wayne here, as well as the page that featured Thomas and Selina meeting each other. I was less fond of the relationship featured between Thomas and Selina though, and I hate that King couldn’t control himself with the “It was on a boat.”/ “It was in a bank.” exchange. Seriously, we’ve gotten enough of that between Bruce and Selina. We don’t need it here.
I also enjoyed that Reverse Flash brought Thomas to this earth, as well as his reason for doing so. Bringing Thomas here as a form of punishment for killing him is a poetically brutal act of revenge. I don’t necessarily understand how Eobard managed this, but I don’t really care at this point because I just want everything to end. One more issue, people…
Jorge Fornes returns to deliver the art for this issue. I’m a fan of Fornes, and I’ve loved his work in previous issues. I know some people aren’t a fan of Fornes’ aesthetic in general (Batman isn’t big enough, buff, enough, it’s too plain, whatever), but I am, and I think he’s an incredible storyteller. Look at the page where Thomas meets Selina. Notice how Fornes uses the gun to create tension while also allowing the gun to reveal Thomas’ internal thoughts. It’s decisions like this that allow Fornes to elevate the scripts he’s given to create something special.
That being said, there were some weird panels in this issue where Batman looked really small – not because of Fornes’ style, but because of the proportional differences between Bruce and Thomas. It’s minor moments in an otherwise stellar work of art.
- You want to stop the main story to revisit Thomas Wayne’s past.
Aside from a few nice moments, this issue is a complete waste of time that delivers a message that completely contradicts everything Thomas Wayne has been doing… So… Basically… Your standard Tom King comic these days.