It wouldn’t be a training montage without learning from a retired special ops agent deep in the snowy wilderness, now would it? This month’s lesson is less about teaching Bruce a specific skill that he’ll need to be Batman, (I don’t know if I remember too many times I saw the caped crusader take out a bow and arrow) and more about ways to explore character conflict. On the one hand it’s a nice change of pace and really gives the characters a chance to breathe, which I feel is something that the series has needed. On the other hand, the problems with “Anton” become more apparent than ever.
The teacher this time around, Luka, is interesting because of the narrative purpose that he serves. As someone who used to be a mercenary for hire but has renounced killing, his personal code invites comparisons to Bruce’s. His regret over the hurt that he’s caused acts as a cautionary tale for why Bruce cannot allow himself to become an executioner. This is beautifully illustrated by the flashback sequence to his time as an assassin. Some of the conversational scenes in the comic still have the problem of being nothing more than a medium shot against a featureless background, but the art in this sequence is an excellent example of visual storytelling.
I also really like the time spent in the wilderness. One of my complaints with the series so far has been that it’s felt very rushed and that we aren’t given enough time to get immersed in each scenario. That is definitely remedied here. There is a tranquility to everything that removes any distractions from the scene. You almost feel like you’re there in the crisp, autumn woods with some of the ways that Ivan Plascencia’s colors depict the early morning sun coming over the tree tops.
The serenity means that we get to put all our focus on the characters themselves. Contrary to earlier in the series, Bruce has noticeably matured, and I’m not just saying that because of the beard. He’s calmer now, and Zdarsky really highlights how he makes sure to take his time before making any rash decisions. One of the ways that this is emphasized is by contrasting him with Anton. Anton has been a foil to Bruce since he appeared in the story, but their differences have only become more extreme as time goes on. He becomes confrontational about not being allowed to use guns right away, and almost revels in the the “art” of killing.
Really, this issue is about Anton, not Bruce. Bruce didn’t need a reason to hate guns; that’s about as baked into the character as you can get. The reason Luka was included is because the story needed to show how dangerous Anton could become. About half of the issue is devoted to a confrontation between Bruce, Anton, and Luka regarding the fact that Luka thinks Anton is a killer. It’s a tense scene with some real emotional gut punches. Though once again, I can’t help but feel that this is time that takes away from the core premise of the series. I could be proven wrong as the series continues, but so much of Anton’s story feels superfluous to “discovering how the Dark Knight began”, as the series’ tagline describes.
I think it’s about time I stopped dancing around the point and address the elephant in the room: “Anton” is clearly meant to be an alias of Minhkhoa Khan (Ghost-Maker). His attitude, backstory, and the events of his meeting with Bruce line up almost exactly with what was depicted in the pages of James Tynion’s Batman #102-#105. It’s through this lens that we need to examine his role in the story. This is someone who Bruce tacitly approves of operating as a vigilante in “his” city. The problem with that is that the person depicted here is not a begrudgingly friendly rival. Luka is right; this is someone who is clearly dangerous and holds no value over human life if they get in his way. In any other scenario this would be a villain origin story, but the story is implicitly presenting him as someone we should want to root for, or at least believe is someone Batman would support. Much of this is not Zdarsky’s fault, as he is just incorporating the existing origin into his story, but it’s a problem nonetheless.
- You want an issue that takes a step back and allows the story to breathe
- Anton’s story is something that you’ve been enjoying so far
- One can never get enough of bearded Bruce
Batman: The Knight #6 gives the series a much needed break in the story’s pacing to focus on character development, but it’s unfortunately cut short to focus on Anton’s story. The time spent examining what the “no kill code” means for people from different circumstances is the kind of introspective story that I want to see from this series. It’s a shame that less than half the issue gets to be about that, while the narrative focuses on a character that often feels like they don’t belong.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided a copy of this issue for the purpose of this review.