3 out of 5
I’m not sure when, exactly, I soured on Tom King, but I think it had something to do with Omega Men. Prior to that I was enjoying his dark take on Vision and the bleak realities of Sheriff of Babylon. Post Omega Men I was seeing a writer who was being way too heavy-handed with superhero stuff, and when the spoiler-ridden internet indicated the reason Tom’s second Bats arc was named I Am Suicide before I read it, I pretty much knew I was out. (…And yes, that’s why I’m not going to stick it out through this arc.)
Because grit teeth and grunts interspersed with lyrical self-reflection are the summary sensations I get from this; like someone who actually has writing chops has 90s Image books as their major comics influence.
The overall thrust of the story isn’t bad. The art has a slightly off, digital, empty feel to it but is awesome in theory. The problem (i.e. annoyance) are all the bits inbetween where King attempts character studies of Bane, Batman, and Catwoman. Structurally I see what he was going for, anchoring his story on these characters’ similarities, but it either ends up prompting analysis we’ve read hundreds of time before or really overwrought nonsense that hasn’t yet been earned by the book. “Earned” in that we’re ten issues in and King’s Batman has no feel to it, which was also the issue with Omega and Vision’s back half: You can use this approach, but the reader has to be led into it by all of the other story elements, and that just hasn’t happened. It’s assumed seriousness.
Stepping back from that, though, there’s also a more general problem with the plot: Break into Bane’s Santa Prisca island nation and kidnap Psycho Pirate to save Gotham Girl. GG matters, to me, approximately zero percent, and the uneven first arc gave me no understanding as to why she would matter to Bats. So the stakes are unconvincing. Then there’s the problem that King’s first and second arc were hi-jacked by a stupid monster men crossover, pretty much ruining any chance that suddenly hopping back to super gloomy Bane back-breaky mode would be non disruptive.
That being said, the pulpy intro of Bane sitting atop a pile of skulls is pretty great, and Bats’ gathering-the-crew for his island-storming montage is a lot of fun; we’ll allow the wiggle room King takes advantage of for justifying why his particular crew members were the ones chosen. But – again nodding to Omega and Vision – this juggling of darkness and humor gets buried ‘neath a morass of “symbolic” narration. Some good stuff still happens on the page, like Bats’ actual break-in, but you have to weigh that against the heavy-handed chatter lain atop the page.
I suppose there’s the possibility that this is a similar narrative voice to previous writer Scott Snyder, but I didn’t read his works and so can’t say. Plus: King’s Batman started with issue 1, so I should be able to read it on its own.
Michael Janin’s art is fantastically laid out, but, as mentioned, there’s a digital aspect to it that robs it of heart. It, uh, sort of matches Tom’s writing in that regard, but I don’t think that was intentional. The end results are pages that you sit there and marvel at – double spreads with intensely considered paneling – but there’s this niggling thought: “this should be awesome but it isn’t.”
Tom King is a good writer, or rather, you can tell his writing is very planned, and considered. Pieces have their place, storyline aspects parallel each other, and I’m sure this is all going somewhere. But it doesnt really land as an appropriate Batman story, somewhat at odds with its own pulpy inclusions, and the intense character work Tom attempts had either been done before, or rubs up oddly against some lighter elements in the book.
Perhaps read completely in isolation, this is fantastic. But as a Bats tale, it’s an uneven experience.