Note: This article will contain spoilers for the first thirteen issues of Tom King’s Batman
Tom King had the monumental task of following Scott Snyder’s legendary run on Batman, and while I’m a huge King fan I wasn’t sure how his Batman would stack up to what came before. I can happily say that King’s Batman has far and away surpassed any expectations I had for the run. One thing I find particularly compelling about King’s work on Batman is that this is all one long, interconnected and intricately woven 100-issue epic. King came on to the title with a vision and the further we get in his run the clearer the entire picture becomes. This long-form narrative naturally creates more compelling re-reads and lends itself to further analysis. There is a LOT of content here to cover and for the sake of giving each arc of the story the attention it deserves, I’ll be breaking this article and a series of future articles based on King’s run down into sections, each pertaining to a different arc in the overall narrative. Essentially making this piece “part one” in what will be a project that covers the entirety of King’s run by the time it’s finished. With that in mind, it’s time to dive into why I love this run so much and what it has done for Batman and his world.
I AM GOTHAM
Story: Tom King
Pencils: David Finch
Inks: Danny Miki
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Clayton Cowles
The start of King’s work on Batman is technically the Batman: Rebirth #1 title he co-wrote with Scott Snyder featuring art by Mikel Janin. While this issue is great and does an excellent job at establishing the new status quo for Batman following the events of Snyder’s run and the DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot, the real story of King’s Batman begins in the following issue with Batman #1. A pretty much perfect issue of Batman, the book opens with a plane flying into Gotham and a rooftop meeting between Batman and Gordon. As the two discuss some military grade weapons that have been stolen by the terrorist cell known as Kobra we see a surface to air missile fired at the plane. This incident is the catalyst for this issue and the entire run. As soon as the plane is hit Batman immediately leaps into action. What follows is a heart-racing sequence of Batman communicating with Alfred about the trajectory of the plane and time to impact. Throughout this Batman manages to make his way on top of the plane and use equipment to help steer the plane between two buildings and towards the Gulf of Gotham.
While Batman is on top of the plane Alfred notes that for the plane to land precisely where it needs to for the passengers to survive, Batman must stay on the outside and guide it. The pair both know this means survival is no longer an option. Batman informs Alfred that he has messages prepared for the family in the event of his death. It’s during this scene that Bruce utters one of the most impactful lines in the series, “Would… would they – Mother and Father, would they have been proud? Is this a good death?” Bruce has fully accepted his own demise. He’s prepared to die to save the lives of innocents and now seeks solace in the thought of making his parents proud. In the moments as the plane approaches the water Alfred reassures Bruce that his parents would be proud, as he is, and that this is certainly a good death. And all seems lost when suddenly two superpowered individuals appear and prevent the plane from a crash landing. Enter Gotham and Gotham Girl.
Gotham and Gotham Girl say that Gotham is their city and they’re here to save it. And really this first volume is their story just as much as it is Batman’s. Bruce is feeling his own mortality. He knows there will be other planes, asteroids, aliens, etc. and that he won’t be able to stop them all. Eventually, he’ll die, and though Dick, Damian, or any of the other Bat-family members may take his place, eventually they’ll die as well. Someday Gotham won’t have a protector. Bruce begins observing and eventually instructing Gotham and Gotham Girl. He sees the potential but knows they need direction. We see a rooftop meeting with Batman, Gordon, Gotham, and Gotham Girl which emphasizes the trust and hope that Batman is putting in the pair. He is allowing them into one of his inner circles in the hope that they can continue to protect the city in a better way.
After this, we learn about the origins of Gotham and Gotham Girl. Hank and Claire Glover were children when one evening Hank was with his Mother and Father in an alleyway where they were almost gunned down, exactly like Bruce’s origin, only to be saved by Batman himself. After Batman deals with the criminal he delivers one of the best and most impactful lines of the series, “Everyone gets scared. But remember, all that means is everyone gets the opportunity to fight that fear. Everyone gets the chance to be brave.” This encounter and line fundamentally change Hank and Claire’s lives. Hank beCoolcomes obsessed with Batman, and though Claire wasn’t there that night in the alley she follows in her brothers’ footsteps. The two spend their lives doing what they can to help others while training their body and minds (not dissimilarly to Bruce’s training). We learn that while the two were doing volunteer work overseas they found an opportunity to essentially purchase superpowers.
While Bruce was investigating the origins of Gotham and Gotham Girl, another Kobra suicide bomber (under the control of Hugo Strange) attacks a Gotham bridge. Batman immediately rushes to the scene, but Gotham and Gotham Girl are already there doing damage control and trying to hold the bridge up. After Batman arrives and helps save the bridge from collapse, he talks with Gotham and Gotham Girl and reassures them that it’s good to see what they did with their fear. After Batman leaves an explosion in the distance leads Gotham and Gotham Girl to go investigate. Upon arrival, they find Hugo Strange and the Psycho Pirate (who has the power to manipulate the emotions of anyone) waiting for them along with ARGUS soldiers that Amanda Waller enlisted to keep Strange in line.
And so, we reach the fall of Gotham and Gotham Girl. The Psycho Pirate manipulated Gotham into murdering twenty-seven soldiers and leaves Gotham Girl emotionally broken. Batman immediately begins the hunt for Gotham and eventually finds Gotham trying to repair the previously destroyed bridge. He implores him to stop, that he can only make it worse. Batman goes on to explain his hope in Gotham and Gotham Girl, “You aren’t hurt like I’m hurt. You aren’t weak like I’m weak. I go down with the plane. You lift it out of the air. I thought you could save this city. Like I never could.” But this was before he came across twenty-seven dead men in a burning building.
Gotham is confused at the mention of twenty-seven and immediately flies away shouting “NO!”. It’s then revealed that Waller was using Strange and by extension, the Psycho Pirate but that things went wrong. This also leads to the reveal that there was a soldier that Gotham didn’t kill, a soldier who saw his face and has access to find out who Gotham really is. Batman puts together that this soldier would go to Gotham’s parents for revenge and that he must reach the Glover’s home. Batman arrives just in time to see Gotham holding the solider by the neck, above the bodies of his lifeless parents. Batman tries to take Gotham back from his blind rage, implores him that he can fix this, to which Gotham responds, “No. You can’t fix this. You can only make it worse.” Before snapping the soldier’s neck.
Gotham then talks about how much Gotham takes from you. You do all you can to help it, but it just takes and takes. And maybe the solution isn’t to fix it, but to destroy it all. This leads to Gotham going to the middle of the city and causing absolute mayhem. Batman is forced to call in the Justice League and tasks Duke with finding out any weakness Gotham may have by asking Claire about their powers. We learn that Gotham and Gotham Girl didn’t buy powers for life, but life for powers. They could control the amount of power they used but it drained time off of their lives. Because of this Gotham has no power limit and wipes the floor with the Justice League.
Batman is beaten, but he stands. He argues that the city didn’t kill Gotham’s parents. It’s just bricks and concrete. It didn’t free the Psycho Pirate or murder those soldiers. The Pirate was here because Batman couldn’t stop it, and Gotham flew to those soldiers because Batman told him to. Bruce yells, “You want to kill Gotham?! I am Gotham. Kill me.” But just before Gotham can deliver the killing blow to Batman, Claire swoops in to stop him. It’s during this that we get one of the most interesting dialogue boxes in the series from Claire that I think is often overlooked and gives us some major foreshadowing into possible future events.
Later after we were married… after Bruce did what he did, after he died how he died… after I killed him, I mean. Duke and I, we’d come here once a year, on the anniversary of my brother’s death. Just to take time to remember. Remember that this is where it started. The origin of Gotham Girl… the death of Batman.
The last issue in this volume is an epilogue that focuses on Claire dealing with the loss of her brother. She’s talking out loud to him while going around Gotham thwarting different crimes. Near the end, Batman meets with Claire on the GCPD roof and asks why she’s doing this. She explains that when things hurt so much, helping Gotham makes it hurt less, so there’s no choice. This resonates with Bruce and he ends up revealing his identity to her, consoling her with a story of how he talked to his Mother as she lay dying, and how he still has to talk to her to find comfort. The last scene of this issue sets up the next arc and reveals that Bane has orchestrated all of this from the beginning in order to get Hugo Strange to give him the Psycho Pirate. Upon learning this Batman accepts a plan Amanda Waller puts forth to retrieve the Psycho Pirate.
The fall of Gotham and the breaking of Gotham Girl is one of the most heartbreaking tragedies to happen in Batman comics in recent memory. These two were wholly inspired by Batman and his crusade for good that they modeled their entire lives around the good fight. They eventually get to meet their literal hero and even fight alongside him. Only to have one of them die and the other emotionally broken at the hands of Gotham’s worst. The emotional toll this weighs on Batman can’t be understated, either. Batman finally found hope for the future, something he typically lacks, only to have his dreams crushed. He also feels responsible for what the two endured and will no doubt be more skeptical and reluctant to hope going forward.
I’ve come to appreciate this first story arc more and more as time goes on. It does an incredible job at establishing so much of what this run will be. With stunning work from artists, David Finch and Jordie Bellaire throughout, it’s a gorgeous book to look at. Narratively it highlights Batman’s current hopelessness and acceptance of his fate but then shakes that when hope is introduced. We see Batman thinking of the possibility of peace of mind only to have it violently and suddenly ripped away. This is a key theme throughout the series. And though we don’t see him we’re still introduced to Bane at the very end of this story after having just witnessed the catalyst that will bring Batman face to face with Bane and propel the rest of the tale forward.
I AM SUICIDE
Story: Tom King
Art: Mikel Janin
Colors: June Chung
Letters: Clayton Cowles
This arc is about Batman breaking into Santa Prisca to retrieve the Psycho Pirate and establishes his relationship with both Catwoman and Bane. The story opens with narration from Bane over a scene of him from the ages of four to twenty-one, trapped in a cell where the tide came in and submerged ninety-five percent of the room. This trauma has left him scarred and he says while he used to turn to venom, he’s found a new way to deal with his emotions, the Psycho Pirate. Batman recruits Arnold Wesker (The Ventriloquist, the man behind the puppet known as Scarface), Bronze Tiger, Punch and Jewelee, and against the wishes of Jeremiah Arkham he wants to recruit an inmate considered too dangerous to be let out. Batman approaches the masked inmate, saying that he’s been thinking about the both of them lately and that the inmate may be the only one who truly understands what he’s doing. It’s then revealed that Catwoman is the masked inmate, charged with two hundred and thirty-seven counts of murder, and sentenced to lethal injection.
This arc features some amazing action sequences, drawn by Mikel Janin, of Batman breaking into Santa Prisca and showcasing his plan to retrieve the Psycho Pirate unfold. There are a few unexpected twists and turns to the plan over the course of five issues, but there are three narrative points that I want to focus on. The first two of these were letters, one from Catwoman to Batman, and the other from Batman to Catwoman. Catwoman wrote her letter to Bruce while she was on the run for two hundred and thirty-seven counts of murder. She knows Batman will come for her and feels the need to explain why she did what she did. She compares herself to Bruce, noting that they were both alone growing up, but that her parents didn’t leave the same way his had. She lived in the Thomas and Martha Wayne Home for the Boys and Girls of Gotham and recalls a picture of the three Wayne’s – Thomas, Martha, and Bruce in the entrance hall. She says the best days of her life were spent looking at that picture, imagining the three of them playing and laughing, and her playing and laughing along with them.
She then recounts how the Orphanage was destroyed. A bombing by a terror group working out of Kahndaq. There were no demands, no ransom, no reason, they just wanted fear. They had 237 members and now they had none. Catwoman claims she started with those in Gotham and made her way around the globe, working quickly and efficiently to take them all out. She reiterates that she and Batman are a lot alike. That they’re both broken orphans who spend their nights dressed as animals leaping from the rooftops. The Bat and the Cat. That in some ways they work, and that when they kiss the pain goes away. But in other ways, they’re not alike at all.
When your moment came, when they destroyed your childhood… you used all that will, all that loss, to make a better world. When my moment came, when they burned my childhood. I didn’t want to make a better world. I just wanted to kill them all.
Selina finished her letter by saying she thinks the problem is that she never had that first paradise. The time with parents, the house, the butler. That Bruce will always be that little boy in the picture and she’ll always be that little girl smiling up at him. But she hopes she’s wrong, she might be wrong.
Then two issues later we get Bruce’s letter to Selina when he finds out she’s being transferred to Arkham. He talks about the absurdity of what he does. That he knows how ridiculous he looks, a grown man sitting on gargoyles waiting to punch crime in the face. He admits that the funniest part is that it’s not a man up there, it’s that little boy from the alley who lost his parents. He’s still that little boy who made a vow to avenge the deaths of his parents by warring on crime. After you take away all the armor and the gadgets you’re left with a kid and a vow. But Selina knows what this really is.
Bruce says that after his parent’s death all that was left was pain. And what use was pain? It’s not dignified or kind, and if it’s not dignified and it’s not kind then maybe it’s not worth anything. Bruce tells about almost committing suicide at ten, and that in this moment, on his hands and knees, praying with no answer, all alone, he saw it. He saw all of Gotham, on its hands and knees, praying. And he understood. “I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by warring on all criminals.” And so he says that’s what this is, what all of it is, the choice to die. And Catwoman knows because you can see it in another. He sees it in her, and she sees it in him. And that’s why when they kiss, for a moment, the pain goes away.
Because for a moment, we share our deaths. For a moment, we don’t die alone.
Bruce ends his letter by saying that he knows Catwoman is lying about having committed the murders. He knows and he must find out why, and he must prove it.
The third major narrative point of this story is the introduction of Bane and his characterization. Bane claims to have moved past his vendetta with Batman. He claims that he only wants the Psycho Pirate to keep his own emotions in check and that he was perfectly content staying in Santa Prisca. Therefore, he went through the trouble of having Strange bring the Pirate to him, rather than traveling to Gotham to do it himself. He says he was done with the capes and villains of Gotham. He says he knows that Batman has left the comfort of his home to seek out a monster because he himself once did the same. He says that Batman is trying to find a monster to die in their arms and that since Batman is unrelenting, Bane will be that monster. All the while Bane emphasizes that he had moved beyond the need for venom. With the Pirate at his side, Bane need not worry about anything. But Batman’s plan of course works and by the end of the arc, Bane is left broken and screaming for venom while Batman and his team leave Santa Prisca with the Psycho Pirate.
Seeing Bane past venom is something we don’t ever see in comics. It’s one of his key character traits and to see him move beyond that is a huge character evolution and is terrifying. He’s portrayed as completely nude throughout the arc as well, completely liberated from all responsibilities and cares in the world. And then comes along Batman throwing a wrench in his newly found peace. This first battle between Bane and Batman establishes where the characters are at now, how they feel about each other, and some of what they’ve been through. The excursion to Santa Prisca also highlights the obvious draw that Batman and Catwoman have for one another while also showcasing some of the reasons they haven’t been able to make things work in the past.
The first two arcs of King’s Batman accomplish quite a lot. We’re introduced to the new status quo of Batman while also establishing the key themes and players that will continue to permeate throughout the series. We see what hope can do to Batman and lengths Batman is willing to go to when that hope is taken away. We’re introduced to the conundrum of whether Batman and Catwoman can truly be together and what each of them want. Bane is established as a formidable threat with a plan, the lengths of which we only begin to scratch the surface in the first thirteen issues. And a number of important characters and plot threads that are still being untangled more than fifty issues later are introduced. “I Am Gotham” and “I Am Suicide” are fantastic stories in their own right but grow stronger in hindsight and when looking at their place in the larger tapestry of King’s run.