Note: This article will contain spoilers for issues fourteen through twenty of Tom King’s Batman
Recently I wrote an article that is essentially “Part One” in what will be a series of pieces breaking down Tom King’s Batman run from start to finish. While the series will no longer be the 100-issue narrative we originally thought it would be, it’s still a testament to long-form storytelling and the power of crafting a gigantic overarching narrative. Because of the nature of King’s run breaking different arcs down into specific pieces focusing on each of them gives everything room to breathe. With that said, this is “Part Two” of my analysis of Tom King’s Batman.
Story: Tom King
Art: Mitch Gerads
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Featuring art by the incredible Mitch Gerads “Rooftops” puts the spotlight on Batman and Catwoman’s relationship. It’s just two issues but it’s all about them and their feelings for one another. Now back in Gotham after having successfully stolen the Psycho-Pirate from Bane, Batman is supposed to turn Catwoman over to the police, though he’s gotten her death penalty revoked and she’s now set to serve life without parole. But before Batman takes her in Catwoman says she wants tonight.
They can have my life. Without parole. But this night, right here… tonight. Look at it, Bat. It’s a diamond. It shines.
Throughout this arc, the two have a brilliantly paced back and forth dialogue with page layouts that emphasize the two coming together and then drifting apart with the use of spacing in the panels. Catwoman tells Batman that if he gives her this night, just her and him, that she’ll tell him the truth about the murders that he insists she didn’t commit. He knows she’ll run but he complies regardless. He has to, he wants to. When debating what they should spend the night doing the Bat-signal lights up, and the two wind up going to defeat a handful of C-list Bat villains including Clock King, Condiment King, Kite Man, and more. After taking care of some of Batman’s foes, Catwoman has him reluctantly accompany her to a break-in. The break-in just so happens to be an apartment she owns and is booby-trapped. The ensuing short chase leads to the two on another rooftop, Selina with a bag of diamonds in hand, that culminates in an intimate scene between the two.
The first issue of this arc does an amazing job at highlighting what each character thinks they must do vs what they want to do. Batman repeats that he has to fight crime and that what he does, he doesn’t do it because he likes to. While Catwoman still insists that she had to commit those murders and that she’ll go to jail for it. But before each of them continues doing what they feel they must, Catwoman implores Batman that just for tonight they do what they want to and it’s one of the best moments between them in comics.
The second issue of the arc introduces one of my favorite back and forth discussions between Batman and Catwoman that is called back to multiple times over the course of King’s run. The pair disagree on the circumstances when they first met. Bruce insists that it was on a boat with Selina in disguise, while Selina insists that it was on the street with Bruce in disguise. The two meetings actually did happen to us, the one on the boat is the original meeting between Batman and Catwoman, while the one on the street is the meeting the two share in Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. This is an incredible way of tying in the fact that the DC Universe continuity is currently in flux because of the bigger events at play in Rebirth, but that’s a conversation for another time.
What this discussion immediately offers is some organic and cute back and forth as the two both compliment each other and recall how immediately drawn to the other they were. There’s a striking similarity in the way they recall the different meetings but a stark contrast in the settings of the meetings. This conversation leads to one of the most intimate pages of the series, the pair laying among diamonds on a rooftop, with their costumes strewn around them, whispering “I love you.” And then as the pair are getting ready to leave Catwoman runs, because that’s how things go, she runs, and Batman chases her.
Batman doesn’t immediately catch her and is then forced to investigate Holly Robinson, a name Catwoman mentioned and the name she was renting her apartment under. Batman eventually finds Holly and confronts her. Batman tells her that he knows Selina is innocent and what Selina did for Holly, but that Holly doesn’t know what Selina has done for Batman. That she knows who and what he is and loves him anyway. Holly ends up stabbing Batman in the neck and as he stumbles off the fire escape, Catwoman catches him. While Bruce is laying on a couch healing, Selina tells Alfred that Holly grew up in the same orphanage as her and that she eventually took her under her wing and trained her. Then when the orphanage was destroyed, Holly used her anger and the skills Selina had taught her to murder all two hundred and thirty-seven members of the terrorist group, and to protect her Selina then takes the blame.
“Rooftops” is full of tender moments between Batman and Catwoman. It cuts to the heart of both characters and explores how they feel about each other. All this narrative gold is wrapped beautifully in stunning art by Mitch Gerads. His pages shine (like a diamond) and capture the emotions, action, and atmosphere that elevate this story to the next level. His colorwork is some of my favorite in comics, and this two-issue arc is a prime example of why.
I AM BANE
Story: Tom King
Pencils: David Finch
Inks: Danny Miki
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Clayton Cowles
This is perhaps the most straightforward of all the arcs in King’s run. We see the return of the stellar art team that is David Finch, Danny Miki, and Jordie Bellaire as we finally get to see Bane in all his venomized glory in this arc. Batman has the Psycho-Pirate and must sneak Claire into Arkham Asylum to be treated by the Pirate. He knows the rehabilitation process will take five days and he knows that in those five days Bane will come for the Pirate. Early on Batman urges the Robin’s to leave town however they don’t listen, and Batman ends up finding them hanging in the Batcave. Following this Batman takes them to the Fortress of Solitude and returns to Gotham, only to find that Bane has abducted Bronze Tiger, Commissioner Gordon, The Signal (Duke Thomas) and Catwoman.
Issue seventeen ends with Bane lighting a flare on a rooftop across from Batman, who is looming on the roof of Arkham, issuing a challenge. Issue eighteen focuses on the similarities and differences between Batman and Bane. Intercut between an all-out fight between Batman and Bane we see pages of similarly rendered panels showing Bruce and Bane growing up. Visually we see the two in shockingly similar emotional situations with strikingly different surroundings. Though there’s an obvious difference in the way the two grew up they both experienced some of the same mental hardships. We get to see each of them training and evolving into the men they are now and see just how much this fight between them is a battle of will. All the while we see Bane absolutely wrecking Batman, rambling that he isn’t like any of the other rogues Batman faces in Gotham.
I am not another one of your madmen howling at the moon! And I… I am not… I am NOT some RICH BOY playing dress-up! I AM BANE!
Bane demands the Psycho-Pirate and if Batman is willing to hand him over then Bane will leave with no further quarrel. Batman refuses though, almost laughing at Bane as he tells him to shut up. Bane then give the order to his henchmen to kill the hostages, but Catwoman has escaped and turned the tables on her would-be captors. This leads to Bane turning back to Batman who is standing at the door to Arkham. This page is one of my favorites of the series, as Batman stands in the rain, illuminated by a lightning strike, only to disappear within the doors of Arkham at the next strike of lightning, inviting Bane inside.
Issue nineteen features Bane running a brutal gauntlet through the halls of Arkham Asylum. Batman has receded into the depths of the Asylum, to the room Claire is being held in and has unleashed and armed all his foes with the hope that they’ll stop Bane. Bane makes quick work of most of Batman’s rogue’s gallery. There is also a stellar amount of foreshadowing here, which has only just come to light with very recent issues of Batman. Two-Face is reluctant to join Bane, asking what’s in it for him, to which Bane replies by beating him and uttering, “Pain. I offer pain.”
Scarecrow is cowering in his cell as Bane draws near, listing off different phobias and their definitions, symbolically ending with “Theophobia. The fear of God.” As Bane bursts into his cell. Crane then attempts to incapacitate Bane with a concentrated dose of fear toxin, and when it appears to be working, he implores Bane to share the nightmares he’s experiencing. Bane replies with tenacity, “I am Bane! I don’t have nightmares! I GIVE nightmares!” Which is another bit of foreshadowing for what Bane has planned much, much later in King’s run.
In the middle of the chaos being caused by Bane, we get a scene with Batman and Alfred in the cell that Claire is residing in. Alfred implores Bruce to call the Justice League, but Bruce responds that he already tried that, in the square, and that it didn’t solve anything then and it won’t solve anything now. Alfred urges Bruce to run, but after all Bane has already done, Bruce refuses. Alfred screams that this is madness, to which an almost broken looking Bruce replies, “Look around, Alfred. Look at what we are. After all we’ve gone through, look where we’ve ended up. Did you really expect anything else?” Bruce understands the insanity of the life he leads. The impossible odds and the utter lunacy he is constantly surrounded by. He knows what he does on a nightly basis, and for the end to come in Arkham Asylum is only fitting in his mind.
Bane works his way through every inmate in his path. Mr. Freeze, Firefly, Man-Bat, Mad Hatter, Zsasz, Hush, Dr. Phosphorous, Copperhead, none of them stand a chance. It’s been a full day and Bane has battled his way to the fortified halls that Batman has locked himself in. Before he goes in, he passes Calendar Man who ominously recites that “It’s never done. You will never stop. And neither shall the Batman.”, Bane then reaches the sealed gate and recruits Edward Nygma to crack open the door. Nygma of course concedes, and before Bane enters Edward asks him to tell Batman that he remembers The War of Jokes and Riddles, which is a tease of an arc soon to follow this one.
Bane finally reaches Batman, and the two square off for their final confrontation. Issue twenty is the culmination of “I Am Bane”, and features a knock-down, drag-out, slugfest between Batman and Bane. As the issue opens Bane punches Batman, stating that this is the end. Batman responds with one of the best, and now frequently revisited lines in the run, as the broken Bat fights his way back to his feet:
You know how many times I’ve heard that? ‘Rest in peace, Batman!’ ‘There’s no escape, Batman!’ ‘Time to die, Batman!’ Every night. Over, and over, and over. For so many years. ‘This is the end, Batman!’ Every. Damn. Night. And yet… I’m still here.
This line perfectly encapsulates the will of Batman and his mission. Batman constantly defies the odds, faces death and tackles it head-on. And, more than anything, Batman overcomes. He always finds a way. Over the battle is a narration from an unknown (until the end) party talking about Bruce’s journey in the series up to this point. They mention the plane from way back in issue one, and that to save the plane he had to be on the plane. “This was your death. Coming up fast.” Batman had run through all the options, it’s what he does, but this was the only option, his death, coming up fast. Then Gotham and Gotham Girl saved him, and he saw the possibility that they presented. Not only did they save him in this moment, but they could save him, and the city. They wouldn’t die like he would, they could do more than he ever could. They were a way for Batman to win his never-ending war. He was given hope and then saw it crushed under the weight of Gotham City.
The narration continues to detail the events following the end of the first arc, leading into the second. How Batman needed to get the Psycho-Pirate to save Claire, how he felt he had to save Claire. Batman knew this would bring Bane back to his city, but he had to do it and face death head-on. As Bane pummels, crushes, and beats him, the narration repeats that this is his death coming up fast. As Bane is destroying Bruce, he starts to have a near-death experience, it’s revealed that the voice of narration has been Bruce’s mother and that he’s been teetering on the edge of death throughout the issue. With his body failing, he thought about his death, then he thought about Claire, and he fought. He defeats Bane with a headbutt, which may seem impossible, but it’s revealed much later in King’s run why this is practical.
His mother says he suffered all this for the possibility of victory, but in a scene that’s ethereal Bruce responds by saying all of what he’s done has nothing to do with war or victory. It has nothing to do with his mother or father. “The girl needed help. So, I helped her. That’s all it is. That’s all it’s ever been.” The issue closes with Martha consoling Bruce and telling him that he doesn’t need a good death for his parents to be proud of him, to which a bloody Batman responds, “Yes, mother. I know.”
“I Am Bane” may be the most straight-forward arc of King’s run from a plot perspective, but the layers packed into it are astounding. It explores the similarities and differences between Bane and Batman brilliantly. Bane swears that he was done with the craziness that is Gotham, but Batman forced him back. We see the sheer willpower of both Bane and Batman. Bane takes on almost all of Batman’s rogues gallery in a single day, and then still has the power to fight Batman. His determination knows almost no equal, with the willpower of Batman being the only thing that comes close. We’re reminded of just how much Batman endures for his crusade and the toll it takes on him.
Batman again feels his humanity, accepts it and then pushes past it. He refuses to be defeated, to quit, to give in. He will always fight, not even for his parents or for his war on crime, but simply because fighting for the people who need help is the right thing to do. There are people to help and so he helps them. We’re reminded of the hope Batman feels at the beginning of this run, and how quickly it turned to ash. We get all of this presented in flawlessly illustrated issues by David Finch, Danny Miki, and Jordie Bellaire. The action scenes are brutal, bombastic, and satisfying. Bellaire’s colors pop off the page throughout, and Miki’s inks give depth and life to Finch’s immaculate pencils.
From “Rooftops” to “I Am Bane” the entire creative team, King, Gerads, Finch, Miki, and Bellaire show us the intricacies of the relationships between the three main players in King’s work on Batman. The contrast, tension, and magnetism between Batman and Catwoman is palpable, and their wants and needs are laid bare. Then the unending battle between Batman and Bane is given the spotlight, and we see the absolute resolve that both men demonstrate, and it sets the stage for what will be the driving force in the overarching narrative of King’s run. “Rooftops” and “I Am Bane” finish setting all the pieces on the chessboard for King’s run and they do so in a spectacularly layered fashion.