Last month, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Welcome to month two of DC Reborn!
Note: the review below contains **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on this book, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Tom King
Penciller: David Finch
Inker: Matt Banning & Danny Miki
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: John Workman
Alex Lu: Yesterday, I was listening to an episode of John Siuntres’ fantastic Word Balloon podcast which featured Batman #2 writer Tom King as a guest. During the show, King discussed all the meticulous planning that went into his first issue of the series, seeding references to old Batman stories like Year One and the Golden Age Batman #1 from over 75 years ago. King said he pulled one line directly from the latter classic into his Batman #1. That line?
“Observe the clock.”
King is a writer interested in questions surrounding history and cycles. It’s no wonder that the book starts with a cold opening fight with Solomon Grundy, the zombie giant who only speaks in the lines of a tragic nursery rhyme that summarizes his seven day life. Live, die, live again. We saw a similar cycle repeat itself in King’s re-envisioning of Calendar Man in Batman: Rebirth. King wants to show us that the more things change, the more things stay the same. Batman’s rogues are as constant as he is. Thus, is it any wonder that King’s first major Batman villain is Batman’s very first foe, Hugo Strange?
The second issue of any comic arc is always a bit of a tough sell, as we’re forced to watch the complication where the story’s major characters are laid out like chess pieces across a board. For the most part, this issue works for me from a thematic standpoint, though I cannot help but feel like it treads similar ground to Batman: Rebirth. The arc itself, which focuses on whether or not Batman is the hero Gotham deserves, is a question that’s been posed and answered many times before. It feels like this arc will live or die based upon how King and Finch twist the cycle they’re rounding with the introduction of Gotham and Gotham Girl. How did you feel about Batman’s second act, Kyle?
Kyle Pinion: That’s a great observation about Solomon Grundy’s appearance and how he fits into King’s structural preoccupations. It’s actually the point where I began to regret the Rebirth issue of Batman a little more, because the revamped version of Calendar Man played with a similar gimmick and to have them both so close together, in such a short span of issues, somewhat cheapened the Grundy’s role in the story due to my own comparisons between the two. With that said, I much preferred this issue, because it at least felt consequential.
One of King’s other ongoing interests is the role of the military industrial complex, and you can get a sense of that if you read Omega Men, The Sheriff of Babylon (best Vertigo since Scalped by the way), and even to some extent The Vision – which takes place in Washington DC and involves some of those same trappings at a more surface-level. With this installment of Batman, King begins to rope in some of those predilections with the establishment of some kind of conspiracy involving the Bob Castro character, who freed Solomon Grundy, and admitted to doing so in front of Gordon, and the final page reveal of Hugo Strange as the mastermind behind it all, working in concert with Amanda Waller. Their end-goal, seemingly taking shape as: “saving Gotham”. This ties together two threads that go hand-in-hand, the idea that Batman as a non-powered hero cannot be Gotham’s only savior, and that the U.S. Government, understanding that, is stepping in to fill a void that might not be required in say…Metropolis. Even if they have to make strange bedfellows in order to accomplish that goal.
At first I was a little…not underwhelmed by the issue per se, but I had a bit of an “okay” reaction to it. Yet, as I think about it more and more, and just how rich King’s themes formulate themselves on the page, I’m quickly falling more in love. Alex, what was your reaction to it on the whole?
Alex: I more or less shared the same reaction as you, Kyle. The issue itself is not that thrilling compared to King’s and Finch’s stellar first act, but the possibilities this story opens up for the future are fantastic. From a cynical perspective, Amanda Waller’s entrance at the end of this issue certainly feels like an easy way to market the book as a Suicide Squad movie tie-in. However, the U.S. Government taking Gotham out of Batman’s hands is a real key to her presence and it’s a great move by the storytellers.
Stemming from that, I took particular interest in Bruce Wayne’s conversation with Alfred in the Batcave. As Bruce ruminates on his latest escape from the clutches of death, he seems more perturbed than relieved to be alive. He seems paranoid when he says “there’s going to be others, Alfred. Other planes, asteroids, aliens.” It feels like a moment ripped out from the 2012 Avengers film, where Nick Fury says he was driven to weaponize the magical Tesseract artifact because of Thor’s sudden appearance from Asgard. Like Earth was isolated from the nine realms, Gotham has always existed in a weird state of isolation from the rest of the DC Universe. Terrible things happen to the city on a scale that is rarely even seen in other cities that have superpowered heroes in residence. However, despite the odds stacked against him, Batman has always been able to rise to the occasion and save the day– and generally he can do it all by himself.
Opening Gotham to “two new supermen” and the government may seem like a good idea to the eyes of Gothamites and readers, but Batman himself seems to believe that their presence will open the door to an even greater, more terrifying threat. It’s an evolution of the idea Hugo Strange expresses to Batman in the video game Arkham City. “Your presence creates these animals.” How much more terrifying will the horrors created by Gotham and Gotham Girl’s presence be?
Ultimately, what Batman #2 does is effectively set the groundwork and lay out the themes for the major conflict to come. We have our heroes and our villains. Amanda Waller wears her grey hat as she always does. Finch even improves on his work from the previous issue. His tendencies to over-exaggerate emotion on faces is less present here than it was last issue. His work on action scenes and architecture is, as always, top notch. I’m really excited to see where things go from here. My question to you, Kyle, is a simple one– Psycho-Pirate cliffhanger?
Kyle: Indeed! And wherever Psycho-Pirate appears, a big crisis is sure to follow. With the “Night of the Monster Men” event approaching, I’m sure his role is probably fairly large in that, and Hugo Strange and Monster Men tend to go hand-in-hand, if you know your Batman history.
One quick note I wanted to add on the art-side, I noticed Danny Miki was credited as a co-inker this issue, and I gotta say I’m so glad for it because: HE IS THE BEST INKER IN THE BUSINESS. I can’t emphasize that enough. There’s a reason why Greg Capullo re-teamed with him on Batman, and the visuals of that book, starting with Zero Year, started to skyrocket. I think you can trace where Miki’s contributions are around page 12 or 13, during Bruce’s party scene in the Morrison Room. There’s a level of softening in the faces that reminds me a good deal of Capullo’s work, and combined with Jordie Bellaire’s colors, it develops a smoothing out of some of Finch’s rougher edges that I hope to see more of. That’s not to disregard Matt Banning’s ongoing contributions, which I think help tremendously, but Miki is in a league of his own.
One other note, Gotham and Gotham Girl’s outfits remind me very much of the old gray and blue Batman costume color scheme. That can’t be coincidental. Additionally, there’s something about Gotham’s costume design that brings to mind the old Legionnaire Mon-El, who had all the powers of Superman (and even stood in for him back in the Pre New 52 days). So, my current completely ridiculous prediction is that Gotham and Gotham Girl are Mon-El and Laurel Gand. Hey, the Legion popped up in Rebirth, after all!
Anyway, buy buy buy!
Alex: After seeing Batman lift Solomon Grundy single-handedly, I think I have to take back my comment about King’s Batman being a more realistically human one. Still, I can’t throw my money at this book fast enough.
Final Verdict: Buy
Stay tuned throughout the day as we post reviews for Aquaman #2, Green Arrow #2, Green Lanterns #2, Justice League: Rebirth, and Superman #2!