In June, 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 three 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
Inkers: Sandra Hope, Matt Banning, Scott Hana
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Kyle Pinion: Alex, I really am not sure how I feel about the Tom King run thus far. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why, and I still haven’t quite found an answer I’m satisfied with. In theory, I should really be hooked into everything that King and Finch are offering here. You have Alfred dressed up as a Batman decoy, Batman fighting a superpowered nemesis, some solid thematic concerns, and an appearance by the Justice League, but in the end, I’m still kinda nonplussed about it all. I don’t think it’s bad, or even mediocre necessarily, and it’s still at the top of my reading stack anytime an issue hits my desk…but I don’t get the same feeling reading this that I get when I read King’s work on The Vision or The Sheriff of Babylon. When I read those comics I think: “I’m reading something special”. When I read this, I think: “Well, that was a fun if somewhat inconsequential Batman comic”. There’s nothing wrong with that, but perhaps King has set the bar so darn high, that my expectations are working against me here. Where do you stand on the run so far? It’s been a few weeks since we’ve talked about this.
Alex Lu: My feelings are complicated as well. With this run of Batman now complete, I think we can look back at it now and properly point out its successes and flaws.
Without a doubt, King is reaching for the same thematic heights as he is in books like The Vision, Sheriff, or Omega Men. All the major puzzle pieces are there. You have a Batman who is challenged by a problem he fully admits he cannot solve for the first time. You have Gotham and Gotham Girl, normal Gotham citizens so inspired by Batman they give up their lives to follow his example, only to tragically fall when they become a part of the cycle of violence they strived to end. Amanda Waller and the Justice League begin to fully meddle in Gotham affairs, exposing the city to the rest of the world in a way it rarely ever is. All of these elements, taken individually, add up to a potentially great run. Unfortunately, King hasn’t quite figured out how to make these puzzle pieces fit together just yet.
I think the biggest problem this book has is pacing. I was talking to a friend about the arc and he brought up All-Star Superman as a comparative piece. I think the analogy works well. If we take the arc’s cliffhanger as truth, these first five issues of Batman are the beginning of the Dark Knight’s last will and testament. It’s prime ground for huge emotional storytelling but much of the conflict between Batman and the Gotham siblings does not land for me because we have spent so little time with the brother and sister team. As much as I adore watching King’s sassy and active version of Alfred, we needed to spend more time with the new characters in order for this book’s climax to end. Gotham’s final and fatal confrontation with Batman does land with nearly the same emotional resonance as the moments Superman shares with Lois or even Lex Luthor in All-Star because we only fully understand one party in the emotional equation.
I wonder what your perspective is on this, though, Kyle. Do you think the issue is more complex than how I’ve laid it out?
Kyle: No, that’s just it. I don’t think the issue is terribly complex at all, nor is the arc really. It doesn’t have to be, and on its face, this is probably the most simplified storyline I’ve seen King pull together, even Grayson had more prominent formalist features. But I stand behind you on the key problem being how little we know or care about the Gotham siblings. Yes, we got some background on them two issues ago, but everything before and since has existed to serve the plot rather than give readers a better understanding of just what make those characters tick. When Psycho Pirate alters the minds of the pair, the impact is fairly minimal emotionally for the reader because, as you say, we have no investment in them. Gotham just becomes another bad guy that’s wrecking havoc through Gotham – boy, that’s a weird sentence to type.
I think the King issues have struggled with trying to perhaps serve a few different masters. 1) Setting up the actual story King is trying to tell, which seems to be in its prologue form here. 2) Laying the foundations for the “Night of the Monster Men “storyline, though I’m not sure how great a job it really did of that other than dredging up Hugo Strange and then making disappear just as quickly, 3) the bi-weekly schedule, which I think is the first time King has had to tackle such a strenuous scripting cycle, that I’m aware of anyway and lastly 4) the story-telling style of David Finch, who admittedly is doing his best work here in years, but it’s still David Finch art, and that brings its own challenges at times.
Or maybe it’s just that Batman has to be told in a very accessible style. It is DC’s flagship comic, or at least has been since it became the consistent top seller of their line. Maybe there’s no room for real experimentation and he’s having to decompress a bit to compensate.
Either way, I plan on re-reading the entire run up to this point in hopes that it’ll all come together better as one big chunk. Nothing I’ve read is what I’d qualify as bad, or even mediocre. It’s just I have to get past what I was hoping to read and accept it for what it is. Aren’t you Beat readers happy that you get absorb my moments of self-reflection like this?
I’ll say this much, I really was into that final set of pages, and the narration therein. I don’t expect Batman will die, because if I learned anything from the Morrison run it is that “Batman and Robin will NEVER die!”, but Gotham Girl marrying Duke in a somewhat near future? Gotham Girl: Year One? I’m on-board for that, and I think much of what we’ve been looking for may just resolve itself. I’m just a bit less excited about having had to get through 5 issues of prologue to get there.
Anyhow, I’ve blabbed on enough, how about that Alfred in a Batman costume? That was a great moment, right?
Alex: Indeed it was! It’s interesting to see how much King’s version of Alfred contrasts with Scott Snyder’s. The latter portrayed the Wayne family butler as a much more somber father figure for Batman akin to the version characterized in Christopher Nolan’s films. He’s reluctant, sometimes even actively resistant to the role Bruce has decided to play in the world. In contrast, King’s Alfred reminds me much more of the Jeremy Irons version of the character from Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman, playing a snarky and more active version of the character. It’s a choice that serves to make things feel more lighthearted and breezy than they were during Snyder’s often meditative run.
I’m really interested in the storylines that get seeded by Gotham Girl’s monologue in this issue because there was a lot dropped on us all at once. It’s certainly a compelling jumping off point for the series and I would encourage the one person who isn’t already on board with Batman to jump aboard now, but it feels weird to say that more than two months into the series.
I’m going to say Batman #5 is a definite buy, but also a puzzling one. Where is it going? Who knows. The destination seems intriguing though so let’s hope we get there in just the right amount of time. What say you, Kyle?
Kyle: Well, that wasn’t really much of a review from us of this issue, was it? But, hey, you’ve got three other reviews from us of Tom King – David Finch Batman to peruse at your leisure. I would say most of the things we’ve said before pretty much still hold for this issue, but the needle itself hasn’t moved much, thus our (or at least my) central thought on the run so far. I’m still excited about it, but I really want to love it. I hope I get there soon. Buy, because why not? Once this gets great, you don’t want to be left out in the cold, do you? DO YOU?
Final Verdict: Buy