You wake up in the morning. You stretch and wipe the sleep from your eyes. Before you’re even out of bed, you fumble for your phone. Out of habit, you open Twitter and start to scroll. And there he is: Tom King and another one of his big ones.

Longtime followers of the writer will recognize “big one” as a descriptor that Tom King frequently uses when promoting books he’s written. But beyond typical hype, what does it mean? When does he choose to apply it, and why? To answer these questions, The Beat examined twelve times that Tom King has described a new release of his as a Big One to see what they all have in common, and why they might have earned the designation of Big One from the writer. We’ll examine each issue from three angles — plot movement, character development, and length — to determine whether it deserves its given descriptor.

Strap in, dear reader, for a close examination of Tom King’s Big Ones.

(NOTE: The following contains spoilers for all issues discussed. All issue synopses are from each issue’s respective publisher.)



1.
Tom King Big OneGrayson #12

Creative Team: Tom King, Tim Seeley, Mikel Janín, Hugo Petrus, Juan Castro, Jeremy Cox, & Carlos M. Mangual

Release Date: September 23rd, 2015

Synopsis: “For the first time since he faked his own death, Dick Grayson returns home to Gotham City. But will Spyral ever really let him go for good?”

Notes: The first recorded incident of King referring to a comic as a Big One, the reunion of Dick Grayson with the rest of the Bat-family certainly qualifies as an important moment for the character. It’s worth noting that King refers to this issue not as a Big One, but as the Big One, and indeed the course of the series also changes following the events of this issue, as Dick (in his role as Agent 37) begins actively working against the interests of Spyral at the issue’s close. And all within the confines of a standard 22-page story.

Is It Really A Big One? In terms of both plot and character, most definitely. In terms of issue length, no.

Tom King Big One

2. Batman #32

Creative Team: Tom King, Mikel Janín, June Chung, & Clayton Cowles

Release Date: October 24th, 2017

Synopsis: “THE WAR OF JOKES AND RIDDLES” finale! This is the finale everyone will be talking about for years to come! In BATMAN #24, we gave you the question; in BATMAN #32, you get the answer. As the Riddler and The Joker desperately fight for supremacy in Gotham City, Batman reveals how far he had to go to end the war. Now, knowing Batman’s greatest sin, Catwoman must make her decision: Will she marry Batman?

Notes: As far as social media promotion goes, King does not release any self-identified Big Ones for over two years, a period of time that includes the launch of the Rebirth Batman series, the controversial “I Am Suicide” storyline, and Batman’s proposal to Catwoman in Batman #24, any of which could also have been considered potential Big Ones.

There are several big moments in Batman #32, the finale to the eight-part “War of Jokes and Riddles,” including the revelation that Batman once tried to murder The Riddler, that his attempted murder was stopped by The Joker, and of course Catwoman’s answer to the aforementioned proposal. This is an issue that King at first promotes as a Big One, then, perhaps after giving it a little more thought, amends to call it the Big One. As far as I can tell this is the only issue of his Batman run that he gives the “The Big One” designation, and like the Big One on Grayson Batman and Catwoman’s engagement does change the course of King’s entire run on the series.

Is It Really A Big One? Again, from both a character and plot perspective, this one is definitely a Big One, though it is still your standard-sized 20-page comic. So far no physical Big Ones yet.

Tom King Big One

3. Batman #53

Creative Team: Tom King, Lee Weeks, Elizabeth Breitweiser, & Clayton Cowles

Release Date: August 15th, 2018

Synopsis: “Cold Days” continues! The jury in the Mr. Freeze trial is hopelessly deadlocked because one man won’t vote guilty—and that man is Bruce Wayne. Freeze’s defense is that Batman used excessive force, making his arrest illegal, and Bruce is the one man who actually knows for sure what went down between Batman and his ice-cold nemesis. And if Bruce is right, that means everything he’s devoted himself to as the Caped Crusader is a lie; he is hurting more than helping. With Dick Grayson putting the Batsuit back on to keep Gotham City safe while Bruce is sequestered, could this be the out Bruce needs to discard the cape and cowl forever?

Notes: It’s nearly another year before the next of Tom King’s Big Ones, a year that included the seminal (infamous?) wedding of Batman and Catwoman in Batman #50. The three-part “Cold Days” storyline is by many accounts the best storyline of King’s tenure writing the Dark Knight, a 12 Angry Men-style tale in which Bruce Wayne and a jury of eleven of his peers must determine whether Mr. Freeze should be sent to prison for what may or may not be his latest crime. The particulars of what actually happened are never revealed over the course of the storyline, and to be frank they don’t really matter. “Cold Days” is an examination of the role that Batman plays in Gotham, and more personally in the life of Bruce Wayne, and this final issue finds Bruce apparently gaining some perspective on the limits of what Batman can and cannot do.

Is It Really A Big One? From a character point of view, it definitely feels like a Big One. In terms of big plot action, though, this story feels like a bit of a pit stop between larger arcs. It’s a spectacular pit stop, but maybe not a Big One in that respect. And again, still just 22 pages, so normal-sized there.

Tom King Big One4. Batman #55

Creative Team: Tom King, Tony Daniel, Danny Miki, Tomeu Morey, & Clayton Cowles

Release Date: September 19th, 2018

Synopsis: “The KGBeast lives! The Russian super-assassin is back—but under whose orders? Does he have a specific mission, or is this simply some leftover Cold War mayhem? Nyet, comrade—it has to do with Bruce Wayne’s recent court case involving Mr. Freeze. Something is rotten in Gotham, and you can still smell it, even if it’s on ice!”

Notes: Just two issues later, King promises another Big One, and contrary to what DC’s synopsis says, this has basically nothing to do with the Mr. Freeze court case. The issue is a slow burn to a dramatic moment at the end, alternating between Batman & Nightwing on a fairly routine adventure and a mysterious figure arriving in Gotham and purchasing a large firearm. The 22-page issue ends with Nightwing shot in the head, a shocking ending that sent Nightwing’s solo title into a tailspin that it has only recently begun to come out of, and that also saw Batman shoot right past that perspective he gained two isuses ago and go off on his own little tailspin, which is exactly what Bane wanted to happen.

Is It Really A Big One? Huge on plot and characterization, but again just regular-sized in terms of length. One of these days we’ll get the trifecta.

Tom King Big One

5. Heroes in Crisis #1

Creative Team: Tom King, Clay Mann, Tomeu Morey, & Clayton Cowles

Release Date: September 26th, 2018

Synopsis: Welcome to Sanctuary, an ultra-secret hospital for superheroes who’ve been traumatized by crime-fighting and cosmic combat. But something goes inexplicably wrong when many patients wind up dead, with two well-known operators as the prime suspects: Harley Quinn and Booster Gold! It’s up to the DC Trinity of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman to investigate—but can they get the job done in the face of overwhelming opposition?”

Notes: One week after the previous Big One, King returns with another one. Heroes in Crisis has been thought over and dissected to death at this point, and to be frank it feels unnecessary to do it again here. Only the first issue of HiC would earn Big One status from King, though, despite being mainly set-up for what was to come from the rest of the series. An argument could be made that Heroes in Crisis #5, which features Superman’s stirring speech and the revelation that Wally West’s body appears to be from five days in the future, or HiC #8, which explains all the unfortunate details of the Sanctuary massacre, are more Big Ones than this first issue is. At 24 pages, the debut issue is slightly longer than standard, but only slightly.

Is It Really A Big One? It kicked off a lot of plot, so in that sense, sure. From a character or length perspective, though, no.

6. X-Men Red #9

Creative Team: Tom King, Rogê Antônio, Rain Beredo, & Cory Petit

Release Date: October 24th, 2018

Synopsis: “Following the shocking events of X-MEN RED #8, it’s time for Jean to finally confront her demon head-on. Jean Grey and Cassandra Nova… The showdown begins here!”

Notes: Here’s one where King is unequivocally true to his Big One word, as Jean and Rachel square off in a psychic confrontation that also resolves some issues between the two characters that have lingered since Jean’s return during the Phoenix Resurrection storyline. Jean’s tête-à-tête with Cassandra Nova is also a big moment for both characters, and one that propelled King’s run on the series towards its conclus—

—oh. Oh dear. I’m realizing now that this was written by Tom Taylor and not Tom King. I’m sure this must be a common mistake, but still. I feel so foolish. Goodness.

Is It Really A Big One? <Not Applicable>

Tom King Big One

7. Batman #60

Creative Team: Tom King, Mikel Janín, Jorge Fornés, Jordie Bellaire, & Clayton Cowles

Release Date: December 5th, 2018

Synopsis: “Batman takes on a new partner, and it’s…the Penguin? After rejecting Bane’s crime-boss co-op, Cobblepot finds himself in the crosshairs of some very teed-off villains. The feathered felon turns to his old foe to snitch on Bane’s scheme, but has to prove his intentions to avoid a Bat-beatdown. Along the way, this Gotham odd couple begins to bond—could there be a new bird joining the Bat-Family? Not if Bane has anything to say about it…”

Notes: That cover and synopsis are wildly misleading. This issue follows Batman on a rampage across Gotham as he beats up everyone he meets in an attempt to get information about Bane’s running of Arkham Asylum. Cobblepot, meanwhile, spends the whole issue in a cage under the watchful eye of Alfred, while at the GCPD Gordon worries about what’s going on with Batman that’s led to his violent streak. King’s fourth Big One of 2018 is a solid issue for sure, but it’s still only 20 pages, and it doesn’t feel like a Big One until the ending when the Flashpoint Batman is revealed to be in the Batcave.

Is It Really A Big One? I guess the Flashpoint Batman reveal is big, but I’m still going to say ‘no’ to this one actually being a Big One.

8. Batman #75

Creative Team: Tom King, Tony Daniel, Mitch Gerads, Tomeu Morey, & Clayton Cowles

Release Date: July 17th, 2019

Synopsis: ““City of Bane” begins! Bane’s minions have moved into Gotham City, taken control and are ruling with an iron fist—including rounding up any villain who refuses to sign onto Bane’s program—and Batman is nowhere to be found. At least not the Batman anyone knows. It’s like someone has replaced the real Gotham City with a twisted funhouse-mirror version of it.”

Notes: Batman #75 is the first truly Big One yet, clocking in at a nearly-double-sized 38 pages. It kicks off King’s final arc on Batman’s solo title and basically reinvents Gotham in short order, revealing how all the familiar trappings have changed under Bane’s rule. It also finds Bruce Wayne truly broken and struggling to find his way back from the edge, and reunites him for the first time in 25 issues with Catwoman.

Is It Really A Big One? Unequivocally, in every way possible, yes.

9. Batman #78

Creative Team: Tom King, Clay Mann, Tomeu Morey, & Clayton Cowles

Release Date: September 11th, 2019

Synopsis: “In the first part of a “City of Bane” interlude, Batman receives help from an ally he thought he had lost for good: Catwoman! Still recovering from the beatings he took from Bane and Flashpoint Batman, the Dark Knight readies himself for a return to Gotham City, and it’s Selina Kyle who holds the key. She knows how Bane is fueling his regime, and she’ll help Batman shut down the supply line—but first she has to whip the battered hero into shape.”

Notes: The only other Big One from King in 2019, and the final Big One of King’s time on Batman, this may be the most palpably sexually-frustrated comic I’ve ever read. The kiss between Batman and Catwoman at the end is hugely cathartic if only because of the preceding 18 pages of will-they/won’t-they teasing. It’s certainly a big moment in their relationship, and Selina’s training of Bruce is important to the progress of the “City of Bane” storyline. We’re back to just 20 pages in length, though that may be a blessing as I don’t know how much more sexual tension I could’ve taken before I yelled at them to just @#$% already.

Is It Really A Big One? Character-wise, yes. Plot-wise, it’s mid-sized. Physically, nope.

10. Strange Adventures #1

Creative Team: Tom King, Mitch Gerads, Evan “Doc” Shaner, & Clayton Cowles

Release Date: March 4th, 2020

Synopsis: “Adam Strange is the hero of Rann, a man famous throughout the galaxy for his bravery and honor. After leading his adopted home to victory in a great planetary war, Adam and his wife Alanna retire to Earth, where they are greeted by cheers, awards and parades. But not all is as happy and nice as it seems, as the decisions Adam made during battles on Rann come back to haunt his family and threaten the entire DC Universe. And now a surprise DC hero will have to choose between saving Adam Strange and saving the world.”

Notes: Strange Adventures #1 does a lot of heavy-lifting, introducing new readers to Adam Strange and his wife, adding layers to the character’s established history in the form of the Rannian war with the Pykkts and, after the success of his memoir, his newfound celebrity status, and raising questions about those additions and about Adam’s potential role in a murder here on Earth. As a plot-mover, it’s definitely big (it kicks off the whole thing, after all), but like Heroes in Crisis #1 this issue is a lot of character establishment but not really movement, which at this point is what I would expect from a Big One character-wise. The issue clocks in at 28 pages, which is slightly longer than a typical book, but is average in comparison to the ensuing issues of Strange Adventures.

Is It Really A Big One? Plot-wise, yes, but otherwise pretty normal.

11. Strange Adventures #7

Creative Team: Tom King, Mitch Gerads, Evan “Doc” Shaner, & Clayton Cowles

Release Date: December 1st, 2020

Synopsis: “Adam Strange was right! In this issue guest-starring Batman, the Pykkts have come to Earth, and they plan to claim the planet as their own. Earth’s greatest heroes have faced alien invasions before, but they’re about to learn that the Pykkts are more formidable, more determined, and more deadly than any invading force they’ve faced before. Only Adam Strange has ever defeated them, but it nearly cost him everything-including his own sanity! How did he survive? Mr. Terrific will need to uncover that secret if humanity is going to survive!”

Notes: King’s only other Big One of 2020 is also the first issue of the second half of Strange Adventures, and while it’s still a standard-length issue at 27 pages, it’s definitely big on multiple other fronts. The murder mystery kicked off in the first issue is apparently resolved, and the revelation of Adam’s role in the killing, and of the past events that led him to make the choice he made, are huge huge developments for the character. The question of how Adam and Alanna proceed in the face of this revelation will surely color the full rest of this series.

(It’s probably also worth noting that, since Strange Adventures and the next entry are still in-process, it’s somewhat difficult to say what’s actually a Big One and what’s not when it comes to those series. Still, Strange Adventures #7 has all the makings of a Big One.)

Is It Really A Big One? Not length-wise, but when it comes to plot and character development this is absolutely a Big One.

12. Batman/Catwoman #2

Creative Team: Tom King, Clay Mann, Tomeu Morey, & Clayton Cowles

Release Date: January 19th, 2021

Synopsis: “Phantasm has come to Gotham City! Andrea Beaumont, the one-time love of Bruce Wayne, is looking for her lost child, and she’s pretty sure The Joker is involved. So, who better to have as an ally than Batman? And what better way to get to Batman than through Catwoman? It’s a knotted history for this costumed quartet, spanning past, present, and future. What The Joker did to Selina Kyle at the beginning of her career will have deadly consequences at the end of their lives. Tom King’s ultimate tale of the Dark Knight kicks into high gear as the story roars down the avenues only hinted at in the pages of Batman.”

Notes: With only two entries in the series available, it’s again somewhat difficult to determine what constitutes a Big One as far as Batman/Catwoman goes. It’s unclear what the plot of the series actually is at this point, though Bat/Cat #2 does seem to provide some clarity on that point with the revelation that Catwoman is hiding something from Batman in the present, while in the future an older Selina finally gets her lethal revenge on The Joker. What Catwoman is hiding and what drove Selina to the point of murder are both newly-raised questions that will need to be answered as the series progresses (though, when it comes to the latter, the answer could very well end up being ‘because he deserved it’). They’re also questions that speak fundamentally to Selina’s character, and also raise the question of whether Bruce can ultimately trust her.

Is It Really A Big One? Tentatively yes for plot and characterization, though at just 22 pages it’s definitively a ‘no’ as far as length goes.


Having now analyzed twelve eleven examples of a Tom King-described Big One, there are a few things that we’ve determined. For starters, we learned that Clayton Cowles lettered a majority of Tom King’s chosen Big Ones, with only one of the eleven issues completed by another letterer. If King’s Big Ones have a secret weapon, surely it’s Cowles. In addition, we learned that Tom King is not, in fact, Tom Taylor, nor has he written any X-Men titles, Red or otherwise.

Most importantly, though, save for one issue, each of them is, in my estimation, indeed a Big One in one respect or another. While most of them are not Big Ones when it comes to length, the most satisfying Big Ones are the ones that manage to both move the overall plot of a series or storyline forward in a big way and provide great character moments and development. If I had to pick an issue to be a Big One on only one of those criteria, though, I would, as in the case of Batman #53 and the full “Cold Days” arc, choose characterization and character growth over plot.

There are surely other Tom King comics that could be considered Big Ones that were not included on this list, either because he didn’t tweet about them or because my Facebook and Instagram searches didn’t return them (fun fact: you can’t really search Instagram for anything, and trying to do so is very frustrating). I mentioned some other potential Big Ones above, and this list doesn’t include any issues of other King-written series like The Vision or Mister Miracle. Still, based on the available sample, it seems pretty clear that, in a majority of cases, King’s telling the truth when he says one of his books is a Big One.

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