Writer: Tom King
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Batman #81 is proof that good things don’t last. After a string of issues ranging from decent to great, we get… this. This issue is an outright disappointment and one of the worst issues of King’s run on Batman. Hell, it’s one of the worst issues of Batman in years. As you might have noticed so far, we at Sequential Planet like to assign scores in three categories – story, characters, and art. And all of these categories manage to suck really hard.
Friendly warning: this review is going to be really spoiler-heavy. It’s the only way to relay to you why the story and characters are bad. If you want to avoid those, just jump to the final two paragraphs. You have been warned.
So, the book covers two fronts of the story – BruceBat telling Catwoman how this was his master plan all along, and TomBat battling Bruce’s bat family. In theory, the TomBat sequence isn’t that bad. It’s awfulness actually comes from the characters, which I’ll get to a bit later. But the BruceBat sequence is just so goddamn lazy and outright dumb.
The idea is that, once he arrived at the empty Arkham about 20 or so issues ago, BruceBat realized what Bane was planning and that he’s controlling Gotham Girl. So, the obvious route of action was to let Bane take over Gotham and bring about a huge amount of suffering to the general populace of Gotham! Why you might ask? Well, the only way to teach Bane a lesson is to let him THINK that he’s won, just so Bruce can pull a “it’s just a prank, bruh” and teach everyone’ a lesson. Because, in the end, Bruce is the goddamn Batman.
In my review of #79 I said that Batman might have an actual plan to outsmart Bane… but giving him Gotham is not outsmarting – it’s failing miserably. If he had been devising a plan while he was recovering, I’d be down with that. But the realisation that he was planning on this course of events for a long while… it’s just insulting. Comic book characters are open to change and not all writers have the same idea of who a character is and what makes him tick. I accept this. I welcome this. But I will not accept, nor welcome, Batman is portrayed as someone who would willingly be defeated and endangering innocents just so he could, essentially, prove a point.
The fact that we learn all of this from Batman thoroughly explaining it to Catwoman also hurts the overall pacing and story of the book. Just like Heroes in Crisis, an impossible situation is revealed to make even less sense than anyone ever expected, and the grand reveal is just a bunch of explanations. A bunch of nonsensical explanations.
Like I mentioned earlier, the biggest crime against the characters comes in the Bat family’s fight against TomBat. When Thomas refuses to kill Damian, his family, and blood, the Bat-family jumps him. They proceed to beat him mercilessly, talking about how they just want to “have fun” and see him bleed. Referring to group-stomping someone as “having fun” is just wrong. Yes, revenge can feel good at the moment. But I can’t see anyone – especially heroic characters such as Tim, Kate, Barbara, Cassandra or that guy that was supposed to be the next big thing, but eventually got sidelined, aka Duke – gleefully stomp someone. It’s such a disservice to them and everything they are supposed to stand for.
Such a shame.
Now, for the artwork… John Romita Jr. is a pretty divisive artist. He has his fans and he has his haters. In my humble opinion, his output is hit-or-miss. While I enjoyed his work with Scott Snyder on All-Star Batman, his work on this book is one hundred percent a miss. The page composition and general flow of the book are pretty decent, but his characters are just so ugly. And God, the anatomy. At one point in the book, Huntress fires an arrow at TomBat. Somehow, he catches it with his bare hand, breaking all the rules of the three physical dimensions. It’s not the only instance of bodies not working and looking as they’re supposed to, but it’s definitely the most glaring. I will say that I did like the two-page spread of TomBat surrounded by the Bat-family. Not great, but not terrible.
We are truly in the endgame of King’s Batman and, personally, I think it has taken a huge blow. The remaining four issues can still be decent as standalone issues. But I don’t see them redeeming the overall story. I sure hope King manages to prove me wrong.
We are truly in the endgame of King’s Batman and, personally, I think it has taken a huge blow. The remaining four issues can still be decent as standalone issues. But I don't see them redeeming the overall story. I sure as hell hope King manages to prove me wrong.