Batman #45 Review

Posted April 18, 2018 by Jean-Luc Botbyl in Comic Books

Written by: Tom King

Art by: Tony S Daniel

Published by: DC Comics

“Tom King is a good writer,” I whisper to myself, choking back tears as I read Batman #45. I repeat this mantra to myself a good dozen times per page. Occasionally, I toss in “I like superhero comics.” By the time I’ve finished, my eyes are soaked. It’s a good thing I’m reading a pdf, and not the physical copy. I open a Word document, and steel myself to write a review.

Those of you who are loyal listeners of the Comics Dash will know Batman has bummed me out for the last couple issues. I’ve been meaning to put my complex thoughts on this book into actual words, but Chad’s been doing such a great job reviewing the last couple issues (even if I sometime disagree with his take) that I couldn’t bring myself to tear him away from his newfound love for the book.

But this week, I beat him to the punch, and so you’re getting me, writing about how Tom King’s Batman is officially bad again. I’ve dropped this book before and you better believe I’ll drop it again if even one more issue dips back into the well of overused superhero tropes.

Give me Bruce and Selina smooching for 22 pages, goddammit.

See, Tom King has gotten the most out of Batman when he’s relaxed a little bit and allowed the character to have fun. The best issues of his run came at the end of last year, when he employed Catwoman as a fun foil to Batman. It allowed him to showcase a side of the character we rarely get to see, teasing out his human elements.

Furthermore, the book was centered around Batman’s relationship with his loved ones–not villains or, in the case of issue #45, another character entirely. Again, this is a side of Batman we don’t usually see. Of course, we get great stories involving his supporting cast from time to time, but even those are rare compared to the instances of writers wanting to break down Batman’s relationship with various members of his rogue’s gallery.

None of this is to say there can’t be good stories told in that space. Unfortunately, King’s attempts at those stories didn’t work for me. He isn’t alone, though–those narratives tend to fall flat because they’ve been explored before. Truly new takes, or villains, are few and far between. Every other story ends up feeling like filler or “been there, done that.” The Poison Ivy arc was emblematic of both of those things.

And, honestly, so is Batman #45. Perhaps this exact set of circumstances is “new,” but an alternate timeline where Bruce isn’t Batman and the city has fallen into even greater turmoil? I’ve seen that. A number of times, in fact. The last few pages do hint at something with a little more depth–Bruce’s relationship with his parents. But King seems more concerned with following Booster Gold as he traipses around Gotham, checking in with a bunch of different characters.

I guess you could call these “Easter Eggs,” and they’re emblematic of systemic issues with superhero comics. Writers and editorial seem to believe that readers are more interested in a two-page reference to Jason Todd’s origin than, y’know… character development. These intermissions bum me out even more considering I’m not invested in the timeline posited by this issue. How could I be, knowing it will be gone by the end of May?

Allow me to (briefly) contrast this issue with last month’s Mother Panic relaunch. That issue had problems, but I did really love spending time in Jody Houser’s alternate Gotham. It was built on a base of a deep understanding of what makes the city–and its inhabitants–tick. There was a sense of permanence with it, and Houser spent time building out the world beyond checking in with various established characters.

The hook of the timeline in which Batman #45 takes place in doesn’t even come until the last sequence of pages. By then, I was checked out because the issue just didn’t have much of a plot. What thin connective tissue existed was constantly interrupted by pages hinting at what other characters are up to. Booster’s quips were fun enough, but also brought a weird tonal dissonance I don’t feel King handled well in this context.

Which is odd, because both his work on Mister Miracle and Vision walk the line between lighthearted and dark and gritty. In those works, King reconciles the tonal disparities by establishing it early on, and then maximizing on the juxtaposition by making it an essential component of the storytelling. This issue of Batman opens on Hal Jordan killing himself, followed immediately by Booster making a joke about it. King never reconciles that disparity, and it makes for a jarring read.

Artistically, this issue largely fits into the same “bland, seen it before” category as the writing. Which checks out, considering Tony S Daniel might as well be on a poster reading “totally fine but uninspired.” He doesn’t have a distinct style, and while it gets the job done, I would like a little bit more. Especially considering we’re in an alternate timeline?

Look, I get that this is just another dark and gritty timeline, but a little visual panache would go a long way. Demonstrate to me, visually, things are out of place. Killing off a major character on the first page is a lame way to establish something’s up. I just don’t think Daniel has it in his playbook to actually draw outside of the DC house style, which is fine in most cases. Here, it actively hurts the book’s efficacy.

What it comes down to is this: run of the mill superhero comics are boring as hell at this point, and Tom King isn’t even particularly good at writing them. He thrives when exploring new spaces, telling narratives no one has written or is writing. Until recently, he was doing that with Batman, a character I was honestly willing to write off entirely!

Batman was on track to be the best it’s been since Morrison left the book, or the early days of Snyder’s run. Instead, it’s back to being a generic superhero book doing your average superhero things, and not even bothering to have fun along the way. I’m on the verge of dipping out once more.

About the Author

Jean-Luc Botbyl

Jean-Luc is a grizzled veteran of We the Nerdy. Most days, he just wonders why he hasn't been formally fired. Follow him on Twitter at @J_LFett to make him feel validated.