It wasn’t until I started this project that I realized; Tom King wrote about 90 issues of Batman over 4 goddamn years! My comprehensive analysis of Tom King’s run of Batman has therefore become my comprehensive analysis of the first half of Tom King’s run of Batman.
A Beautiful Disappointment
That’s my shorten take on the whole of Tom King’s Batman but especially the first 50 issues. I don’t use the phrase to disparage King’s work but to praise it. For disappointment to exist, there needs to be hope. There was a gorgeous echo of ebb and flow between the first six issues and the following forty-four (save a few unrelated ones). The fate of Gotham and Gotham girl should have prepared me for the Cat and Bat’s wedding night, but I was had both times. “I Am Gotham” was our introduction to Tom King’s narrative mastery. These two Superman-level heroes pledge their fealty to Gotham and Batman. They are genuine, and we discover with Batman’s investigation that their intentions are pure; motivated by Batman’s heroism when he saves Henry Clover and his parents from a would-be murderer in a Gotham alley. Ours and Batman’s hope is dashed when Hugo Strange and Psycho Pirate overwhelm Gotham and Gotham Girl with anger and fear, respectively. Gotham’s horrible dissent and Gotham Girl’s crippling dash Batman’s hope of heroes as powerful and good as Superman possibly taking over for him to protect the city should he fall.
We Can’t Have Nice Things
The delight of happiness that King builds in the first three issues only to be dashed in three more is repeated and magnified. Amongst the breath-taking arcs of “I Am Suicide,” “I Am Bane,” and “The War of Jokes and Riddles” (Not you, “Night of the Monster Men”), the relationship between Batman and Catwoman is nursed to perfection. I hadn’t been as invested in a comic relationship since Scott and Emma. We got to see the relationship’s strength in both Selena and Bruce’s vulnerability. Batman confesses his greatest sin, unsure of Catwoman’s reaction. She reacts like a normal human (Bruce. No one cares that you tried to kill the Riddler once!). There was true beauty in the mid-adventure banter between the two. Amongst the best were the constant back and forth of “Cat” and “Bat,” as well as the continuity-poking disagreement of their first encounter. I don’t think we’ve ever seen Batman have to tell someone they look lovely, because he knows they’re upset. Even the relationship’s moments of weakness were meaningful. It takes ten years in a monster-filled hyperbolic time chamber for Batman to almost kiss Wonder Woman before pulling back. Batman tells his fiancé and she softly tells him to “try harder.” This dance shatters in issue #50 when Catwoman leaves her groom-to-be at the altar. The creative decision has taken a fair amount of heat; from myself included. I have legitimate issues with the explanation that everything from the beginning was an elaborate plot by Bane to “break” Batman and even more issues with the even more elaborate plot twist where Thomas Wayne from Flashpoint planned the whole thing to get Batman to stop fighting crime. I was obviously able to guard my heart on the second reading and that initial devastation was replaced by frustration that I didn’t see the foreshadowing. In issue #49, Joker tells Catwoman, “He can’t be happy and also be Batman.” I might’ve been distracted by wonderfully disturbing setting of the two villains at a mortal stand-off while reminiscing about the rest of the Rogue’s Gallery. Even so, I could’ve written off the words the insane clown but in the next issue her best friend Holly Robinson echoes the sentiment. “He always seemed to need his misery, y’know.” My consolation is that King is working on a Batman/ Catwoman series that he suggests can be his Dark Knight Returns. If anyone can do it . . .
The Most WTF Variant Covers
I’d be hard pressed to pick a story line I liked the least. It’d be like picking my least favorite Doritos flavor. Am I going to buy a Giant Sized bag of Spicy Nacho? No. If there’s Spicy Nacho at a party is it a wrap? Yes. I’m tempted to poop on “Night of the Monster Men,” but it was a crossover with Steve Orlando’s Detective Comics and I don’t think it counts.
The actual worst thing about King’s first 50 isn’t even his fault. You might’ve even gone the entire 50 issues without noticing but your comic bookstore is like mine, sometimes you get an unwanted variant cover. This usually isn’t a big deal, but those Tim Sale variant covers were rough to look at. The 50th issue had tons of guest artists and writers give Batman/ Catwoman panels throughout the main story. I liked some better than others, but I have never audibly gasped in disgust at the flip of a page. I might’ve actually yelled, “Burn it with fire!”. Thank goodness he was drawing entire books.
For a character like Batman who has a long and ridiculous Rogue’s Gallery, the cherry on top of Tom King’s Batman was without a doubt his treatment of Kite Man. I absolutely loved him sprinkled throughout the books soaring through the air screaming his own name like Hey Arnold!’s Monkey Man. This absurd aerialist was the butt of many a joke. My favorite was a panel in the one shot with Batman teaming up with Swamp Thing. The humor was at its peak during the War of Jokes and Riddles. This turned into actual intrigue and emotional weight in his origin tale, “The Ballad of Kiteman.” The story culminates with his son murdered at the hands of the Riddler, inspiring him to take to the skies and eventually foil Riddler’s attack on the Joker. Imagine my surprise watching the new Harley Quinn cartoon only to see Kiteman using his new catchphrase, hitting on Poison Ivy.
All Hail the King!
These issues were a delight to reread, and I’d venture on saying that Tom King is the best Batman writer of all time. The pages were full of moments of sheer gritty awesomeness. Remember when Bane tore through the entirety of Arkham Asylum over the course of 24 hours? There was deep emotional content like Batman and Superman’s side by side ode to how impressed they are with each other. There was delightfully light dialogue between Bat and Cat, of course, but also between others like Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne. We even got a look at King’s ability to capture the spirit of Alan Moore’s Watchmen in The Button crossover. We’d be sorry to forget how many amazing single-issue stories in Annuals are sprinkled here and there between arcs. Remember when we got an origin story on Ace the Bat-Hound? There’s no surprise that after this, I will reflexively pick up a title if I see Tom King’s name on the cover.
What were your favorite moments up to the wedding?
Did I miss anything?
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