Does Batman know how to cut loose?
Tom King’s Batman run has had many high points, but few storylines can rival the brief “Super Friends” arc in Batman #36 and 37. Those two issues captured the series at its most charming and lighthearted, exploring the bond between Batman and Superman and even making BFFs out of Lois Lane and Selina Kyle. Issue #68 is a welcome treat, then, as it serves as a companion piece to “Super Friends.” This issue provides a welcome dose of levity in the midst of a bleak storyline, even as it also paves the way for the final stage of Batman’s nightmarish mental odyssey.
The bulk of this issue plays out as a sort of lost chapter in the Batman/Catwoman marriage saga, showcasing the two characters enjoying their respective bachelor/bachelorette parties. “Enjoying” being a very relative term in Bruce’s case. It’s both sad and hilarious to watch Bruce enjoy a quiet evening in Wayne Manor with Clark Kent as the two sip soup, play chess, study artwork and struggle to find anything at all with which to make small talk. There’s a faint Batman ’89 homage to the whole thing as King and artist Amanda Conner evoke Bruce and Vicki Vale’s awkward first date.
Contrasting that is Selina and Lois’ raucous celebration, as the two make their way to the Fortress of Solitude and get drunk on the finest adult beverages the DC Universe has to offer. Again, the lighthearted tone of this story is a welcome change of pace from the constant cycle of misery that’s dominated Batman since issue #50. It’s just a shame that so few of the characters on the cover actually appear in the story. It would have been fun to see King work characters like Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn into the mix.
In any case, there is a depth beneath all the goofy bachelor party tomfoolery. As we’re well aware by now, every chapter of “Knightmares” is about Batman being subjected to psychological torture and facing some of his worst fears. Every character in this issue is a fragment of Bruce himself (which raises some interesting questions when it comes to some of the more NSFW content, but that’s a topic for another day). Examined from that context, this entire issue becomes a story about Bruce’s alienation and forced solitude. It all ties back to what seems to be the dominant theme of King’s entire run – can Bruce Wayne be happy and still be Batman?
Guest artist Amanda Conner is a perfect match for that goofier tone. Her art has the right blend of cheesecake sex appeal and expressive figure work. There’s a zany energy even to the quiet scenes where Bruce and Clark enjoy their quiet evening alone.
Unfortunately, Conner doesn’t handle the entire issue on her own. The book abruptly transitions to John Timms’ art near the end before ending on a single splash image from series regular Mikel Janin. Janin’s page fits in naturally in the context of the story, but Timms’ pages make for a more jarring transition. Presumably Timms was a last-minute addition to the creative lineup. Its a shame his art couldn’t have been worked in more organically, as this issue might actually have benefited from having Conner handle the Lois/Selina scenes and Timms the Bruce/Clark scenes.
“Knightmares” has certainly been a frustrating read. There’s no apparent reason why Batman’s prolonged psychological torture needs to be dragged out as long as it has. But an issue like this, which manages to combine humor with introspective character work, at least serves as a valuable stepping stone and not merely empty filler in between story beats.