Batman meets the Bat-Man.
Thanks to this latest Batman storyline, Bane has achieved his greatest victory yet against the Dark Knight. Breaking up Bruce Wayne’s engagement and having Dick Grayson brutally shot is one thing. But to reveal himself to Batman, only to then make his enemy question the truth of the threat facing him, is clearly Bane’s master stroke. And so the series continues to mine Batman’s downward spiral to great effect.
Things are looking particularly bleak for Batman in this latest chapter. Unable to prove conclusively that Bane has been orchestrating a massive plot from behind bars, Batman is reduced to pummeling every Arkham escapee he can find in hope of digging up evidence. To the outside observer, it appears that Batman has gone off the deep end. Even to the reader, who has a slightly better understanding of the full scope of Bane’s actions – Batman has clearly seen better days.
That’s something this issue conveys particularly well. Bane has already physically destroyed several important relationships in Bruce Wayne’s life. Now he’s letting his enemy do his work for him as Batman loses the support of the GCPD and even former Batman Commissioner Gordon. Truly, our hero is becoming his own worst enemy. It gets to the point where even we’re no longer sure whether to trust Batman. Can we be totally sure Bane is still the mastermind victim and not just collateral damage in a crazed vigilante’s downward spiral? The surprise ending in this issue only casts further doubt on what’s coming next.
While this issue allows writer Tom King to try his hand at all sorts of minor Bat-villains like Maxie Zeus and Firefly, the emphasis remains on Bane’s former (or possibly still current?) minion Penguin. The series continues to bring a new layer of depth and pathos to a normally sadistic crime lord. And if anything, Penguin’s sympathetic side seems to shine through even more in his interactions with Alfred. The Shakespeare poem from issue #59 makes a return appearance, fueling a memorable scene where Alfred and Penguin both dissect what they believe to be its true meaning.
Visually, this issue breaks from the previous two chapters by pairing Mikel Janin’s art with guest artist Jorge Fornes. No doubt Fornes’ presence is a means of keeping the book on schedule, as Janin and Tom King didn’t rely on this particular stylistic flourish before now. But if fill-in art is necessary, this is about as elegant a solution as possible. The story remains split along two fronts, with Janin handling the Penguin and GCPD-focused scenes and Fornes the Batman material. The two artists’ styles don’t even remotely match, but given the way the narrative is structured, they don’t have to.
Fornes’ presence is especially welcome given how well he captures the vibe of David Mazzucchelli’s art on Batman: Year One (a clear favorite of King’s). There’s a stripped-down sensibility to the Batman pages, one that emphasizes Batman’s rage and frustration and alienation from everyone around him. Janin’s work is predictably great, though Commissioner Gordon could probably stand to be slightly less beefcake-y.