The word “compassion” is thrown around a little too loosely these days, usually used in a sense of “feeling bad for something.” The word in its classical sense means something much deeper. “Passion” actually means, roughly, “to love something so much that it hurts.” “Compassion,” then, means “to suffer with someone,” literally to share in their pain and suffering.
Batman is not typically portrayed as a compassionate character. It’s not that it never happens, but we’ve gotten so used to Batman as a gruff, solitary character that compassion isn’t the first thing we associate with him. Tom King’s Batman #6 is a game changer in that regard, and quite possibly the issue where King has finally found his voice with the character and broken out of the long shadow cast by Scott Snyder’s preceding run. This issue is amazing, presenting Batman as a tough figure who is also extremely capable of helping another human being through their pain.
In the epilogue of King’s “I Am Gotham” opening arc, Gotham Girl is a broken superhero. Her parents are dead, her brother is dead, and she’s been driven insane by the Psycho-Pirate’s manipulations. Unlike her brother, she isn’t a threat to anyone…except to herself, as she continues to rescue Gotham’s citizens from threats even as her powers are slowly killing her, and even as she’s constantly talking to her dead brother. And Batman is utterly crushed, as he has no idea how to save this girl who’s superheroing herself to death.
Batman understands pain, though, a point that’s been driven home over and over in his 75 years of history. It’s understood that Batman went through one of the worst traumas a child can experience, and yet somehow used that trauma to build himself into the kind of person who can work to keep that happening to anyone else. Does that make Batman a healthy person? No. That’s summed up in the Alfred line to end all Alfred lines in this issue. But it does make Batman the kind of person who understands what Gotham Girl is going through, and it’s the key to saving her.
This issue is backed up by some amazing work by Ivan Reis and his triple-inker team, which beautifully substitutes for David Finch on this fill-in issue. (Apologies to Finch–I met him at Baltimore Comic-Con and gushed to him about how wonderful this issue was before he stopped me to point out that Reis was the fill-in artist. He was nice about it!) The entire art team presents a beautiful story that balances standard superheroics with a lovely introspective aerial spread of Gotham City. Reis and crew equally capture human frailty, showing us a deep moment between Batman and Gotham Girl, the nature of which hasn’t been done since All-Star Superman. You’ll know the moment when you see it, but it’s the kind of moment that Morrison and Quietly did so very well, and here King and Reis do it all over again and it’s still completely fresh and wonderful.
When Scott Snyder left Batman, I was ready to save some money and take a break from the character. Unfamiliar with King, I assumed that whatever he was going to write would be very rote and ordinary and Batman would continue just fine without me. Batman #6 is the issue that’s convinced me that his run has crossed the threshold from “standard” to “something special.” Do check this one out.
Rating: Five stars out of five.