Coming off of a story as lengthy and dire as the recent I Am Bane arc, it’s understandable to take a breather, and the last pairing between Tom King and Mitch Gerads gave us one of the best Batman/Catwoman stories in recent memory, so what could go wrong? As it turns out, a lot can. One of the best qualities of King’s nascent run on Batman has been its willingness to play very broadly with what a Batman story can and can’t be. We’ve had everything from big stories to small stories; with Batman vs Superman analogues, Catwoman being framed for murder, or Batman playing a game of chess with Bane, and all of it playing down to a more unique take of Batman being a death wish for Bruce Wayne. While Bruce being an emotionally unhealthy man is hardly new as an idea, most writers distinguish that by having him be gruff, emotionally distant, or even just a jerk.
King has taken it to a different level by having Bruce being obsessed with the source of his PTSD: his parents. That study of trauma in this run took the form of contrasts with Gotham and Gotham Girl utterly breaking after having their parents taken away from them while following his example, Bane wanting to remove his trauma entirely and become brave with the Psycho-Pirate’s help, or Batman’s children who became healthier as a result of Batman having been there for him to help. Bruce himself, however, can seemingly function, but can’t seem to ever heal from his trauma, despite filling the void his parents left with a family, pets, and gadgets; leading to Swamp Thing reaches out to the child beneath the man in this issue.
King also does a great job of working Swamp Thing into the issue, as well as giving him some pathos to work out. While there’s plenty of Alec Holland post-Swamp Thing, we hardly ever get to see the man that he was, and he gets to be the worst version of what Batman could be. He’s someone whose relationship to his humanity is withered at best, and capitalizes on Batman’s insecurities in order to get his help. It’s helped especially by the tempo established by the script and Mitch Gerads’ art. It’s quite a different look from his previous effort with the Catwoman story, as well as what little we’ve seen of the upcoming Mister Miracle book. The darker contrast works with Swamp Thing’s inhuman nature contrasting effectively over what would be an otherwise typical Batman book, and well… some added Kite-Man goes a long way. The slow burn of the script: complete with title cards make it into a dark(er) take of an old Batman: The Animated Series episode, mixed with B-horror, and it works.
While it might be a bit odd to see no follow-up to the Watchmen stuff here, for the most part that stuff had little bearing on King’s run compared to what happens here. While it might be odd to say that an issue featuring Swamp Thing is more important to the context of King’s run overall, it does make for an effective study in how people who suffered great loss can react completely differently. If you’re looking for a more introspective take on one of the best superheroes right now, in a line that’s already putting out plenty of great takes, you’re in for a time.
Review: 5 Plant Cups out of 5