Today, Michael and Mark are discussing Batman 1, originally released June 15, 2016.
Michael: I keep saying this lately, but there is something so powerfully elemental about Batman. Not all Batman stories are exactly the same, but there is a certain amount of thematic carryover from one story to the other. I remember that, at the start of The New 52, I noticed a lot of similarities between Scott Snyder’s Batman and Grant Morrison’s that preceded it. Now I find myself doing the same thing with Tom King’s Batman and the Scott Snyder run that preceded it. Judging by the name of King’s first arc (“I am Gotham”) and the heroes Gotham and Gotham Girl, King is going to explore Gotham City as a character; a hallmark of Snyder’s run.
Batman 1 essentially boils down to one long action scene — Batman racing to stop a 747 from crashing into the heart of Gotham City. Batman works in tandem with Alfred in one ear and Duke Thomas in the other, both feeding him information on the crisis at hand. With Duke’s guidance Batman deduces the perfect angle to launch out of the Batmobile, where he grapples to the falling plane. After the application of some nifty bat toys Batman manages to clear the plane of the city and head towards the water, guided to safety by the mysterious new heroes Gotham and Gotham Girl.
Batman 1 doesn’t really tread into the “I am Gotham” narrative territory just yet, however. The first issue of Tom King’s take on Batman is essentially a “day in the life” tale. King and artist David Finch only give us a few pages of setup before the Kobra agent launches the missile into the plane and the clock is ticking. There are a handful of instances in this issue where Batman quite literally throws himself in a given direction. The first full page of Batman careening off of a building while coordinating with Alfred is beautiful — I’m loving the purple interior Jordie Bellaire colors into his cape. I think from start to finish this might be David Finch’s finest, clearest work yet. In the past, he’s drawn Batman as excessively bulky and muscle-bound, and has over-emphasized the particulars of characters’ faces and grimaces. Here, he does almost everything right for me, from Gordon to the Batmobile.
Batman is amazing — we all know this to be true. I mentioned how Batman throws himself in a given direction, but to put a finer point on it, he throws ALL of himself in that direction. King shows us Batman’s pathos and drive by making it quite clear that he goes into many a situation making peace with the fact that it might kill him. Batman always saves the day because he is always ready to die for his city and his people. You could argue that Batman’s farewell to Alfred as he lands the plane is a little over-the-top, but I love me some Father/Son dynamics from those two. How many times do you think Bruce has had those kind of “goodbyes” with Alfred over the years? That’s gotta be hard on old Alfred, but maybe he’s used to it by now. King invokes his inner Dark Knight Returns by having Bruce ask Alfred “Is this a good death?” It’s very clear that Bruce Wayne is a man who is concerned with his legacy and creating his own myth — of course he would want a worthy end to that myth.
Having a superhero save a crashing plane is not a novelty — how many times have we seen Superman do something like that? Seeing the “normal human” Batman do it, however, was truly a sight to behold. With some tech support, Batman single-handedly lands a crashing 747, riding it like the nuclear bomb in Dr. Strangelove. How fucking cool is that? Batman never stops being cool, and his life will always be more interesting than yours. When your friends are too busy to hang, you watch Netflix by yourself. When Batman’s friends are too busy, he’s gotta land a commercial airliner by himself. King didn’t necessarily need to address the potential intervention of the Justice League but it was a welcome addition to the script. It’s a good way of preventing any of those silly critiques movie-goers make when they see a new solo Marvel movie and ask “well why didn’t they just call the Avengers?” Those people are the worst.
The setup of this issue was fairly simple, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t a hell of an engaging read. I’m totally on board for whatever King and Finch have in store for us. What about you, Mark? Did this issue tickle your Batman fancy? Do you think that DC should have more Kobra stories like I do? Any thoughts on Finch’s art? I thought everything was great, but I’m not too crazy about Gotham Girl’s “schoolgirl” short skirt…
Mark: I came into Batman 1 fully expecting to love it. Tom King? David Finch? Fist-pumping action? A ridiculous “This is my city” moment? Check, check, check, and double check. Yet when I got to the final page and the reveal of Gotham and Gotham Girl, I found myself unmoved. There’s a lot of Snyder’s Batman in this issue, and I can understand King wanting to assure fans of the previous run that the book is in good hands, but it ends up feeling overstuffed with Snyder-isms.
Batman guiding a passenger jet like it’s a stagecoach would have been enough for me, honestly. Throwing in the crazed passenger ranting about Gotham? Even though it will surely tie into Gotham and Gotham Girl in the future (“You get the hero you deserve, y’know”), it feels overly familiar at the moment. Same with Alfred assuring Bruce that his parents would be extremely proud of him. These are all potentially great individual vignettes that never fully coalesce thanks to my knowledge of what came before.
But if I divorce myself of that knowledge, there’s little question this is qualitatively a good issue. Like you, Michael, I am a huge fan of Finch’s art. It’s a very classic take on Batman and friends, and if you told me Finch was using Batman: The Animated Series as his guide I wouldn’t be surprised. I thought things felt familiar, but once the Batmobile rolls in the influence feels obvious.
And if you handed this issue to someone who has never read a Batman comic but who loves the character, they’d probably dig it. They’d be right to! Isn’t that what Rebirth and these new #1s are designed to do?
There’s really not much more to say here. Batman is in good hands and my enthusiasm for King and Finch’s run on the book is undiminished. As a child, Sour Patch Kids were my favorite candy until I ate way too much in one sitting and ended up with a stomach ache. It was too much of a good thing. Still, after a few months I ended up returning to the sweet embrace of their sugary siren song. I can’t imagine I’ll hold off that long on more Batman.
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