Batman 10

batman-10

Today, Spencer and Mark are discussing Batman 10, originally released November 2nd, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Spencer: Most writers have certain tics and styles that come to define their work: Brian Michael Bendis, for example, is famous (infamous?) for his unique style of dialogue and pacing. Tom King has made quite a name for himself over the past two years with his critically acclaimed titles (such as Omega Men, The Vision, and Sheriff of Babylon), all of which, as different as they are, share many of the same themes, tones, and idiosyncrasies. King’s run on Batman was never meant to be part of that “Trilogy of Best Intentions,” but it’s still strange to me that Batman 10 is his first issue that really feels like a Tom King comic. Unfortunately, that’s not always a good thing — turns out that King’s techniques without his usual depth of story can sometimes end up feeling more like a parody of a Tom King comic.

Batman 10 consists of two parallel stories — one told through the art and dialogue, which depicts Batman storming Bane’s Santa Priscan fortress, and one told through the narraration, which takes the form of a letter written to Batman by Catwoman. The latter reminds me of The Vision, where King would sometimes use the narration to delve into character’s backstories, motivations, or give glimpses of what might happen next — in other words, using narration to tell stories different than the ones playing out on the page. The difference is that Selina’s letter never connects or comments on the Bane story, even unintentionally — the two tales don’t benefit from being told simultaneously. They don’t detract from one another either, of course, and I actually think this is a rather elegant way to fill in the details of last month’s cliffhanger without putting the arc’s ongoing story on hold. It just doesn’t have the depth of King’s best work.

Of the two stories, Batman’s is definitely the weaker. Batman storms Santa Prisca, is overwhelmed and captured by Bane, frees himself, and allows his operatives to enter the fortress. It’s a surprisingly impersonal take, even despite Bane’s reminiscing. Artist Mikel Janin’s expressions are the only insight we have into Batman’s state of mind throughout the sequence — Batman himself just repeats the same mantra over and over, first to Bane’s soldiers, then to Bane, then to himself, alone in his cell.

mantra

This mantra is easily the most “King-esque” element of the issue — it reminds me of the great attention King paid to precise phrasing in Vision, to Vision and Virginia’s arguments about wording or to Viv’s prayer. The mantra, though, never takes on the significance of any of those moments. Don’t get me wrong, I do understand the purpose of this mantra, or at least I think I do — it gives Bane due opportunity to just hand Psycho Pirate over and avoid this whole ordeal, and it reminds Batman of who he’s fighting for (Gotham Girl) as he struggles to escape his cell. I guess it just seems overblown for Batman to need such a repetitive phrase to do any of that. Bane’s smart and stubborn — he doesn’t need more than one warning — and despite appearances, Batman’s never in enough danger for his reliance on a mantra for strength to feel warranted.

That last aspect may be my least favorite part of this entire plot. Batman puts himself in grave danger essentially just to cause a distraction and allow his Suicide Squad to infiltrate the island. He doesn’t plan on his plane crashing and has no guarantee that Bane won’t just kill him when he’s at his mercy, but Batman pulls through anyway because he’s Batman. Batman’s competence is an intrinsic part of his character by this point, and under King’s pen he’s been especially infallible — that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that neither the reader nor Batman ever really have a reason to feel like Batman’s in real danger, thus making his mantra feel especially pointless.

I know I’m harping a lot on five simple sentences, but by repeating them over and over throughout the issue, King ascribes them a significance they never really earn. The mantra feels more like a parody of a typical Tom King technique than a legitimate use of one.

Catwoman’s letter, though, fares oh so much better. She essentially breaks down her childhood, and then her 237 murders, beat by beat, a technique I usually hate. Here, though, it sings, and I think much of that has to do with the fact that we have no visuals to go along with it. Like a great novel, the reader is immersed in Selina’s point of view and must use their imagination to bring her tale to life.

Throughout this letter King absolutely nails the dynamic between Bruce and Selina, to the point where it feels redundant for me to try to recap or dig into it here myself — everything you need to know about them is right on the page. He also somehow finds a way to make the idea of Selina as a mass-murderer palpable. Catwoman’s always been a character who’s equal parts selfish and selfless — she’ll protect people, but always looks out for number one. Her attack on the Dogs of War fits seamlessly into that morality — she’s decimating a heartless terrorist organization who killed 171 people, most of them children, but she’s also enacting brutal, personal revenge on them in the process. It’s more extreme than pretty much anything Catwoman’s ever done, but it’s still very Selina Kyle.

Mark, my mixed feelings about this issue sum up my thoughts about this run of Batman as a whole pretty accurately. Do you feel the same, or are your mixed feelings entirely different from mine? Also: what do you make of Bane being naked when he assaults Batman?

bane

Is there a significance to this, or is just more of Janin’s signature beefcake? (Not that I’m complaining about Janin’s beefcake.)

Mark: I’m all for Janin beefcake, and I think here it’s used to emphasize just how powerful and in-control of the situation Bane is. Stripped of everything, and operating without Venom, Bane is still able to overpower a fully equipped Batman.

And I absolutely agree that Tom King is a great writer, which is why I find it interesting  and frustrating that Batman continues to be the most weakly defined character in his own book. A generous reading of this phenomenon is that King just isn’t that interested in Batman/Bruce Wayne, and is choosing instead to focus where his true interests lie: on Batman‘s supporting cast. Like you mentioned, Spencer, there is great writing in this book, but it’s in the form of Catwoman’s letter to Batman. And while I’ll take King’s writing wherever I can get it, Batman’s ill-definition is a problem in a book called Batman. 

Which leads me to believe that this isn’t intentional on King’s part, and ultimately underlines the niggling issue I’ve had with King and Janin’s Batman run from the beginning: they appear to have no take on who Batman is outside of “he’s the coolest.” Which he is! And if you had told me a year ago that “Batman acts cool” wouldn’t be enough to hang an entire book on I don’t know that I would have believed you. But here we are.

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Love them or hate them, the last couple stewards of the Dark Knight — Grant Morrison and Scott Snyder — have each had their own unique perspective on Batman as a character and over their years of writing him they were able to explore the many different facets of their core philosophies. Their stories were driven by Batman’s wants and desires, and the external conflicts were usually just manifestations of Bruce’s own internal struggles. This fundamental drama is missing from King and Janin’s Batman. What even are the internal struggles of our main character here?

I think this is probably the last time I’ll write about Batman for a while. It’s clear that this take on the character just isn’t for me, and I feel shitty ragging on the work of creators I genuinely admire. Not every book is for every person, and much as I want to love it, maybe this is one I just need to let go.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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8 comments on “Batman 10

  1. The question I have is: how is Batman able to bring back into action after Bane fucks up his back? There’s a big panel later in the issue (when Batman is the room filling with water) where it looks like he’s maybe cracking his own back in the opposite direction. But like… that’s not how backs work. It REALLY didn’t make sense to me.

    • I assumed the same thing you did, that he was cracking it back in the other direction, but I didn’t know enough about backs to know whether that’s something you could do or not.

      I’m still waiting for a Bane story with zero references to backs.

      • The shame about Bane is that he suffers from being created specifically for one purpose. I actually think Bane has a lot of potential as a character. But when every storyline comes down to references to breaking backs or his addiction to Venom, any chance of him truly becoming a villain fails. The drug addiction could work, if it was used to create the sort of tragic villainy that fuels many of the best Batman villains, like Twoface. Instead, he feels like an attempt to depower him while giving him ‘depth’. So instead of being a threatening villain, every story comes down to his addiction.For all of Knightfall’s flaws, he was a villain with a lot of potential in that story. There is a lot you could do with Bane. Instead, he spent 26 years as a drug addict always referencing his one moment of triumph. It is boring

        After the announcement that Young Justice is getting a third season (thank god for another piece of good DC news. There is so little of it these days), I started rewatching the show. The fourth episode has Bane in it, and it is fantastic to see a Bane that doesn’t mention Knightfall or get obsessed with Venom. Venom is an important part of the story, but Bane only treats it as a powerful weapon. He never mentions breaking Batman, and his primary weapon is his intelligence. He is a threat, because he knows when to listen, and carefully gathers intelligence and uses it against the Team to manipulate them. Why can’t Bane be written like that more often?

  2. Why can’t this series be awesome? It has all of the elements to be awesome and yet, issue after issue, awesomeness is not achieved.

    I didn’t mind the mantra – I especially liked “And I will break your damn back” as Batman’s ultimate confidence. However the mantra is built on Batman’s determination to bring Psycho Pirate back to Gotham to fix Gotham Girl. I’ve gone on record saying how I’m not crazy about Gotham Girl or Batman’s devotions for her, so that makes the mantra fall a little flat for me. If this was something placed in the many comic books dedicated to Batman’s single-minded, hard-headed determination following Damian’s death? THAT I could get on board with.

    GET AWESOME, BATMAN!

  3. There is this great lie that needs to be debunked about Batman. That Batman isn’t interesting, that he is the most boring character in his own stories. We truly need to kill that myth with fire. People like Grant Morrison and Scott Snyder have done a great job at showing the complexities of Batman and how compelling he is as a character. It is sad that we have let ourselves think of Batman as a character who isn’t interesting. It is sad that discussions about Batman in any medium come down to the idea that everything else is more interesting. It is sad that the LEGO Batman movie feels innovative because of its focus on Bruce Wayne.

    We need to move past this idea that the only thing Batman is is cool. Batman is cool, but he is so much more as well. He is compelling and fascinating.

    • It’s interesting, I would say Superman suffers from this perception, for sure, but I’ve never gotten the impression that people perceive Batman in this way. There are just too many landmark Batman stories where he is a compelling character (Snyder and Morrison are both in recent memory, and both DKR and Year One give Bruce a unique and compelling voice). Maybe it’s truer in the non-comics-reader population? I think Batman was an interesting character in Nolan’s films, but it’s hard to disagree that Ledger’s Joker is just way more compelling. At any rate, I haven’t felt like many Batman stories have suffered from actually treating Batman as boring. And I’m not sure King’s treatment of the character as inhumanly competent is boring, either — it requires a different kind of conflict, sure, but I certainly don’t get the impression that King is bored with the character/thinks the character is inherently boring. I’ll admit, King’s run hasn’t yet clicked with me, but his work has more than earned him enough slack for me to assume the failure is on my part — there’s a great series here, I just haven’t found it yet.

      • Both do. Superman’s is very obvious, because for every ‘Batman is boring’ you have the rabid Batfan who enjoys the oh so dark violent, brutal, indulgent versions. But it is certainly there with Batman. The history of Batman in TV/Film is all about a villain led franchise, where high profile actors play bad guys that excite everyone. The TV show was famous for having impressive guest stars willing to ham it up for fun. The Burton and Schumacher movies were all about the high profile actors playing villains who the movie centred around. As much as I love Batman Returns, those movies do play Batman as secondary to the villains.
        And while many people ignore the heart that the Nolan movies have, and the focus on Batman/Bruce Wayne, after Batman Begins it does return to being a villain franchise. The attention is drawn to Heath Ledger, Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway. Even if Nolan puts the effort into creating a compelling Bruce Wayne (and I would argue Tim Burton does the same with Bruce Wayne in Returns), the way we look at those movies is to focused on everyone but Batman. Just like with the Burton/Schumacher ones.
        Meanwhile, this was a similar sentiment that comes up when discussing the Arkham games, to the point where people excuse the fact that Batman is a boring hunk of wood in those games because it is all about the villains. In those cases, it sometimes feels like a smug line of superiority, about how they are above the rabid Batfans.
        Even in comics, you can find people that will praise the Batman books, the Batfamily and yet don’t like Batman himself. Batman’s problems aren’t anywhere near as bad as SUperman’s similar accusations of being boring. But it is there.

        I don’t know if this is Tom King’s problem. If I was to put money on why this book seems to be bad, it is Tom King being uncomfortable with this sort of book. His books are usually lower profile, and King may be struggling with balancingthe kind of books he does with the sort of thing expected from a high profile book like Batman. Snyder is proof that it is possible, but that doesn’t mean King can do that. Though it could be struggling with the biweekly schedule, giving him less chance to write other books and have a break. But considering the discussions here, I thought it was worth bringing up that idea. It could be that King, trying to work out how to handle a high profile character, has fallen into that ‘Boring Batman’ trap

  4. I feel like all of this trouble would have been avoided if Batman had just sent Bane a text message asking to borrow Psycho Pirate for ONE goddamn day. He doesn’t need the guy forever; just long enough to fix Gotham Girl. Seriously, what did he expect to happen when he invaded Bane’s sovereign land without completely explaining the situation?! Bane wants to keep Psycho Pirate after that? Fine. The second he fixes Gotham Girl, he becomes unneeded and could go back to Bane’s private island. But no. Crazy scheme involving crashing a plan and repeating the same five lines over and over again it is, lol

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