Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Batman 16, originally released February 1, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Michael: Now THAT’S what I’m talking about! I’ll admit to being a little lukewarm in my reception of the initial arcs of Tom King’s Batman run but I’d say that “I Am Bane” is off to a great start. Maybe it’s because I’m always rooting for a quality Bane story or maybe it’s because I love seeing the Robin club acting like a smarmy group of brothers. Either way it feels good to be excited about what direction Batman is headed in once again.
At the conclusion of “I Am Suicide” Batman and co. were victorious in retrieving Psycho Pirate from Bane, leaving his back broken. Batman is fully expecting retribution from Bane, as Psycho Pirate was the only thing that helped soothe Bane’s venom addiction and overall mental ailments. Batman 16 opens with Bane’s first strike against Batman, as he visits Psycho Pirate at Arkham Asylum.
The first four pages of this scene are completely wordless, save some sound effects and a “Day One” title card. David Finch draws the traditional ominous establishing shot of Arkham Asylum with a lightning-cracked sky as an intruder hops then fence. The second page has a nice slow build up as Finch pulls back the view of Psycho Pirate’s cell further and further in each panel until he reveals Bronze Tiger slinking in the shadows. Things become a little confusing as Bronze Tiger attacks Batman and the security guard attempts to kill everyone on the scene. Bronze Tiger explains that he — like Bane — wants Psycho Pirate to cure his venom addiction. And the guard? He reveals that he’s been sent by our Santa Priscan friend in a more subtle way.
I love the “I AM BANE” written on the guard’s teeth; I actually missed it the first time. Bane is a force of nature that’s 100% hubris, this is just another way of flexing his muscles at Batman. I think I enjoy Batman 16 more than previous chapters because it seems like Tom King is starting to enjoy himself a little more. Case in point: Batburger. Bruce and Duke meet with the remaining Robins to discuss Bane’s impending arrival. Instead of meeting in the Batcave like they normally would, the team assembles at a Batman-themed fast food restaurant. Tell me a story about an unseen Bane stalking the Bat-family? Great. Tell me a story about an unseen Bane stalking the Bat-family and throw in a bunch of Batman puns and Robin humor? ABSOLUTELY.
Just look at that menu, it’s a certified smorgasbord of Bat-punnery! Lots of great ones here, but I’d say that my top pick is “Riddle-Me-Fish.” The Batburger cashier asks Bruce if he’d like to “Jokerize” his fries — their signature seasoning, which Bruce gets all up in arms about. This was probably the low point of the scene for me as Bruce was overly touchy and taking the dumb theme of the restaurant far too literally. I guess that’s the point, but it just made him look… kind of dumb to me.
Okay, let’s get to the good stuff: Robins (except for Tim who is dead but is not really dead). It’s true that all of Batman’s Robins look basically the same: white, male, black hair — but they each have distinct personalities and characteristics. Seeing Dick, Jason and Damian just hang out and banter over burgers is a goddamn delight and could probably be its own series. Dick is the cool easy-going elder brother, Jason is the rebel brother who picks on Damian and vies for his older brother Dick’s approval and Damian is… Damian. You know who Damian is, he can’t be put in a box. The Robins’ personalities work well off of each other but it’s still hard to nail that dynamic. Thankfully King seems up to the task.
Once Bruce joins up with the Robins, he begins to explain the threat of Bane that looms over their heads. As he presents what’s at stake, David Finch tells us a separate tale of Jason vs. Damian. King exposits how Bruce needs five days to cure Gotham Girl and makes some jokes about how he eats a hamburger while Jason and Damian fight over a Red Hood action figure in the background. Things like this really put the magic of comics to work: telling a story on two different fronts.
Patrick, how ya feeling on Batman 16? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? How about that chilling final page: a whole gaggle of dead Robins! Where do you think Bane got all of those look-alikes (because we know they’re not the genuine articles.) I’m not crazy about King’s Batman/Catwoman relationship so I left that for you to discuss. Do you think King added anything more to that dynamic than he did in “Rooftops” or was it just filler?
Patrick: Hmm, a gaggle refers to a group of geese. As far as I can tell, there is no collective word for a group of robins specifically, but robins are technically thrushes. Meaning that we were, in fact, chilled by that final page: a mutation of dead Robins. Language is weird!
And chilling though it may be, that page actually made me laugh out loud. It’s the perverse punchline to the joke King started telling in the Batburger. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer deliciousness of the Bat-puns, but the real set-up is quietly playing out among all the fraternal barbs and jabs. The Robins all very playfully tease each other about the various times they’ve died, and at one point Dick even jokes that ignoring Batman and dying are basically the only things they all have in common. That’s all good for a chuckle, and establishes the logic that if one dead Robin is funny, then three dead Robins is hilarious.
Oh and you’re nuts to not be digging Batman and Catwoman’s relationship! Their interaction in this issue is very slight, but it too serves as kind of a punchline. It’s just that the set-up for this joke was the previous… 8 issues? 9? She doesn’t lure Batman to the roof of GCPD to offer her help or to see him, she does it just to repeatedly demonstrate how wrong his assumptions are. The first lines she utters are a negation of Batman’s assumption that he’s going to find Jim Gordon behind the Batsignal. From there, Batman makes all kinds of assumptions like “You shouldn’t be here” or “I don’t need you” and she persistently responds “and yet.” In a way, she’s priming us for that final page: the Robins are so cavalier and carefree about their own lives… and yet…
Which leads me to the conclusion that this arc — for all of its darkness, addiction recovery and death — is ultimately a comedy. This is telegraphed in the Batburger scene, not just in the pun-derful menu items, but in the décor on the walls of the restaurant.
First of all, Jordie Bellaire’s colors are vibrant and playful, and go a long way toward expressing the absurdity of this fast food rendezvous. Check out how the vinyl on the booths match the color of the villain logos at each table! And while most of the logos we see are two of the villains associated with comedy (Joker and Riddler), there’s also the laughable unlikelihood that Victor Zsasz’ scar-tissue murder-tally-marks would ever become some kind of family-friendly branding. It’s a grotesque little comedy, appropriately ending with some literal gallows humor.
Can I also just say how thrilling it is to have no idea what comes next? That’s one of the amazing things about a well-told joke — you get to the punchline and you’re out. There’s no reason to stick around to see whether the horse explained to the bartender that he had a long face because his kid didn’t get into the private pre-school he and his wife were expecting (though, that sounds like a great scene). King and Finch are precisely in this predicament now — a punchline delivered and what happens now?
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