Batman 16

batman-16

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.

iambane

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.

bat-burger

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.

kids

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.

batburger

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.

mutation

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?

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 16

  1. I hated how everyone was joking about their deaths. Made the Robins look like insensitive assholes who don’t care about life and death, and makes the comci lose all seriousness. Really bad issue

    • I only saw pages up to the ‘Bruce cutting the burger’ thing, but it felt weird. I wouldn’t say that the Robin’s joking about their deaths feels that out of character to me, though I don’t know the full context. They are supposed to smile in the face of danger, the light to Batman’s dark. Joking about their death is how a Robin says ‘I am prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to help others’. And if the scene is supposed to play out as ‘everyone underestimating the stakes, leading to very dark ending’, this works as a show of that low stakes, as is setting this scene in such a ludicrous location. From what I’ve seen, this seems to be the rare time of DC Rebirth actually working. A miracle.

      (Although why the hell are none of the Detective Comics cast here? Why isn’t Kate or Cassandra there. Why aren’t they being warned? You could have gotten some great content out of either Cassandra’s newness with fast food or Cassandra’s status as a big eater (or both. Maybe she inquisitively tries it, loves it, and then just starts stealing everyone else’s burgers). Is it just Rebirth’s sexism that decides to focus entirely on the male part of the BatFamily. Damn, I miss when a big part of DC’s Batoutput was a celebration of the female half of the Batfamily isntead of a consistent mission to screw them all over)

      And why the hell is one of the cashiers dressed as Wonder Woman? Why don’t they have a Batgirl or Batwoman uniform for her? It sounds like a very simple mistake to make?

  2. I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the opening to the Bat-Burger scene was a wonderful homage to the epilogue of Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ “Kingdom Come” (the cashier’s name is even Mark!). Of course, now I feel like one of those pedantic continuity nuts, but a lot of the humor of that scene began, for me, with recognizing the reference King, Finch, and co. were making.

    • I just really wish less of Rebirth’s moments were ‘I know that reference’…

      How many major moments does Rebirth have that is not built around that?

        • Except these cute ‘jokes’ are literally everywhere. Superman did the same with Crisis on Infinite Earths. Sometimes it feels like the entire discussion the greater comic world has about Rebirth is what is the latest thing being references.

          As I said, I just really wish that less of Rebirth’s moments were ‘I know that reference’. It is fine to have one or two of them, as long as you don’t forget that referencing isn’t storytelling (there is a reason why shows like Family Guy have got a lot of backlash for their reference based jokes).

          But when you are all reference all the time, is it a surprise that Rebirth seems to have run straight into major sales problems? Maybe they should focus on something other than referencing their past. Like I said, how many major moments does Rebirth have that aren’t based around ‘I know that reference’?

        • I totally disagree with the assertion that that’s all that Rebirth is. Michael and I had a whole conversation about the issue without mentioning the reference, discussing the story on its own merits and being genuinely surprised about the wholly unique twist at the end. If you’re judging the publishing initiative based on what people are buzzing about, then I can see where you might come away with the impression that it’s too self-referential. But any real criticism requires reading it and extending the creative team the benefit of the doubt that they have their own story to tell.

          Also, there are like 30 jokes at Batburger beyond the reference to Kingdom Come. It’s, like, the furthest thing from a lazy reference.

        • I am exaggerating for effect. I mean, I’ve talked about the homophobia of Rebirth so much that even my most negative take on Rebirth wouldn’t be so reductive to target a single element (I am honestly shocked by the consistent homophobia of Rebirth. Queer content used to be DC’s biggest strength when it came to diversity, and in DC Rebirth 1 itself, it was the one kind of diverse content that came out the least scathed. No diverse content, as promised, came out clean. But I am honestly shocked that it is queer content that has suffered the most). But that doesn’t mean it is not a problem.

          Referencing can be done well, if used properly. I tried the new Riverdale TV show, because I had heard good things about it, and because a friend of a friend plays Archie. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it. But I really liked how Veronica’s constant use of references were used to show the different wavelength she existed on. That she had a different lens on the world, that came from being brought up in one of the cultural capitals of the world. It was a big part why she was by far the best character. Though. of course, the best illustration of this is the Vision

          Remember how in an issue of the Vision, you could take a single choice and explain exactly what it meant for the greater overall story? That each and every decision had a clear thematic purpose? That you could spend an issue entirely about referencing backstory, like Vision 7, and discuss exactly why the use of reference played an important part in how the story worked? That is what we should be aiming at. Meanwhile, the second weakest part of the Trilogy of Good Intentions, stronger only than the Vision Issue 9’s unsatisfying, meaningless reveals, was when Tom King used the pages of Omega Men to reference and explain the backstory of Grayson’s hypnos. King set up an important payoff, developed one of the trilogy’s overarching themes and rewrote the visual language of hypnos to create a paranoid scene later on. But too many sections of the scene instead distracted you from all of that stuff to go ‘Grayson reference! Grayson reference!’ Now, I know that in many cases, comparing a comic to stories of such high calibre is unfair. There is a reason the Vision topped your Best Series 2016 list. But when the comic is written by the guy who wrote the Vision, Sheriff of Babylon and Omega Men at the same time, I think it is fair to judge him to such a high standard.

          You can discuss how there are other parts of the scene have other content, but that doesn’t change the fact that a good amount of the scene is about setting up ‘here’s a Kingdom Come reference’. Or that the fact that you have this Kingdom Come reference means that the primary feature of the setting is ‘Kingdom Come reference’. Hell, Jeremy said ‘a lot of the humor of that scene began, for me, with recognizing the reference’. So it is fair to critique the fact that the primary feature of the setting of one of the key scenes of the book is a reference. What story is told, by invoking Kingdom Come?

          I’m not going to pretend to like Mark Waid, and I think Kingdom Come, while one of Waid’s best, is a flawed story precisely because of Waid’s worst traits. Kingdom Come is a story that undercuts because Waid, very valiantly, always aims to express complex ideas simply but instead undercuts itself and finds simplistic instead. But the choice of setting at the end is masterful. The perfect payoff to the religious themes of the book, alongside many of the other themes about a superhero’s place in society. I may have issues with how they get there, and niggling problems with the scene itself, but it is the perfect location.

          So what value is there in referencing the payoff of Kingdom Come’s exploration of religion and superheroes in this issue? Shouldn’t there be one? Surely there is a better location to set the Batfamily hi-jinks of this issue than an inappropriate reference? Shouldn’t we ask more than just a cute joke? Because so many stories manage to do cute jokes while making those cute jokes matter to the story. And I’m not just talking about masterpieces.

          And the problem is, this sort of poorly done referencing appears to be everywhere. I’m never going to have perfect knowledge, because I’m on the outside looking in. But I see a hell of a lot of references, and yet no one is ever showing or explaining what makes these references meanignful. It seems like a consistent criticism of King’s Batman, especially his first story (which I honestly know very little about, because literally everything I’ve seen from it was some sort of reference thing, though I will happily use the All Star Superman reference as an example of referencing done right). And it isn’t just Batman. My point has always been about DC at large

          Think of the latest Superman. Everything about that story, supposedly, was about Superman. A villain hunting down Supermen, leading to the Supermen of the universe working together to stop him. So why kill a Flash, except to have a dual Crisis reference? What part of this story about alternate Supermans was benefited by a Flash death, except as a reference to a Crisis (also, why didn’t they kill a Superman. The other famous death in Crisis was a Superman derivative). These cute references seem to be a popular trope, despite the fact that, unlike a good use of a trope, they don’t actually serve to improve the story. I think it is worth calling out.

          Especially as it is now clear that Rebirth isn’t working, saleswise. The stories of the record breaking returns have been unleashed, as looks at sales data show that DC’s books are having a real problem stabilising. Sales are falling much faster than they should. Detective Comics, which everyone but me thinks is one of DC’s big success stories, is tracking worse than the New 52 version. Impressive, considering I don’t think ANYONE truly liked Tony Daniel’s Detective Comics. So maybe there does need to be a good talk about line wide trends, trying to explain what could possibly being causing these issues with Rebirth.

          I have a long list of problems with Rebirth, but you are right that I can’t properly critique it. I can only critique from what I see and hear (just as I can call Collateral Beauty a messed up movie with real moral problems just by hearing its premise, but can’t go into the specifics). But from where I am standing, it isn’t as surprising as you would expect that DC is having these issues

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