Purity of Tone in Batman 33

by Patrick Ehlers

Batman 33

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Catwoman: He’s right, you know. There are rules.

Batman: I know. I wrote them.

Batman 33

Of course Batman wrote the rules; he’s Batman. But the infallible detective isn’t nearly so authoratative as the creators that have used Batman to repeatedly define both genres and mediums. Is there a better demonstration of superhero camp than Batman ‘66? Is there a purer gritty reboot than Batman: Year One? Within the stories, Batman may be writing the rules of non-interference in Khadym, but from the reader’s perspective, he’s demonstrating writer Tom King’s realignment of Batman’s tone.

That tone is delightfully difficult to pin down. King plays in a grounded, weighty reality without ever sacrificing the humor inherent in the relationships and situations that spring therefrom. The latest big, secret development in Bruce Wayne’s life is that he is engaged to Selina Kyle. Alfred gathers Bruce’s various wards and before he can deliver the weird news, the assembled Robins flippantly guess at the reason for their meeting. King smartly imbues their dialogue with winks and smiles, the steady suggestion that they’ve all been through the worst of it already.

Artist Joelle Jones relishes in the relative comfort of these moments, filling her panels with as many Robins as is humanly possible. Every one of these panels is rich in grounded, domestic detail, even down to the damn dog playing on the couch. The bombshell that Alfred has to drop hits as hard — and as funny — as it does precisely because it doesn’t fall in line with the kind of subterfuge Batman normally engages in. The Robins don’t know what to make of it.

King and Jones are mining humor from what is already occurring naturally in their story. Damian’s not telling a joke here, that “what the hell” is an audience surrogate line. That makes it the funniest line in the book.

The issue’s final page, the reveal of Talia al Ghul, is one hell of a punch-line to the joke “why did Batman cross the road.” It’s a beautiful statement of purpose for King’s Batman stories going forward and a tone unlike anything else I’m reading.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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