In this edition of judging a comic book entirely by its cover, Batman and Catwoman stand atop a spire of human skulls left over from Terminator 2: Judgement Day as Bane uses the brand new sniper-scope eyehole enhancements he borrowed from Cyberdyne Systems to stalk Dick, Jason and Damian.
::Cue Batman vs. Terminator mash-up video::
Batman #16 (DC Comics)
Batman and Catwoman stole Psycho Pirate from Bane in “I Am Suicide”. This made Bane very angry. (They also broke into his house in the first place and broke his damn back too, but who’s counting?) Now he’s heading to Gotham City for reprisal in “I Am Bane”.
Unlike the previous “I Am Suicide” arc, where writer Tom King and artist Mikel Janin paraded Bane around his Santa Priscan stronghold with the air of some bald-headed, naked demigod, the air of lethality that the villain exudes in this first installment of “I Am Bane” is far more subtle; in fact, we barely know what he’s up to until the very end. With a character as physically imposing as Bane such a move might seem counterintuitive, but rest assured, King’s cleverly restrained script has the villain’s presence looming about the overarching narrative as ominous as some roiling, roided out storm cloud — and makes the final page, when the storm finally hits — register with all the more impact.
Take the seeds sown by the issue’s opening for instance, when a shadowy figure who scales Arkham Asylum’s entryway gate and then skulks about the interior walls, soon revealed to be Bronze Tiger, divulges Bane’s yearning for the stolen Psycho Pirate is beyond even the Dark Knight’s purview. “It’s like your body’s rejecting your soul,” Tiger says of the Venom super-steroid that both he and Bane have toiled to wean from. “And right here in Gotham is the only relief from all that,” he continues, staring into the Pirate’s glass holding cell. “… And Bane, he’s felt it. What I’m feeling now. That knife scraping. And now he’s coming.”
Or later on, in a portentous scene that’s played entirely for laughs. Here artist David Finch renders a scrawny, nervous looking Bat-Burger cashier, replete with ill-fitting, dollar Halloween store Batman costume/work ensemble in such befitting, Mike Judgeian form that you’ll hear the nasally, barely pubescent voice in your head as he asks Bruce if he wants to “Jokerize” his fries; the clerk takes the Bat-Family’s fast food order with menu items like “KGBLT,” “Night-Wings,” and “Ivy Salad (Not Poison)” on display behind him and the air about Dick, Jason and Damian is jesting, almost cocksure, even when Bruce tells them that Bane is coming for them all.
“We’ll get together. We’ll fight him. We’ll win,” they repeat, vigilantes in an echochamber, because the good guys always win in comic books, right? In Batman #16, as King has shown us already several times over with his more humanized rendition of Batman, the Caped Crusader reacts in a way that seems jarringly out of character from the Bat-God of yesteryear. He doesn’t seem to have his next forty-five moves mapped out in advance; “I don’t need your help. I don’t want your help,” Bruce tells the three Bat-Sons and newest Bat-family member, Duke. He instructs the boys to stay out of the impending Bane fight, not because he thinks their help wouldn’t be welcome — but because, for all their skills and strength, his own included, he isn’t sure he can protect them. It’s because Batman is so uncharacteristically insecure here that makes King’s rendition of Bane truly frightening, even before the first punch has been thrown.
The scene is one that makes you wonder if Bruce’s words belie the sort of masterful, cerebral reverse psychology we’ve seen him pull that’d have Breaking Bad’s Walter White jealous or a fallible character that doesn’t know exactly what to do — and wants those closest to him away from the fallout.
The aura of impending danger continues, permeating through a rooftop conversation between Catwoman and Batman, their lips hovering inches from one another’s in erotic, perpetual pre-kiss the entire time (pretty similar to how we saw them in Batman #15). “When you need my help…” Catwoman starts to say of Batman’s intention to stop the villain. “I don’t need your help,” Batman says, not only denying help from his proteges but from his anti-hero lover as well, ample foreshadowing that next issue’s inevitable rematch with Bane will likely have stakes far greater than we’d imagined.
Especially when you see the gruesome cliffhanger on the last page.
Finch renders that and much of the issue in striking form, particularly the first four pages, where Jordie Bellaire’s colors help make Bronze Tiger leaping about ragged chains of blue lightning evocative of The Dark Knight Returns and the rooftop scene, where Finch suffuses Catwoman with an abundance of body language as she perches about a building ledge with lithe, feline repose. Other scenes aren’t as striking though; the Bat-Burger fast food restaurant scene is fun, but the colors, intentionally or not, are drab and ill-suited, which drains from the liveliness of the repartee between the Bat-Family and makes their facial expressions seem stiff and plasticized.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Batman exhibit egregious amounts of “Captain Lonerguy” syndrome, and even though the argument can be made in its favor given what (he thinks) just happened to Tim Drake, you figure Batman would be more protective of his surrogate sons than just casting them aside, telling them that “Bane is too strong to face.” If Batman truly doesn’t have a plan, some more insight into why that is would make the story more satisfying, though the wildcard inclusion of Gotham Girl (and possibly Psycho Pirate) is likely what will make King’s narrative far different from any other Bane battle we’ve seen. Still, Batman stole Psycho Pirate away from Santa Prisca and seemingly doesn’t have even a scintilla of strategy in place for his eventual revenge? He could have at least shored up security for the Bat-Cave, especially after the way Amanda Waller just waltzed inside in Batman #13. This stems from my disappointment in the missed opportunity of a cerebral battle between Bane and Batman in the “I Am Suicide” arc, so hopefully this rematch doesn’t relegate itself into another impractical slugfest.
Is It Good?
Batman #16 is another solid story arc start from King. Although this issue is void of action and the decision to leave out what Bane has been up to seems ostensibly amiss — his dialogue is as sharp as we’ve seen and by the end you’ll be cogitating every story seed that King has sown, wondering what actions each and every character will take and most importantly, craving more.