It’s been over a year since DC relaunched all of their titles with Rebirth and much like The New 52 from a few years ago, it is a mixed bag. Both its strength and weakness are that the books are evoking the publisher’s glorious past, but feel unable to craft new stories. However, when it comes to a certain Dark Knight Detective, he remains unbreakable, even though his back was indeed broken and speaking of which, this third volume presents a literally smashing climax for the first year of Tom King’s Batman.
After retrieving the Psycho-Pirate from the clutches of Bane at Santa Prisca, Batman is determined to save the emotionally-collapsed Gotham Girl, whilst preparing for the return of his venom-injected nemesis who is not only trying to reclaim the Pirate, but will break the Bat and his family once and for all.
From its initial issues that introduced the super-powered Gotham and Gotham Girl, King’s run was setting up a long arc, which this volume pays off, culminating in a fistfight between Batman and Bane. Bane seems to have become Batman’s arch-nemesis, given the absence of the Joker. Carrying off a key theme from the previous volume, King depicts the hero and the villain as being two sides of the same coin, as both characters at an early age witness a family tragedy and are then consumed by a darkness. The difference is, of course, that Bane lets it control himself, turning him into the villain we all know, while Batman fights through the darkness so that he can see the light.
Throughout the course of five issues, "I Am Bane" builds to the big fight (like the climax of a Rocky movie) as Batman is determined to finish this battle all by himself without the assistance of his Robins or his fellow Justice Leaguers. Much like what Scott Snyder did during his legendary run, King is all about humanizing Batman, even when he does something as extravagant as preventing a crashing jetliner from destroying Gotham.
From the very first issue, Batman has a death wish. It’s a recurring theme throughout the series, from a young Bruce Wayne wanting to commit suicide to put away the emotional scars from the death of his parents, to his final brawl with Bane. Batman goes through enormous physical pain to not save the city, but to save one single life and if this is to result his death, he will find some form of peace.
Given that Batman is a character that has been placed in many stories of thematic darkness, there is always room for humor, as we have learned from the numerous animated Batman movies this year. King embraces this aspect and in perhaps the funniest sequence, Bruce and his various Robins discuss the upcoming terror in a Batman-themed fast food restaurant where you can "Joker-ize" your fries, much to the displeasure of Bruce, who even eats his fast food meal with a knife and fork.
It’s to King’s credit that he wants to provide both levity and weirdness to his stories and although some of his ideas don’t quite land, such as a whole issue devoted to Bane fighting his way from the Arkham inmates for the sake of filler, stories such as the origin of Ace the Bat-Hound adds warmth. The Mitch Gerads-drawn issue showcasing the Dark Knight’s brief partnership with Swamp Thing adds a flourish of strangeness in the Bat-world.
Following the fresh visuals of Mikel Janin, the return of David Finch (who is no stranger to Batman comics) adds a more conventional visual approach, which is by no means a criticism — Finch presents his best work to date here. Once again collaborating with colorist Jordie Bellaire, the way Finch illustrates the action sequences makes for a visceral read, as you can feel every punch, especially the final fight between the Bat and his luchador mask-wearing nemesis, neither or which have ever been so bloodied up and battered before.
Ending up an enormous cliffhanger that might alter the status quo of the titular hero, "I Am Bane" is a terrific climax for the first year of Tom King’s Batman run, whilst teasing what is to come in the near future, such as "The War of Jokes and Riddles".