Warning: This review contains spoilers for Batman #72.
For months now, Tom King’s Batman has made it clear that Bane has been behind all of Batman’s misfortunes from the very first issue. However, there have been many questions about this setup, and how every arc could somehow tie into Bane’s master plan. For instance, how could Bane be behind something Booster Gold and Skeets did? How does the flashback to the War of Jokes and Riddles matter? In this issue, alongside Mikel Janín, Jorge Fornes, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles, Tom King answers every question, and does so in a masterful manner.
As is common in Tom King’s work, this issue is one long monologue through narration boxes over a seemingly unrelated scene. The scene in question is a bloody bare-knuckle brawl between Batman and Bane, following up on Bruce’s promise to return to Arkham in #70 as well as his short confrontation with Bane in issue #71. The narration, however, is a long monologue detailing Bane’s plan up to this point, and how it began. King explains how the airplane that Batman saved from crashing in the first issue of this run was a deliberate move on Bane’s part, and how every scene until this point has been part of his master plan. I am Gotham, I am Suicide, and even the finale of I am Bane were all very deliberate moves on the part of Bane, to fool Batman into believing that he was victorious. While the War of Jokes and Riddles was not engineered by Bane like the rest, it showed how the Joker and Riddler both knew Batman so well that Bane would obviously recruit them to his mission.
As the narration progresses, the connection between every arc of the run is made clearer and clearer. Rules of Engagement, Everyone Loves Ivy, and The Gift are all so clinically engineered to get to a certain point, and by the time the wedding is reached, the conclusion is all but inevitable. While many story choices in comics can feel like they were made later on, and retrofitted prior arcs to fit the narrative, King is able to show how intricately planned everything about his Batman run was from the start. Bane (and King) has been tirelessly working to raise Batman to his happiest, only to bring him crashing down, and has finally succeeded.
While the narration is going on throughout the issue, the art tells a different story. Fornes spends his pages depicting a fistfight between a raging Batman and a calculated Bane, which calls back to the fight they had so long ago at the end of I am Bane. Bruce even headbutts Bane early in the fight, and seemingly defeats him, only for Bane to open his eyes and begin anew. Alternating every two pages with Fornes, Janin draws scenes from earlier in the run, with the narration above providing a new context to each scene. Fornes imbues the fight with an incredible amount of emotion — there is this constant feeling of fury and rage coming from Batman, while Bane never looks impassioned. But what’s even more impressive is the choreography of the fight. Every panel leads into the next, and even when the scene cuts to a flashback by Janin, the next panel picks up seamlessly from where the previous left off. Where Batman and Bane’s fight in #20 cut between scenes of the fight seemingly at random, there is no skipped segment of this battle. Janin’s flashbacks are also well-constructed and laid out, with marvelous color work from Bellaire. None of the scenes that Janin drew were new, but King’s explanation of Bane’s plan gave each one a new context.
The issue also very clearly mirrors issue #20 of this run, with the main, present day plot being entirely a brutal fight between Batman and Bane. Alongside this is the overarching narration of each issue — in #20, it is Bruce’s mother Martha talking to Bruce and giving a recap of the events of the run so far as well as providing them with a new context. As the end of this issue reveals, the narrator this time around is Thomas Wayne, his father. His narration is speaking to Bane, recapping the events of the entire run thus far and providing them with a new context. Furthering this mirroring angle, just as #20 begins with Bruce being beaten terribly until the end, where he defeats Bane with a headbutt, this issue starts with a headbutt and ends with Bane thoroughly breaking Bruce. This structure provides an extra layer to this issue that makes it well worth rereading.
The issue as a whole could very easily feel like two separate stories forced together, but the pacing of the narration alongside the fight and flashbacks are clearly deliberate, and nearly every page’s narration fits with what is being depicted by the art. While not very much plotwise happens this issue, due to the majority of it being a fight scene, the recontextualization of the entire run is quite important to the overarching story, and is incredibly tense and compelling.