Tom King has subjected Batman through a gauntlet of hell ever since Batman #50 a year ago. Bruce has descended further and further, being broken both mentally and physically, all under the direction of Bane, the man who broke him the first time. Over the past year, Bruce has had the love of his life abandon him, his son maimed, his mind put into a gauntlet of his greatest fears, and his body broken completely. This descent concludes with a literal descent into the Earth as The Fall and the Fallen comes to a close.
The issue is comprised of three settings, each with their own unique color palette. It begins with the yellow hues of the desert that Thomas and Bruce were traversing throughout the previous issue, as they discuss the book that Thomas would read to Bruce as a child. This book is a callback to issue #57, which features a short story interspersed with the fight scene between Batman and KGBeast, which seemed to be an odd inclusion. That issue ends with the reveal that both Bruce and the KGBeast were told this story as children before they went to bed, and this issue confirms it, as Thomas expresses his disgust for the story and for Bruce’s love of hearing it.
The next setting is a blue one. It’s at nighttime, in the desert, right outside of the Nain Pit — the pit which houses the means to bring Martha Wayne back to life. Outside the pit, right before the final descent, Thomas tells Bruce of how Martha felt about the book that Bruce would want every night. Martha believed that Bruce could look into the horrors and still dream of a better world – a world without darkness.
The setting and colors change again as Batman reaches his lowest point, bathing the pages in a sea of red. At the bottom of the pit, the lowest point of the descent, Thomas tells Bruce exactly what he thinks: that Bruce is, was, and always has been addicted to the darkness. That his love of the old story was his addiction manifesting as a child, and that Batman is his addiction given form as an adult. This take of Batman being an inherently self-destructive manifestation isn’t new to King’s Batman, but coming from Bruce’s own father, it holds a stronger weight. That is, until Bruce takes it upon himself to counter this claim, and to hold his own against Thomas. Bruce makes it clear, finally, that Batman is not his obsession with the evils of the world. Bruce asked for the story night after night because he kept hoping for a better ending. Batman is that hope manifest, as Bruce goes into the darkness of Gotham every night hoping for a better ending than the one he was dealt. It’s the final verdict on King’s Batman, who Bruce is and why he chooses to go out every night, and it is the confirmation that Bruce needs to stop falling.
Bruce spends the rest of the issue fighting Thomas, revealing that he buried his mother in the desert to prevent Thomas from bringing her back to life. He calls back to the story that Thomas told him night after night, claiming that while he may not be able to escape the pit himself, he can prevent Thomas from escaping – Just like the story, it is not clear whether anyone can escape. Bruce also reveals the one truth, the inescapable truth that he learned as a child in the alley — his mother is dead, his father is dead, and he’s still here. This is yet another callback, back to the conclusion of “I Am Bane,” where Bruce proclaims that no matter what, no matter who claims otherwise, Bruce is still here — he’s always here. It’s a proclamation of resilience, one that rings incredibly true as Bruce and Thomas fall deeper and deeper into the pit, keeping the other from escaping. And yet, when the fall ends, the rise begins, and a gloved hand reaches the mouth of the pit.
Janin and Bellaire are an incredible pair on this book. Janin’s art looks the best it has ever looked, and Bellaire’s colors provide an incredible atmosphere to the entire story, with each setting’s colors serving to set a mood and tone. The juxtaposition between Bruce and Thomas is prominent in the art even more than it is in the writing, which keeps each page of the issue striking. The extended fight sequence is superbly choreographed as well, with each panel and page leading right into the next, building a brutal fight between father and son that concludes the fall, to give way to the rise.
This issue ties together several plot points and character beats from throughout the entire run to reach its conclusion, and it feels incredibly earned after all the suffering that Batman has gone through. King’s characterization of Thomas in comparison to Bruce does an excellent job displaying exactly what makes our Batman a hero, and what makes the distorted Flashpoint version not. King, Janin, Bellaire, and Cowles all do a fantastic job developing this issue, resulting in a conclusion to the arc that is one of the strongest single issues throughout the entire run.