By now, everyone and their butler knows that Batman and Catwoman didn’t actually go through with their wedding last issue. Hell, the New York Times even spoiled it for everyone a few days prior to the issue’s release, agitating writer Tom King in the process.
Now, to make matters worse, the Dark Knight has to face the one thing even more soul-crushing than getting curved on his wedding day: jury duty.
Per DC’s official synopsis:
The honeymoon’s over for Bruce Wayne as Gotham City’s most prominent citizen gets selected for jury duty in a chilling court case involving Mr. Freeze! Freeze claims the charges should be dismissed because Batman used excessive force; cue the outrage and media circus. While doing his civic duty, Wayne’s forced to take a hard look at the Dark Knight’s methods. And hey…what is Dick Grayson doing running around the city dressed as Batman?
“My job as a Batman writer is to show you something you’ve never seen before,” writer Tom King said in a recent interview with EW. “A Batman who has been left at the altar, who was that close to happiness, and then to have it yanked away from him, that’s something you haven’t seen before. The next bunch of issues are exploring that pain and exploring him trying to get back from that pain.”
Whether you agree with his perspective of uncharted territory or not, King’s ambition to leave an indelible mark on the Batman mythos is admirable and Batman #51 does a very good job of proving the Dark Knight is indeed in a world of pain — even if the crux of the issue features Bruce Wayne in civilian mode, very coincidentally serving jury duty the exact moment there’s a lawsuit against Batman for unnecessary roughing. Scenes of courtroom examination are punctuated by flashbacks to the night of Batman’s attack; a beating so brutal and frenzied you actually start to feel sorry (and frightened) for his adversary (or should that be doormat?).
“I’ve fought him before, many times,” a battered-looking Freeze says on the witness stand. “But… he was a different man that night… He just kept hitting me… Until I had to say yes. Or Batman was going to kill me.”
Later, Bruce’s rage is evinced once more in the courtroom bathroom — a violent outburst that shows how deeply the agony from he and Selina’s breakup cuts: so much so that he can’t even keep up the facade of Bruce Wayne, snobbish, haughty, carefree playboy billionaire even in public. The implications are made even more terrifying by the fact that we haven’t seen Batman/Bruce rattled emotionally like this in all of King’s run thus far; not even when he ate several steroid-fueled haymakers from Bane and grinned a fiend’s grin through bloodied teeth in response or took on Deadshot and Deathstroke at the same damn time or infiltrated a bomb-rigged building in a begrudging partnership with the Riddler with consummate aplomb.
King writes a strong issue, from the courtroom dramatics to the nuances woven into a Bat-Signal sequence between Commissioner Gordon and Dick Grayson (serving as interim Batman) to the looming murder mystery (or is it?), where the legality of Batman performing forensic autopsies is called into question. The art by Lee Weeks and colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser are also excellent; Weeks’ gritty, noirish lines lend a fitting air of realism and gravitas while Breitweiser’s color choice, particularly the burning orange and red flourishes which symbolize anger and rage in the fight scene flashbacks, shines.
Overall, Batman #51 is a strong setup issue and an intriguing first step into the second act’s new narrative direction. As King puts it: “We’re halfway through that journey. It’s a long story, a long journey. It could have a happy ending or a sad ending. You’re halfway through the movie now. You’re in the middle of Empire Strikes Back and Vader just showed up and took Han’s gun.”
If what Batman just went through is the equivalent of having his gun taken away, I dread to think of his commensurate carbonite-freezing. But King is right: we’re halfway through the journey now and at this point, we can trust he’ll have us hooked all the way to the very end.