Ever since The Button, Tom King has explored the importance of Bruce’s vow to avenge his parents. Shaken to his core, Bruce began to question himself and whether he could be happy, which ended up leading to his marriage proposal to Catwoman. Now, just over 50 issues after his conversation with his father, after going through the grueling gauntlet of his Knightmares, Bruce is confronted yet again by the specter of Thomas Wayne.
The issue opens as essentially a silent issue, with Thomas Wayne traveling across a desert singing “Home on the Range.” These pages really allow Janin’s art to shine, as Bellaire’s colors make it pop spectacularly. This trek through the desert takes multiple days, as Thomas prepares a camp each night. The first morning, he is accosted by a group of ninjas who call themselves The Death in the Desert. As Thomas takes out all five of these ninjas, Janin once again gets to show off his skill, laying out gorgeous fight scenes that are once again improved further by Bellaire’s gorgeous colors.
The second half of the issue has Bruce waking up and slowly piecing together what’s going on, as he recovers from the drugs in his system. One of the best parts is the scene where Bruce first wakes up, lashing out at his father. Thomas prevents him from doing anything, all while using the same lines that Bruce gave to Gotham Girl: “It’s okay to be scared. Everyone gets scared. Just means you get to fight that fear.” If there was ever any doubt that this was the real Thomas Wayne, both Bruce and the readers are confronted with this explicit confirmation that it truly is.
The rest of the issue continues Bruce and Thomas’s journey to their mysterious destination, as they discuss where they are going, and what had happened prior. This comes to a head a Bruce finally realizes where they are going, and who is in the coffin they’ve been carrying for the whole journey. The issue ends on Bruce putting his cowl on and acquiescing to his father’s requests to join him.
As always, this issue is paced to utter perfection. No page feels wasted, and each page – even the splash pages – feel engineered to convey a specific amount of time across. The near-silent splash pages allow those between to breathe, and really provide a proper sense of scale to the massive desert the Waynes are traversing. The action scenes are also gorgeous, paneled frenetically and in jagged shapes, in direct contrast to the grids during dialogue scenes. As Thomas fights the Death in the Desert, the color in the panels is reduced to just two colors, showing how focused the fight is. The book is a triumph of visual storytelling, with King, Janin, Bellaire, and Cowles all working in harmony to convey the full effect. Everyone working on this book is firing on all cylinders, and is making the lead up to City of Bane that much more exciting.