Gotham is under Bane’s rule, and no one is able to fight against him. The US Government has forbidden superheroes from entering the city, and the Bat Family has been replaced by Thomas Wayne and Gotham Girl. Bruce Wayne is nowhere to be found.
Batman #76 is part two of the climactic “City of Bane,” the big final arc of Tom King’s run on Batman. Batman has been completely and utterly broken over the course of the last 75 issues, and his enemies have taken his home from him. This issue further establishes the setting of the City of Bane, showing what is happening in Gotham, what is happening with Bruce, and what is going on within Bruce’s family. The issue sets up the status quo of Gotham for this arc while also pushing the story forward.
King’s inclusion of the greater DC Universe in this run has always been a strength – from the first issue where Bruce’s first instinct was to call the Justice League, it has always felt like Bruce was a part of a greater superhero community. This continues as King brings Captain Atom into the issue, just for a bit of exposition – Gotham Girl quickly dispatches him and forces him out of Gotham, and it is revealed that she does this with any superhero that breaks the government’s order to stay out of the city. This one scene does an excellent job establishing why Gotham is still under Bane’s thumb despite the presence of the Justice League – the government’s restrictions coupled with Gotham Girl incapacitating any remaining holdouts would keep the city from being retaken. It’s a key sequence that is able to answer questions while also being an entertaining fight.
The other main sequence in Gotham features a group of Batman’s rogues, another instance of King’s repeated exploration of Batman’s giant world. King has always done a great job including a plethora of Batman’s rogues in a majority of his stories and giving page time to more obscure characters, most notably Kite Man (Hell yeah!). This issue features Tweedledee and Tweedledum alongside Scarecrow and Kite Man, all attempting to flee from Thomas Wayne after escaping from Arkham. Just like last issue, King uses this to portray Thomas’s cruelty and lack of morals, as he deals with the brothers Tweedle in a very different manner than his son Bruce. It also serves to portray how absolutely terrified everyone is of Thomas, even moreso than they were of Bruce. Daniel’s art captures the utter fear that all the low-tier villains feel, and just how outmatched they all are against Thomas’s brutal methods. The issue ends on Thomas and Gotham Girl declaring that Gotham is quiet, and that they’ve won, a statement that is as haunting as it is triumphant.
Outside of Gotham, Catwoman is slowly attempting to nurse Bruce back to health in Paris, while Tim Drake and Damian Wayne try to figure out their options in Metropolis. These parts of the issue are its emotional core, focusing on Bruce’s relationships with the people he loves and how much they care about him. Selina has gone back to her old ways of stealing and selling, but it is abundantly clear that this is all an attempt to make Bruce wake up after his crushing defeat. It’s heartbreaking to watch her talk to him and cry over his unconscious body, and King does an excellent job showing just how much she cares. On the other side, while Bruce’s sons argue over whether they should go back into Gotham, it is very clear that they are both incredibly frustrated and terrified of Bane. The man broke their father and took their home, and they are both expressing their fear and anger in different ways, and seeing this vulnerability from two of the people who love Bruce the most is incredibly powerful.
Tony Daniel’s art throughout this issue is excellent. His use of facial expressions and body language for each character is masterful, and builds an excellent mood around every scene to properly convey the tone of the issue. His use of shadow, notably on Thomas Wayne, does an incredible job portraying him as a terrifying figure, one that is a constant threat to everyone he pursues. The fight scenes are dynamic, and the page layouts, while simple, get the fluidity of the characters’ motion across. As a whole, the art does an excellent job telling the story, giving life to action sequences while also being able to focus on character moments.
King and Daniel are crafting a proper epic to cap off this legendary run on Batman. City of Bane is equal parts exciting and frightening, as the characters that readers know and love struggle to climb out of their lowest moments. There’s a strong sense of vulnerability among all the heroes, and it truly feels as if the villains have won. Yet, despite all the doom and gloom pervading Gotham, Batman’s mantra, the first truth of Bruce Wayne, still echoes throughout the book: “I’m still here.”