Tom King proves himself ready for the mantle by bringing decades of Batman’s characterization to a tee in a mere 5 issues.
It’s a tale of two cities: Gotham – the dark, brooding dutchess – and Metropolis – a bright but wounded city of the future – never seem to attract the same crowd. The crowds don’t hardly overlap at all. Let’s say we were to sit down in a chic and comfortable therapy session and I (obviously being the therapist) decide we should play a game of word association. There’s a domain backed by Harvard that runs such experiments in order to measure one’s subconscious bias, where the subject must sort pictures and words into different categories. You and I will start our experiment with the word “psychopath”. Undoubtedly Gotham and the Detective Comics imprint would take that one. “Alien Invasion?”. Metropolis, for sure. “Meteorite” would be filed there, too. This demonstrates a trope used in fiction that is possibly unavoidable and maybe even encouragable: a protagonist with a certain strength will always get to use that strength to it’s fullest, and their recurring villains will be manageable within that frame. But that still leads us to a question: what happens if a plane goes down in Gotham?
It’s a Bat, It’s a Plane
This is precisely the scenario that Tom King begins the new Batman series with, and it couldn’t be a more potent first issue. Expertly paced, wonderfully rendered and emotionally stirring, there’s a great Dark Knight story in part one that works as a wonderful hook. Sadly, this is not put to as effective use as it could have been due to it not really being the first issue in the collection! Batman: Rebirth #1 has to come first. The story here is about Calendar man, Batman, Alfred, and the Signal, and it’s actually quite good! Problem is, it feels terribly out of place right here at the beginning of what is supposed to be the new jumping-on point. It’s theme doesn’t quite match the I am Gotham arc, and it feels a lot like another Scott Snyder one-shot to set up Batman and the Signal. DC even printed it in the final Snyder/Capullo volume of the New 52 as a backup at the end! This may be more of the fault of DC’s marketing strategy for the Rebirth one-shots, and since this issue isn’t bad, I suppose I can let this one slide; but it still doesn’t sit right with me to have a one-shot like this one at the start of a new series.
Things all stay above-board as the arc revs up, though. The second act of I am Gotham is also very good, with Bats working side-by-side with our new superheroes Gotham and Gotham Girl who have given him a powerful rebirth. Issue three opens with an amazing monologue that really got me in the mood for some deep Batman contemplation and is my favorite issue opening since Rebirth started. King’s writing really lends itself to exploring the emotional side of the Dark Knight and his relationships with his new ward, Duke.
New Cape, New Crusader
Now, I should get on to talking about the characters. King pens the Batman and his allies into a wonderful drama, and the tension and grief and anger felt by every character is immediately palatable. While I expect to be a Snyder/Capullo fanboy for the rest of my life (their run got me reading DC comics to begin with), Tom King takes an approach that is altogether different and yet even more real. Where Snyder’s Batman was a physical trainer, expanding the mythos and flexing the titles genre-defying muscles, King’s take is that of a surgeon, opening up Bruce’s vital organs without even putting us under first. Alfred is written so well as both a level-headed father-figure and an entertaining sidekick. Gotham Girl’s epilogue in the final issue is touching and remarkable. Most notable to me, the climax in part 5 has Batman deliver those three chilling words at the perfect moment, bringing decades of characterization for the caped crusader to a tee.
I have only a few minor complaints, one of which I already mentioned (which is Rebirth #1 not being the same story at all). Another problem lies with the horror aspect of the book. Maybe it’s in want for Snyder’s amazing execution of this aspect, but whenever we get to a page with something truly disturbing, it’s not handled all that well and the pacing seems to trip up a bit. There’s kind of a golden window of horror moments, where the audience needs just enough time to process them, but not quite enough time to let them sit right with us. King’s horror feels out-of-place in this book, since it only serves it to us one page out of every forty, landing short of the ideal.
Making the Sale
The last problem is the covers. While the art in the book is good (not remarkable, but good) the art on the covers is uninspired and, honestly, pretty boring. We get what could be still straight from the book just kind of thrown on as an afterthought. I’m pretty sad when I see a poorly done cover, because there are so many inspired ones out there for series that aren’t even that good! So when DC starts up a new series/revamp, you’d expect them to bring their A-game. I don’t care if it’s their best-selling title, don’t be lazy with my beautiful Batman covers. Luckily, Tim Sale swooped in to save the day. He did variant covers for every issue in this volume, and they’re all remarkable and stylish. I was so excited when I saw those, being a big fan of The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, a series that not only has an incredible breadth of mythos, but an astounding array of fantastic covers. The return of a legend!
We’ve seen enough Mad Batman on the big screen and in out-of-touch Facebook memes; his watch is over. It is now time for Sad Batman to battle Kite Man, and Tom King is a very qualified man to do it.
Final Score: 8.9
Tom King brings Batman’s human, emotional side into the pages of I am Gotham setting the our hopes up for a roller coaster of a run. Now if only we could get Tim Sale to draw the whole thing. . . .
Endnote: Sorry I’ve been away for so long, everyone! I am hoping to get into a more regular schedule and have a few updates/announcements to share!
First, I am going to start back up posting every week, working my way through a bunch of the early DC Rebirth stuff as well as newer crossovers like Dark Nights: Metal and The Oz Effect.
Second, I’ll be doing a few reviews of older and more out-of-pocket/obscure comics as well, under some kind of silly title like Lost in the Longbox or The Stories that Time Forgot.
Finally, I am going to be starting up a podcast! A friend and I (and a rotating group of guests) are going to bring the Unmoving Picture Co. to life as we talk about comics history, current events and our favorite stories through the years. I hope that the Unmoving Podcast will be welcoming to both old readers and new, and look forward to have you tune in. Until next week,
- Joey McKinney