During Tom King’s Batman run – if not the entirety of the various media of the character’s history – there has been a question that has long been asked: “Can Batman ever be truly happy?” The answer is yes, but only for a little bit, as following the wedding, the Bat and the Cat didn’t get their happily ever after. Honestly, there was so much buzz around that issue that the conclusion isn’t all that surprising, but it did displease a number of Bat-fans.
Now we’re supposedly halfway through King’s 100-issue run, where does the writer take the Dark Knight after stripping away his last shred of happiness? In the first story arc of this volume, Bruce Wayne is called to serve on the jury for the trial of Mr. Freeze, who is accused of murdering three women for the purpose of experimentation to save his wife.
This arc is near action-free, but this is often expected from King, who is more interested in character drama that deconstructs the Batman mythos. Through the extensive conversation between Bruce and the other jurors, Cold Days” is King’s way of discussing how excessively violent Batman’s vigilantism can be, as depicted in the pages featuring the Bat brutally beating up Mr. Freeze.
The central dilemma here is that the jurors initially accuse Freeze of the aforementioned crimes, of which Bruce tries to convince them that there is an ounce of humanity within the monsters that lurk in the streets of Gotham. As for Batman himself, it is powerful seeing Bruce criticize his alter-ego, who isn’t some god that should be worshipped by the people, but is really a human being that is as flawed as the rest of us, whilst telling his own personal experiences, including his father’s religious upbringing.
As I’ve said before, there isn’t much action in the arc, but the artist Lee Weeks makes the most with the narrative that splits between the jury scenes and the Batman/Freeze brawl. Along with colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser, Weeks’ art evokes the muted and gritty sensibilities of David Mazzuchelli, and adding a brightly-colored gimmicky villain like Mr. Freeze gives a nice visual contrast. At the conclusion of Cold Days“, to prove that Bruce needs to reevaluate his purpose as Batman, Weeks draws a final splash page of the Bat wearing a classic version of the costume, which means yes, the undies are back.
Afterwards, the dark reexamination takes a backseat as the next issue explores the relationship between Batman and Nightwing. The latter tries to comfort the former, while the Dynamic Duo battle some of the worst in the rogues gallery including Crazy Quilt. With Matt Wagner’s cartoonish character designs, the issue leans into King poking fun at the mythos and although I’m not fond of Dick Grayson being too much of a comic relief, King is at least trying to create some heart, especially during Dick’s upbringing with Bruce.
We then go from light to dark again with the remaining three issues focusing on the return of KGBeast, who has set his eyes on a certain someone in Gotham. I wonder who that could be? Actually, when it is revealed who the target is, it is a major shock that takes a personal toll on Batman, who goes on a path of vengeance. Although taking the Dark Knight down a darker path is an interesting direction for the comic, too much focus is given towards the characterization of KGBeast who is a bit dull. It remains a readable story, which is largely saved by the stunning art by Tony S. Daniel, who has a history with Batman and is somebody who embraces the grittiness and ridiculousness of Gotham, most notably the presence of villainous mummies and pharaohs.
When it comes Batman, Tom King can embrace the light and dark within the character and even when ideas from both sides don’t always land, it remains a highly enjoyable read that makes you excited to see where the Dark Knight will go.