Two police officers take a homicide call on a rainy night. Upon investigating the crime scene, it becomes clear that this murder is the work of Two-Face. They call the commissioner, who decides to shine a light into the city skies. Batman is on the case.
If you took this summary of the opening scene of Batman #75 at face value, it would sound like the opening to a fairly standard Batman tale. Yet from the very first page, Tom King and Tony Daniel make it abundantly clear that this is absolutely not a standard Batman tale. The police officers taking the homicide call are actually the Joker and Riddler. The commissioner is actually Hugo Strange. And Batman, the man prowling the streets at night, the Dark Knight of Gotham City, is none other than Thomas Wayne. The entire world of Gotham has been subverted, all under the direction of one man: Bane.
As the story progresses, the main story in Gotham continues to be what on paper is a standard Batman story, but is instead a major subversion of the Gotham status quo. Batman (Thomas Wayne) investigates the murder assisted by his butler (Ventriloquist) and deduces where Two-Face is, and goes in to fight him alongside his sidekick (Gotham Girl). Upon defeating Two-Face he turns him into the police commissioner (Strange), who then drops him off in Arkham Asylum to be rehabilitated by their psychiatrists (Psycho Pirate). This story could be a very simple Batman story, but is instead an unnerving inversion that does an excellent job showing exactly what Gotham has become under Bane’s rule. It is an incredibly compelling piece of worldbuilding that sets the stage for a truly gripping climax to King’s run on Batman.
Interspersed with the story in Gotham is a short scene of Bruce climbing a mountain, overlaid by a parable about a farmer who lost his horse. Bruce is clearly not in a good physical condition, as the lettering for his dialogue is incredibly shaky and he is quickly jumped by two thugs pretending to be monks. As Bruce lies wounded in the snow, he is approached by a figure who reveals themselves to end the story. This is a much slower part of the ongoing story, and is clearly setting up Bruce’s return to Gotham to take it back from Bane.
The issue is closed by a short story to tie into the Offer from the current Justice League run. The story is essentially a bunch of scenes of the City of Bane drawn by Mitch Gerads, while a conversation between Lex and Bane goes on in the narration boxes. The art does an incredible amount of worldbuilding, showing what the new order of Gotham is. For example, Professor Pyg is a police officer, as are Zsasz and Hush. The Fireflies are firefighters, and Grundy and Amygdala are Arkham guards. At the same time, Lex’s offer to Bane does an excellent job providing Bane’s motivation and reason for taking Gotham. It’s essentially a character piece on Bane, one that speaks to the character’s relationship with Batman in a more evocative way than ever before.
The first two stories in the issue are drawn by Tony Daniel, who does an excellent job framing the story in Gotham as a standard Batman issue while making everything else incredibly divergent. The art is striking and beautiful, with absolutely gorgeous backgrounds and dynamic foregrounds. Morey’s colors maintain the look of Gotham that has become synonymous with King’s run, allowing Daniel’s characters to provide the majority of the divergence. However, Gerads’ art in the ending story steals the show, as it manages to portray a Gotham more terrifying than ever before: Bullock tied up in the police station while Riddler and Joker run the place, Professor Pyg killing someone who tries to steal food, the Fireflies sitting and watching a building burn, all of these panels are incredibly evocative and paint a picture that words could never capture. The visual storytelling this issue is some of the best the book has ever had. Batman #75 is an incredible, beautiful, haunting start to the City of Bane, and utilizes its extra page count wonderfully. King, Daniel, Gerads, Morey, and Cowles all work in perfect harmony to build this new Gotham, where everything runs perfectly yet wrong. The City of Bane is striking and frightening, and could very possibly become the best arc of Tom King’s entire run on Batman.
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