Tom King’s Batman run is nearing its conclusion, with Batman and Catwoman’s return to Gotham in “The City of Bane.” For the past few arcs, Batman has seemingly become more and more unhinged, losing fights and losing his mind. He has apparently broken apart from his family, abandoned his city, and been defeated at the hand of his father. Bruce’s return to Gotham in the last issue alongside Selina, having rekindled their relationship, marked a turning point of the final story arc of this run, and this issue continues the upswing.
This issue sheds light on Bruce’s actions over the past few arcs. Events that seemed unplanned or out of character are given a greater context, revealing a grand plan that Bruce has been enacting for far longer than readers would have expected. As is common with issues like this within King’s Batman, the overall narrative that King has been building since the first issue of his run becomes more and more visible, as Bruce’s master plan feels reminiscent of his contingencies upon contingencies popularized by stories like Batman: RIP. Between a secret language shared with his family to moles on the inside, Bruce has clearly planned for Bane’s inevitable conquest for quite some time, and his plans are finally paying off. Just as with Batman #72, this issue could easily have felt like a cop-out, but the ideas brought out in this issue are natural extensions of plot points and character beats in prior issues, a showcase of how well King has planned this climax.
King also gets to write the Bat family in this issue, reacting and responding to Alfred’s death at the hands of Bane and Thomas Wayne. King is able to give each character a small moment to shine as they all confront Thomas Wayne, with Damian and Tim receiving the most attention. It’s a fun scene that feeds into the ending of the issue, and does a great job setting up the inevitable conflict between Bruce and his father.
Unfortunately, as with the previous issue, John Romita Jr.’s art is a serious mismatch for the tone that King is trying to set with City of Bane. It results in significant whiplash after Tony Daniel and Clay Mann’s work on the arc, and it also results in several panels not looking as significant as the plot would imply. A full splash page of Bane towards the end of the issue does not depict him as imposing as it should, he instead looks fairly goofy in an awkward pose. There’s some excellent layouts, with a 9-panel grid reminiscent of a certain page in Batman #21 serving as a perfect example, but Romita’s execution feels lacking, and his style makes everything feel less dynamic than it should. Tomeu Morey’s colors are excellent, but cannot make the issue feel cohesive with the rest of the run.
This issue is one of major revelations about King’s run on Batman as a whole, and sets up the conflicts to come as the City of Bane reaches its conclusion. Yet it’s a more difficult one to read, as John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson’s art do not mesh well with the tone that the prior artists on the run have set. While it’s a bit difficult to read, King’s writing makes this issue well worth reading for everyone enjoying his run and this arc.