Here’s to the pain. Here’s to the misery. Where would we be without it?
After 3 and a half years (with issues released twice a month), Tom King’s run on the main Batman title has finally come to an end. While it was a more abrupt end than was initially planned, King and Janin managed to close out this series that they began together really well. This issue is both the conclusion to the story King has been telling since Batman: Rebirth #1 and a retrospective on the run as a whole.
The issue begins on a nice culmination of all the little in-jokes that King has strewn throughout his run. Bruce Wayne and Kite Man are sitting at Porky the Pig’s bar, watching the end of a Gotham Knights game led by quarterback Chris Campbell. Kite Man is the most well-known of the running gags in King’s Batman, while Porky the Pig first appeared in his Batman/Elmer Fudd crossover and Chris Campbell was first mentioned in the “I Am Bane” story arc. Bruce and Kite Man have a discussion about the Knights’ performance, and whether Chris Campbell has the potential in him for anything beyond pain and misery. It’s pretty clear right away that this is more of a metacommentary talking about the reception to Tom King’s Batman and his bibliography as a whole, but it doesn’t feel mean-spirited or angry towards his detractors. Instead, the conclusion is just that finally, after years of pain and misery, Chris Campbell (and Tom King) is ready to try something new. The ending to this issue makes the point in its own way – Batman, at the end of the day, is a happy book. It may be the first happy book Tom King has written.
The conclusion to the story being told is satisfying in its own way. After all the machinations and plans, after each and every blow to Batman’s psyche and body, Batman finally gets to win. He’s able to beat the bad guy, and not just physically. Bruce, after 85 issues of doubt and fear and being told otherwise, can finally say once and for all that Batman is not self-destructive. Bruce gets to choose happiness, to choose family. He gets to choose to be Batman after being given the ultimate excuse to quit. It’s a triumphant conclusion that puts Bruce in a new state of mind, one he hasn’t properly had maybe ever.
Mikel Janin was the first artist on this run, and it’s only fitting that he gets to be there for the ending. With Jordie Bellaire on colors, this final issue is a beautiful culmination of the run as a whole. Everything about it is reminiscent of a prior arc of the book, and it comes together quite nicely. Janin’s still stellar with action layouts and fight scenes, and Bellaire’s still one of the best colorists in the business. Clayton Cowles’ letters are just as strong, as this issue feels like some of the best work of all of its constructors.
There’s really only one problem with the issue, and it’s that it doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything new – not in the way the entire run up to this point has felt. This is the final issue, and it’s very much the conclusion to the run – including restating its own thesis and arguments. It does all of these well, but by mixing the climax and the ending of the final battle in with this conclusion, it comes out feeling just a bit slow.
The final 3 pages are by James Tynion IV and Guillem March, with Tomeu Morey on colors. It’s a very interesting lead in to Tynion’s upcoming Batman run, and promises to change things up in a significant and meaningful way. As far as 3 page teasers go, this did an excellent job making the run look new and exciting.