I've been very hard on the Rebirth titles I've read so far. It's not that they're specifically bad (they're not, they're specifically middling for the most part), but it feels like business as usual. Yes, DC is dialing back some of their more radical continuity shifts and abandoning their new 52 faux-gritty tone, but each rebirth issue still has the hallmarks of mediocre superhero writing. To make matter worse, the active restructuring of continuity has bogged even the better issues down with piles of confusing exposition. With that as a backdrop, I really like Batman #1. It's rough around the edges and not quite the tour-de-force I would expect out of Tom King's solo Batman debut, but it also does just about everything I wanted a Batman debut issue to do. In other words, it's genuinely good, not just 'good for a super book' which is a nice change of pace for Rebirth. If there's one single element that makes Batman by King work, it's that it's self-contained. No Rebirth continuity shows up, no references are made to past events, and no other DC characters pop in for cameos (though King wisely addresses why Batman doesn't call in the Justice League to help in Gotham). The issue is one set-piece from beginning to end: a stolen ground to air missile is deployed on a passenger jet, and Batman has to race to find a solution to the seemingly impossible problem of a crashing plane. In DC superhero scale, it's a really small problem, but King wisely establishes the stakes by giving showing us just how terrified Jim Gordon and Batman are when they realize what's happening. It's a simple concept but an effective device to move the story pieces into place.
One issue in, I don't think I have a strong feeling for King's take on Batman. Honestly, it's probably unfair to expect an immediate strong voice to a character with such a long history and so many facets. Thankfully there are a few nice moments that indicate his take will be less emotionally tortured and grim than the Bat has been of late. An emotional moment near the end where Bruce discusses what should be done in the event of his death with Alfred is schmaltzy to be sure, but also a nice reminder that Bruce isn't a brooding loner so much as a family man with a surprising amount to lose. And he's also an obsessed knight, willing to try anything in hopes of saving a life. I feel confident going forward that King knows exactly what he's doing.
So what didn't work? Well firstly, as much as this may be an odd complaint considering how recently he was a literal God, I found Batman's Mission Impossible-esque solution to the plane problem almost superhuman. On top of that, while the crashing plane is a great set-piece, it's an odd one to start out a series, since Batman is much more in his element in more shadowy, small-scale crime situations. But far be it from me to be too critical of a Superhero writer trying something new, and the book's final page twist indicate that the plane being a job Batman isn't a good fit for may be just the point.
In the end, I think I am just thankful for a story that actually feels like a story instead of a commentary on comics, superheroes, the DC Universe, or the legacy of Batman. It wasn't the greatest Batman story ever told, but it was a first small taste into a fresh new take on the character that I am fully onboard for. Fans will, I hope, be willing to be patient while King sets up some brand new elements to the world of Batman (see again, final page twist), but I for one am more excited than I have been for a superhero comic in quite some time.
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