It's rare that I have as much trouble disliking a book as I do with Batman #4. I don't think the book is awful and there are bits and pieces that I think are extremely effective in this and the prior issues, but fundamentally, it's not working. Parts of the story (such as a certain characters turn the dark side) are moving too quickly while others feel slow and drawn out (we don't need so many references to "monster men"). Batman as a character continues to feel like the iPod Shuffle of traditional bat moments (he appears, he disappears, he quips, he growls, etc.). And the story itself is light on substance and heavy on grandiose posturing. And to top it all off, there's a tribute to All-Star Superman this issue that comes out of nowhere and accomplished nothing. In a word, it's a bad comic, and yet, it's not entirely a failure with art and some story beats that show the book's fundamental potential, never quite grasped in this first arc. The story, such as it is, follows Gotham (the man, not the city) as his interaction, which happens off-panel, with Psycho Pirate and Dr. Strange turn him into a brutal killing machine. Batman realizes that he may have a Superman level threat on his hands and jumps to investigate uncovering, through some detective work worthy of Adam West, a connection to a certain government organization soon to helm a major motion picture (hint, it rhymes with "knew a wide bod"). Meanwhile a traumatized Gotham Girl is comforted by Duke and quipped at by Alfred (astoundingly bad bedside manner for a classy butler). It all feels fairly rote with some of the eventual reveals coming through blunt exposition in a manner that renders them inert.
Some bits I would defend, not the least of which being Jordie Bellaire's ability to make David Finch's art truly pop, include Batman casually blowing up a wrecked Batmobile and Gotham Girl reacting with real shock at the violence which traditional superhero comics take for granted. Those may sound like small details, which they are, but they are good ones which belong in a far better book. In general, much of what's done here feels like material that likely worked very well as an outline for a Batman story but is coming across as lifeless in practice.
Tom King is a good writer who is capable of better work, but I'm beginning to worry that for whatever reason he may simply not be a good fit for the character. His Vision books functions largely based on his freedom to craft a wholly unusual, iconoclastic story with a bit character. His Grayson issues relied on a certain insular sense of adventure befitting the smaller scale of story it was. And Sheriff of Babylon is a deeply personal work with a gritty sense of realism. Batman is none of these things, being instead a flagship character, coming off of a popular run, with more storytelling baggage than any franchise this side of Dr. Who. Perhaps King will improve the book as it goes, but for the moment, things are looking like a clear swing and a miss.
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Batman #4 Writer: Tom King Artist: David Finch Colorist: Jordie Bellaire Publisher: DC Comics Price: $2.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital