I think that issue five of DC's Batman book, which I should say upfront is a surprisingly good issue, has helped me clarify what hasn't been working in the series until now. As Batman faces off against the confusingly named Gotham in a battle for the soul of the city, one can't help but feel the stakes and philosophical posturing aren't earned by the series yet. The way Batman himself is written isn't bad, but is incredibly stiff, needing moments of humanity and humor that he hasn't actually had yet. On top of all that, the story feels constrained by the needs of the rebirth line (this title, while ostensibly the core book, has to set up a crossover for next month while also leaving room for Snyder's concurrent Batman Title to exist). And yet, with all of this bad, issue five manages to have some diamonds in the rough in terms of character moments and some surprising plot turns. I've been disappointed by Batman so far, but I've held on in hopes that Tom King can turn things around. Issue five gives the first evidence that he definitely can. The issue opens up with Batman realizing that Gotham is in danger from, well, Gotham (seriously, the naming scheme here is a mess) and sending his best man in to buy some time. This leads to my favorite sequence of the series so far: Alfred suits up in his own Bat costume to act as a distraction while muttering to himself about what he thought it entailed when he promised the Wayne parents to protect their boy. It's a sharp, funny moment that somehow has never been done, that I know of, in Batman before. The leads in, of course, to a long fight scene between the real Batman and Gotham, while Duke Thomas and Gotham Girl watch from the wings. In another smart move, the emotional center of the issue is Gotham Girl who, as we learn via some narration, will be important in the future. While Gotham's motivations to turn evil are amorphous at best, Gotham Girl is an innocent, watching the superhero world destroy her brother in every possible way.
David Finch delivers some excellent work here, aided as before by the inimitable Jordie Bellaire. Early on in the series I was not entirely sold on Finch's 90s era, stylized designs, but I've warmed up to them as time has gone on. His Gotham Girl, for example, at first appeared over-sexualized and supermodel-ish in a way that I can't stand. But now, unmasked and vulnerable, she's drawn like a gawky twenty-something, awkward and immediately sympathetic. And as always, Finch's talent for action sequences carries the fight scenes, which as in most superhero stories, are constantly in danger of feeling like filler.
This brings us back to Tom King's story which is, now that all is said and done, an interesting, if underdeveloped opening arc. I love the involvement of the Justice League (an obvious option almost every Batman writer ignores) even if it amounts to little beyond a cameo in the long run. In all honesty, I was such a fan of King's work to begin with that when I started reviewing Batman, I wanted desperately to like it. Unfortunately I didn't, but now, with one arc finished, the book has a chance to redefine itself as something worthwhile. Here's hoping it can pull it off.
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Batman #5 Writer: Tom King Artist: David Finch Colorist: Jordie Bellaire Publisher: DC Comics Price: $2.99 Format: Ongoing/Bi-Weekly; Print/Digital