There are about five different comics all rolled up into one in Batman #6 and unfortunately, almost none of them are good. In theory, this issue is a one-shot exploring Gotham Girl's descent into grief and madness following the events of #5, but the approach is scattershot, never quite establishing the characters or the stakes and moving too quickly for the emotional resolution to hit with the punch it needs to. It is, for my money, the first time the series has crossed the divide from mediocre into bad. I don't quite understand where things went wrong, but Batman is a series that simply isn't working at the moment. I'd like to take a moment to outline a fundamental confusion I have with this Batman run so far--what is going on with the side plots? Hugo Strange and Psycho Pirate were introduced early on but then seemingly shuffled off for use in a later crossover event. As such, they act less as a loose end than as a confusingly random intrusion into the story that manages to somehow still be integral to understanding the plot (the last scene this issues continues to imply this). In this issue we are told that Pyscho Pirate is responsible for Gotham Girl going crazy, but since this happened off screen and was never followed up on, I found it specifically hard to buy into. Tom King's Vision and Omega Men both function wonderfully without ties to the larger ongoing continuity, so it's especially disappointing to see Batman bogged down in such a basic continuity mire.
Granting Gotham Girl's apparent insanity (represented by a buzz cut of craziness), we still have the problem of the issues odd choice in villains. Gotham Girls faces off with Colonel Blimp, Kite Man, and...a Pirate who are all so purposefully ridiculous that they immediately ruin the issue's already tenuous grasp on its melancholy tone. I don't ask that everything has to be grim and gritty in Batman, but in a story ostensibly about Gotham driving an innocent girl to violence and madness, the intrusion of silver age silliness comes off as tone-deaf.
Near the story's end, there's a nice emotional moment between Batman and Gotham Girl, but with the level of material surrounding it, it's hard to feel as if it's been earned. Perhaps that's the book's lead issue, very little of any part of the story feels earned. The book ends with Batman having a tense discussion with Amanda Waller about finding Psycho Pirate (I've seen way too many tense discussions between Batman and Waller at this point), and the implication is that we are supposed to care about how the scene is built out of the need to save Gotham Girl, but Gotham Girl is a new, hardly fleshed out character and, maddeningly, King chooses to literally end the issue on a foreshadowing pun.
As for the art, Ivan Reis does some great city-scapes and some decent action but feels like a step down from David Finch in terms of characters and pacing. His work is fine, but nothing that deviates much from the DC house style of recent years (which is a little stiff for my taste but opinions may vary). Jordie Bellaire is replaced on art, temporarily, by Marcello Maiolo who uses a much less limited palettee, making the book feel even more disjointed and disconnected from the rest of the series.
All in all, Batman #6 is a really disappointing failure exactly when the series needed a success. Tom King will likely end up on end of year lists for best writer (Omega Men and Vision really are astounding), but it's disappointing that it will be in spite of Batman and not because of it.
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Batman #6 Writers: Tom King Artist: Ivan Reis Colorist: Marcelo Maiolo Publisher: DC Comics Price: $2.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital