Tom King has been writing the ongoing Batman series, the bestselling book at DC Comics, since the DC Rebirth, taking over from Scott Snyder in that role.
It's a tough act to follow. Snyder and Greg Capullo told a tight-but-sprawling Batman tale taking in the city, its history and one man's personal tale of survival, duty, responsibility and healing.
And in comparison, King's run has been… well, it's been fine. Okay. Some cool bits. But in general, nothing much to write home about. Some of it has been very pretty, with David Finch and Mikel Janin, but nothing too challenging.
That's changed today. Today's Batman is as good as his run on The Vision. Which, as Bleeding Cool readers know, I've compared favourably to Watchmen…
It may be a one-off, I don't know. But this chapter of the storyline I Am Suicide, which has seen Batman assemble a team of villains to take on Bane and bring Psycho Pirate into his care as well. The ultimate aim is still unknown, but it has already seen Catwoman betray Batman. The title, as well as a reference to Suicide Squad, and seemingly a precursor to the upcoming Justice League Of America series spinning out of Justice League Vs Suicide Squad, could also be seen as a reference to the seeming impossibility of this mission.
Well, today's Batman #12 utterly shakes that up.
The plot is relatively simple. Batman against the entirety of Bane's army, single-handedly storming the castle to get to Bane, Catwoman and Psycho Pirate. Told by a series of double page spreads, each showing him tackling another impossible obstacle.
And a letter, written to Catwoman as she was to be transferred to Arkham Asylum, in which he bares his soul to a kindred spirit.
First tackling the laughability of the very concept of the Batman. All the jokes over all the decades, condensed into one.
But that's the traditional, often explored and expanded upon origin of Bruce Wayne as Batman and one rarely, if at all, challenged. Recently in Snyder's All-Star Batman there has been an exploration between the deaths and the vow, with his time in borstal. And the TV show Gotham is also exploring that space and time as well.
This is the kind of knockout page as well, following the perspective as it changes as your eye follows Batman's rooftop journey. It's as immersive as all hell, yet a single static image, Mikel Janin showing with great aplomb the kind of thing only comics can do. And as the images get more and ridiculous, the letter to Catwoman becomes more and more serious, convincing and self-critical.
Batman as self harm. Batman as the ultimate sacrifice. Batman as life from death. Batman no longer as a person, but a promise.
Batman as suicide. Nihilism. The absence of life. The ultimate emptiness. As nothing.
Except what attributes we bring to it. Has a mainstream superhero title ever been quite so condemning of itself?
Batman #12 by Tom King and Mikel Janin is published today by DC Comics.