If you can force your heart and nerve and sinewTo serve your turn long after they are gone,And so hold on when there is nothing in youExcept the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'– If, Rudyard Kipling
Tom King seems the closest superhero comic books has now to an eighties Alan Moore. And doing the same kind of things to superhero comic books that Alan Moore did back then. Whether they still need doing is another matter entirely. Reading an advance copy of Mister Miracle #2, I was struck by how it reminded me very much of Big Numbers, in its pacing and panel constructs. But picking up Batman #30 today by King, Clay Mann, Seth Mann and Jordie Bellaire, it's all about that trick Moore pulled of taking the background ridiculous character and making their journey feel real, possibly deluded, but inspiring for all that.
You'll see it in Marvelman principally, the line that sticks out for me, "Damn you Liz, you're laughing at my life!"
And with Batman choosing the lesser of two evils and siding with the Riddler against the Joker in the War Of Jokes And Riddles (is this the decision that he is confessing to Catwoman before she does or does not – take his Bathand in Batmarriage?) we continue the Ballad Of Kite Man, an all-but-forgotten character, revived and reviled as a joke, something that is lampshaded as all hell in this comic, and through all that find a way to give the character dignity, as he presents an utterly Quixotian character, an Edward J Smith going down with his ship and holding on with nothing more. A man beaten and abused his whole life. Laughed at by the fans, the creators, the characters and his own family. There is no reason to. There is no justification to. Except for that final string of not letting the others win, despite everything that says you should let them.
It's a wonderfully nuanced look at the admirable qualities of bloody mindedness. Following a leader who has no right to lead, has no loyalty to his followers, and yet who constantly puffs himself up and insanely exaggerates his success, blindly ignoring the reality around them. Remind you of anyone?
But there's also a great joy to be had in the choice of Kite Man. Because there is nothing any more ridiculous about Kite Man than Batman. Both dress up in ludicrous costumes, following some kind of life mission, both are quite able to be mocked for their appearance and attitude. But this is Batman's book and everyone takes him seriously – the comic begins with the line "who can hit as hard as Batman?" – but there's nothing apart from creative choices that would set him aside.
That Tom King has done so much to set Kite Man up as a character of note, now can he make him into a character as strong and as respected as Batman himself? In the War of Jokes and Riddles, is this the battle Tom is really fighting? The proposal he has set himself?
Batman #30 is published today by DC Comics.