A-A-Ron posted this particular piece of Tom King Batman analysis to Twitter yesterday, for my birthday. He has graciously allowed us to reproduce it for Bleeding Cool. He writes,
It would be easy to read the first 50 issues of his 100-issue epic as being about Batman and Catwoman, and that story was certainly at the forefront, and it certainly is a component that we'll likely circle back to in the end, but to call it a love story is to bury the lede.
Make no mistake, this entire run is BATMAN VS BANE. And not just any face-off between them. This is King's modern sequel to Knightfall, Bane's debut storyline which saw him stalk Batman for a year, and then break Batman's back, taking Batman out of comics for a short time.
It's important to look at how Bane accomplished that. He's a physical hulk that outmatches Batman in a fight, but that's NOT how he won. He conducted a brilliant long game attack from the shadows, stalking Batman for months on end.
He first strikes when Batman is physically battered from his prior storyline, in desperate need of rest and rejuvenation. He immediately destroys Arkham Asylum, releasing all of Batman's most dangerous foes (including Joker) onto the streets of Gotham, all at once.
He manipulates each individual villain into attacking Batman, one at a time, issue after issue, for an entire publishing year. Batman has no time to rest or heal. He's truly overwhelmed. Meanwhile Bane monitors each encounter, learning all of Batman's tactics.
Finally, after Batman has run the gauntlet of his most dangerous foes for months on end, fighting through broken bones and torn muscle, issue after issue, with no time to rest and with Bane learning every advantage possible, Bane attacks when Batman is lower than ever before.
This is, to date, the greatest victory any villain has claimed over Batman. Even the loss of his second Robin Jason Todd to the murderous Joker never took Batman off of his Gotham patrol.
Every time Bane has appeared since Knightfall he's been increasingly diluted. That incredible debut storyline is always used as shorthand to remind you that Bane is supposed to be Batman's equal (or better?), in the end only to be dispatched as easily as any other villain.
Tom King seeks to outdo Knightfall and return Bane to his original glory.
In King's first Batman storyline, I Am Gotham, we're introduced to an original super-powered heroine, named Gotham Girl, who saves Batman from certain death while he's preventing terrorists from crashing a plane into Gotham City.
This is of two-fold importance. First, it's notable that our introduction to King's Batman involves Batman stopping terrorists from crashing a plane into Gotham, because King previously worked field counter-terrorism for the CIA and he pursued that career because of 9/11
And second, because by the end of this 100-issue run, Gotham Girl will return to the story and she will KILL BATMAN. Wait, what? It's true! King's Batman #5 ended with these cryptic narrative boxes told from the future, and from Gotham Girl's perspective.
"But comic book cliffhangers are always misleading nonsense." "But that was 60 issues ago and hasn't been mentioned since. It's just a dropped plot thread; it happens all the time." NOPE.
"Okay, but what does that have to do with Bane?" It's complicated. King's next Batman story, I Am Suicide, sees Gotham Girl in crisis. An obscure supervillain named Psycho-Pirate has a magical mask that allows him to control people's emotions.
Psycho-Pirate, a captive of Hugo Strange, is made to use his powers to drive Gotham Girl mad during the Night Of The Monster Men crossover storyline, and I Am Suicide sees Batman trying to obtain that mask to "fix" her. She's a danger to herself.
The only problem is that Hugo Strange no longer has possession of Psycho-Pirate or his mask. He's traded them to Bane in exchange for the venom that he needed to create his Monster Men. Bane needs the mask to calm his venom addiction. Uh-oh.
Yes, King's second Batman story sees Batman creating his own Suicide Squad of criminals for the purpose of breaking into Santa Prisca, the prison colony which Bane calls home, for the express purpose of stealing from Bane that which Bane holds dear: Psycho-Pirate's mask
Batman successfully steals the mask and fixes Gotham Girl, but Bane is on a warpath. King's third story I Am Bane sees Bane coming to Gotham and attacking Batman's allies, seeking revenge.
But Batman is able to beat Bane by the skin of his teeth, and Bane goes away in short order, like any other villain and like all non-Knightfall Bane stories.
Indeed, we're meant to forget about Bane beyond this point, as Batman has a crossover with The Flash ("The Button") which sees Batman visit the alternate world of Flashpoint. There he talks to that world's Batman, his surviving father Thomas Wayne.
In this world Bruce has died in Crime Alley and Thomas survived, becoming Batman. Thomas insists to Batman that an unhappy life of warring on crime is NOT what he and Martha would have wanted for him. He begs Bruce to quit and pursue happiness instead.
Bruce decides to keep being Batman, but to also seek happiness. Thus he proposes to Catwoman, and she accepts. The next few storylines see the happy couple making wedding arrangements and Bane is now a distant memory.
But just days before the wedding, when Joker crashes the festivities, Joker convinces Catwoman that if Batman becomes happy then he can no longer be Batman; that his obsession to war on crime relentlessly is born from his trauma and unhappiness.
Catwoman believes Joker and leaves Batman at the altar, not wanting for innocent people to die because she has selfishly made Batman happy. While the various Cat-Bat shippers on the internet went full rage, they overlooked the point: Catwoman's choice was Bane's design.
Both Gotham Girl and Flashpoint Batman are under Bane's control. Like, WHAT?!?
So Batman is now heartbroken, oblivious to Bane's attack on his happiness, and does what jilted men do; he turns to his best friend for support. Nightwing moves back into the mansion, and they go on adventures together to cheer Batman up.
Their cheer-up adventure takes a shocking, morbid turn when Nightwing is shot through the skull by the high-powered rifle of KGBeast, nearly dying, and losing all of his long-term memories. Batman tracks down and bests KGBeast, believing the matter settled.
Batman's emotional support crutch has now been removed. The reader finds out that it's in fact Bane who hired KGBeast to attack Nightwing, but Batman is still none the wiser.
This brings us current to this week's issue 59. Bane has been a factor since issue 9 and is the common attack Batman from the shadows up to current, with King planning to complete 100 issues. It seems the whole 100-issue run is building to this final confrontation with Bane.
We've got about 40 issues left and can expect Bane's attack to increase pace, likely culminating in issue #100. So what's Bane going to do when he finally reveals himself and attacks Batman in issue #100? Break his back again?
Gotham Girl, in her cryptic future narration, seems sad that she killed Batman; like she didn't mean to. She'll most likely be manipulated or controlled by Bane into the act.
So if Knightfall was a 23-issue methodic attack on Batman that resulted in Bane breaking Batman's back then it seems King is set to outdo it with a 100-issue methodic attack on Batman that sees Bane actually kill him.
Sure, he'll eventually come back, but I'd expect something like the 1-year absence we saw after Morrison killed him in Batman RIP. And just like the wedding fakeout there will be outrage, and everyone will miss the point. AGAIN.
It's not about killing Batman and it never was. It's about returning Bane to glory.