A Batman: I Am Suicide Review – Love and Suicide

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 2: I Am Suicide
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Mikel Janin, Mitch Gerads
COLLECTS: Batman #915
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: April 12, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead!***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Tom King is a great writer. Read his work on The Vision and tell me different. I dare you. But is he a great Batman writer? That’s not an easy question. I Am Gotham was a mixed bag, as is a large portion of I Am Suicide. 

Then we get to issues #14 and #15, and King delivers one of the best Batman/Catwoman stories I’ve ever read. But was that a simple flash in the pan? The culmination of a well-crafted story? Something in between?

Claire Clover, a.k.a. Gotham Girl, remains perpetually terrified thanks to the Psycho-Pirate’s ability to control his victims’ emotions. But he’s been taken to the island of Santa Prisca, inside one of the most savage and inescapable prisons on the planet. To infiltrate its walls, Batman and Amanda Waller assemble a makeshift Suicide Squad. Among its members is Catwoman, who stands accused of murdering 237 people. But murder may become a common theme here, as the Psycho-Pirate is under the protection of a man who spent his unthinkable childhood years in that prison, Bane.

At it’s core, this book is about Batman and Catwoman. Bruce and Selina. One of the most intriguing romances in all of popular culture. A fairy tale romance in many ways. But King puts his own spin on it, and looks at it in a way that’s almost psychoanalytic. Letters the two have sent each other serve as the narrative backdrop for issues #10 and #12. We learn that their relationship is largely about the pain they both feel, how it brings them together, and how when they kiss it briefly goes away. I like that. It’s as if it’s an unspoken truth that’s been there the whole time, and we’re just now seeing it. That’s what so many great writers do with these characters.

I’m less a fan of what King does with Bruce’s famous childhood vow to wage war on crime. In issue #12, Bruce reveals that he almost slit his wrists at age 10, before a moment of clarity showed him his true purpose. He then makes the solemn promise that would take him down the road to becoming Batman. Bruce calls his crusade “the choice of a boy. The choice to die. I am Batman. I am suicide.” We read those words as Batman literally fights off an army of gun-wielding prison guards.

I get what King is going for. I understand the unbearable pain of loss leading to a hero’s self-sacrifice. What I’m less enthralled with is the on-the-nose nature of the wrist cutting. The scene doesn’t need that.

Bruce starts that letter talking about the inherent humor in a grown man dressing up like a bat to “punch crime in the face.” It’s very Joker-ish. We even get what may be a vague reference to Mr. J. with the line: “All of them can laugh. Mother. Father. Him. The whole world.” He brings it around to something more serious, of course. But this dialogue speaks nicely to the yin-yang dynamic between Batman and the Joker, whether King mean it that way or not.

King caps the Batman/Catwoman stuff of in an amazing fashion with the “Rooftops” story in issues #14 and #15. I’ve covered those issues in-depth, but it’s worth repeating: “Rooftops” belongs among the greatest Catwoman stories ever told. Mitch Gerads handles the pencils, inks, and colors, bathing the characters in a gorgeous moonlight. What’s more, some of the expressions he gives Selina are just perfect. Throughout the book, King also has the characters call each other “Bat” and “Cat.” That’s a great little touch.

I credit Scott Snyder with doing a lot of justice to the Riddler during his Batman run. He gave the character his balls back. King begins that same process with Bane here, casting him as something of a mad and savage king. A king who, for some odd reason, has to be naked at all times. While things don’t really pick up in this respect until we get to subsequent issues, but this is where we see flashes of early ’90s Knightfall Bane. He’s not just a monster. He’s feared. He’s respected. He’s merciless. He even breaks Batman’s back again and leaves him to drown…

That last one might have been a little more effective if our hero hadn’t simply given himself an extreme chiropractic adjustment and fixed everything. I’ve heard of comic book science, but that right there is comic book medical science. Now if only he’d known that trick in the ’90s.

Also on Batman’s team is Arnold Wesker, a.k.a. the Ventriloquist. They build up his role significantly, and the payoff involves the character being able to subvert the Psycho-Pirate’s powers by virtue of his multiple personality syndrome. Again, comic book medical science. Though I had less issues with that than seeing Wesker make his bare hand talk as if there were an invisible puppet on it (shown below). Comics are so weird.

The majority of the book is drawn and inked by Mikel Janin, and colored by June Chung. I’ve had issues in the past with Janin’s figures looking too static, but we don’t see much of that here. Static or not, Janin’s work is always interesting. His characters look and feel very real, but they have that little touch of superhero dynamism. Case in point, his Batman looks relatively natural and real. But he also gives him a distinct scowl that really walks that line of exaggeration.

Janin and Chung also create a tremendous mood for the prison. It’s suitably dark and dank. You can almost feel that cold, damp air on your skin. Less subtle is the throne of skulls that we see Bane sitting on. We’ve seen this prison before. But it’s never been quite as haunting as it is here.

Despite the greatness of “Rooftops,” I’m not quite ready to call Tom King a great Batman writer just yet. Some of his choices plucked me right out of the story. But he’s becoming a good Batman writer, and that’s better than a lot of people ever get. Perhaps he just needed some time to get comfortable in Gotham City. Either way, this is an improvement. I’ve been excited to pick Batman up again.

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A Batman #49 Review – The Resurrection Machine

Batman #49, 2016TITLE: Batman #49
AUTHOR: Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Yanick Paquette
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: February 10, 2016

***WARNING: Full blown spoilers lay ahead for Batman #49.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We knew this was coming. We knew Bruce Wayne would be Batman again. We even knew how it was coming, because they pretty much told us. And with issue #50 on the horizon, it wasn’t tough to figure out when it was coming. It was just a matter of execution. How would they construct the scene, what chords would they strike, how they’d set the table, etc.

Everything that’s been building for Bruce Wayne since Batman #41 comes to a head in this issue. For the most part, Scott Snyder and guest artist Yanick Paquette deliver on the pay off. But we take some weird, unexpected detours along the way.

Batman #49, Yanick PaquetteQuick history lesson: In Detective Comics #27 (the New 52 one, not the 1939 one), we saw a short story by Snyder and Sean Murphy in which Batman creates a gizmo that allows him to transmit his consciousness into younger clones of himself. Ergo, Batman can (and does) live forever. In Batman #43, Snyder and Capullo introduced this same device into the “Superheavy” plot. As Alfred explained it, the machine could reinsert Bruce’s old memories into his altered mind. As for how this brain-altering gizmo works…some questions are better left unanswered. We’ll file this one under “Comic Book Science.” And within the boundaries of comic book science, this idea makes sense for Batman. He has a contingency plan for seemingly every scenario, including (and perhaps especially) his own death.

In any event, the gizmo had been established, and we knew this was coming. What we didn’t know was coming were the ways the machine would effect Bruce’s mind. Throughout the issue, Snyder and Paquette show us various alternate Batmen in different settings, and how they die. When we open the issue, we’re in a scene where Bruce is the mayor of Gotham City, is married and has a son with Julie Madison, and among his confidants are the Court of Owls and Joe Chill. The idea, as I understand it, is Bruce’s mind isn’t accepting the memories, and thus they’re distorting in different ways. This is incredibly confusing at first, and in my case it took awhile to sink in.

Batman #49, 2016, two-page spreadIn the end, it kind of works. I get what they’re going for. It’s very similar to the “Batman never dies!” theme Grant Morrison did during his run. That’s all well and good. But here’s the problem: We know Batman never dies. Yes, showing us all these Batmen sends a strong message. But I don’t see it as a message that needed to be sent. Considering all that’s happening with Bruce and Alfred, not to mention Jim Gordon being on the verge of grim death (we don’t see any of that in this issue), I’d have kept things in reality, where the true drama is.

And it’s really good drama. Alfred is in full on surrogate father mode, begging Bruce not to return to a life of violence, darkness, and tragedy. Snyder does a fine job bringing Alfred’s love for Bruce to the surface, even pleading with him to let the burden fall on someone else. This scene is believable for almost any incarnation of the Alfred character. There’s also some nice body language in a splash page (shown below) where Bruce finally says: “I’m Batman. Paquette shows is an Alfred wracked with emotional turmoil to the point that his knees have buckled. Meanwhile Bruce, while compassionate, refuses to back down.

Snyder even brings Julie Madison into the climactic scene, having her be the one to turn Bruce back into Batman (i.e. restore his old memories and erase his recent ones). It adds a new dimension to the character that she’s earned, given her rich history. Incidentally, I’m fond of Greg Capullo’s modernized version of Julie, with the tattoos and what not.

Batman #49, 2016, I'm BatmanYanick Paquette makes a fine stand-in for Capullo, who I assume was pre-occupied to drawing the extra-sized Batman #50. He hits all the right notes. Paquette was the original artist for Batman Incorporated. Thus, I found it somewhat fitting that this issue allowed him to draw an alternate version of Batman with a bright and shining Batcave, filled with techies running around, and a gigantic trophy case. I can picture this being what Batman Incorporated would look like eventually, had it continued to grow and expand.

Batman #49 is a winner. Despite the bizarre course it took, it’s every bit the penultimate chapter that “Superheavy” needed. It gave Bruce Wayne’s return to the Batman role the weight it deserves, and gave us a defining chapter in Alfred’s history along the way. But most importantly, Bruce Wayne chose to be Batman again. It had to be that way. He couldn’t have been forced or tricked into it. Even with a fresh start, he still chooses the path of a hero.

Images 1 and 3 from newsarama.com. Image 2 from comicvine.com.

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