TITLE: Batman, Vol. 10: Knightmares
AUTHOR: Tom King
ARTISTS: Travis Moore, Mitch Gerads, Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Lee Weeks, Amanda Conner, Dan Panosian, John Timms, Yanick Paquette
COLORISTS: Tamra Bonvillain, Jordie Bellaire, Dave Stewart, Lovern Kindzierski, Paul Mounts, Timms, Nathan Fairbairn
LETTERER: Clayton Cowles
COLLECTS: Batman #61–63, #66–69
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
RELEASED: September 11, 2019
***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead***
Need to catch up? Boy, have I got you covered. Check out Vol. 1: I Am Gotham, Vol. 2: I Am Suicide, Vol. 3: I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, Vol. 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles, Vol. 5: The Rules of Engagement, Vol. 6: Bride or Burglar?, Vol. 7: The Wedding, Volume 8: Cold Days, and Volume 9: The Tyrant Wing.
By Rob Siebert
He did it again, didn’t he? That sly son of a…
You’ll recall back in Batman #24, Bruce Wayne proposed to Selina Kyle. Huge deal. Huge. A historic moment for both characters. One that could shake up Batman’s whole world depending on Selina’s answer. But of course, they left us with a cliffhanger.
But when Batman #25 came out, we didn’t get one. What we got was the beginning of The War of Jokes and Riddles, a tale from Batman’s past that he had to tell Selina about before she answered. Issue #24 came out on June 7, 2017. Batman #32, the issue where we finally get Selina’s response, didn’t come out until October 4. We had to wait until fall to get the answer because…um…because DC said so. (Although it was pretty obvious she was going to say yes.)
Fast-forward to December 5, 2018. Batman #60 is released, and another bombshell is dropped. The Batman of the Flashpoint universe, Thomas Wayne, not only survived the events of The Button, but has teamed up with Bane against his alt-universe son. Thomas Wayne vs. Bruce Wayne. Father vs. Son. Batman vs. Batman! The stage was set!
Then in the very next issue we got…no answers. Instead we got the issues collected in this book (with two exceptions that we’ll get to in a later date). We wouldn’t see Flashpoint Batman again until May 1, 2019.
Why DC and Tom King loved making us wait so long for cliffhanger payoffs is a mystery to me. But I’ll say this much: Knightmares is a better book than The War of Jokes and Riddles.
1. I Dreamed a Dream…
Toward the end of the book, we discover Batman is hooked up to a contraption that’s giving him very vivid nightmares. I say that not to spoil anything, but to provide context. Plus, between the Knightmares title and what happens once the book starts rolling, it’s pretty easy to see something’s up. Each collected issue contains one of our hero’s bad dreams.
This is the final volume before we get into the “City of Bane” story, which is an astounding 16 issues long. With that many pages to fill, it’s no wonder it felt immensely padded. Like they were just trying to fill space between plot points. While I consider Knightmares a good read, I’ll argue King starts to do that here. It’s a trend that ultimately forces him to limp into the home stretch. For the most part, these issues work. The “City of Bane” issues don’t.
We kick things off in issue #61, as Batman investigates the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The catch? We seem to be in the present day, and young Bruce Wayne is very much present and able to interact with his older self. Obviously it’s a “What if?” story. But it’s not what you might expect.
Travis Moore returns for this story. Once you reach the end, you’ll see how that’s fitting. Colorist Tamra Bonvillain really shines, especially early on. Her use of reds and oranges to depict the lights of Gotham City, contrasted with the deep blacks you’d expect from a Batman story are reminiscent of Francesco Francavilla’s more recent work on the character. That’s damn good company to be in.
2. “They call me MISTER PIG!!!”
Issue #61 is a good start. But here’s where business really picks up. Our sole artist is Mitch Gerads, who almost always does phenomenal work with King. With Batman #62, they create something truly unsettling. At times even horrifying. It opens with our hero hanging upside down in the back of a butcher’s shop, and he’s got some company: Professor Pyg.
And there’s blood. Lots and lots and lots of blood.
I think Professor Pyg, or at least this King/Gerads version of Professor Pyg, is what a lot of fans want the Joker to be like. A horror movie villain with a funny gimmick. Of course, the Joker is so much more than that. But Professor Pyg? As far as that horror villain territory is concerned, he’s got a solid cut of the market share.
This is a really beautiful issue in a twisted sort of way. It’s like a Saw movie with terrifying, horror flick lighting. Perhaps more importantly, when we start the story, Batman is scared. Not that fear gas-induced fear either. He’s genuinely afraid, as any of us would be. Thus, we’re pulled that much harder into the issue. There’s also a lot of confusion on Batman’s end. Why is he there? How did he get there? Why is he unable to hear what Pyg is saying? We follow Batman’s train of thought as he pushes through his fear to defeat his opponent.
And every bit as unsettling as the setting, the villain, and the frantic confusion, is the swerve turn on the final page.
A Batman/Constantine team-up sounds pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, that’s not what we get here. Not exactly, anyway.
In issue #63, Mikel Janin returns to give us the ending we all wanted for Bruce and Selina. They get married, go on a tropical honeymoon, share big romantic kisses on rainy Gotham City rooftops. All seems well. Then Constantine shows up to tell Batman not only is this a dream, but something awful is going to happen. Remember this is a Batman story, where everybody has dead parents, dead spouses, etc. So even if it weren’t a dream, there’s a 50/50 chance he’d be right anyway.
Why Constantine? I think the logic is “Why not?” Are there characters from Batman’s world that might fit this role better int theory? Sure. But no one so obvious that it ruins anything. I get the sense King just wanted the chance to write Constantine, so he wound up in this issue.
Ditto for the Question in issue #66, in which the framing device is Selina being interrogated about why she left Bruce at the altar. Jorge Fornes is on the pencil here, and he fits a Question story like a glove. Less fitting is Selina smoking a cigarette during the exchange, which I don’t think we’ve seen her do at all in King’s run up to this point. It feels very forced. Like they were looking for that one detail to hit that noir-ish nail on the head, and they just gave her a cigarette because they could.
Issue #66 is also where we start re-treading ground. All this stuff about how Selina sees Bruce? We’ve been reading about it for much of the last 60 issues. There’s no reason to go back there, with the Question no less, unless you’re trying to fill space. It’s a fun issue. But its intentions are clear in hindsight.
Issue #67 consists of one long chase scene, as Batman pursues another masked man across Gotham City. Telling you who the individual in question is would take the punch out of the issue. But it’s worth it for those last two pages. There’s some subtext that you have to read into. But it’s pretty easy to get. Fornes is back for this one, alongside the amazing Lee Weeks. Both those men do a hell of a job capturing that Batman: Year One vibe. Again, mostly stuff we’ve already seen. But there’s still greatness here, in one of the best single issue’s of King’s Batman run.
4. “Make a lane for Lane!”
Amanda Conner does a guest spot for issue #68. As such, it’s not surprisingly we focus mostly on female characters. Superman and Lois Lane are back, as we see what might have been a bachelor and bachelorette party respectively. While Bruce and Clark have a quiet night in, an intoxicated Selina Kyle and Lois most certainly do not. The Fortress of Solitude has never seen that kind of fun…
Yes, King backtracks again here. But if I had to choose one thing for him to go back to, there’s a hell of an argument to be made for the “Super Friends” dynamic. Specifically between Catwoman and Lois Lane. Their dynamic in this issue specifically is sheer joyful and colorful comic book fun. The kind of story that’s practically begging to be adapted into animation. Though if it’s for one of the kids shows they’ll have to cut out the liquor. (Not to mention all the stripping Superman robots.) By God, that almost defeats the whole damn purpose.
The downside? With just three pages left we lose Conner. As her style is so distinct, it’s an abrupt jolt to suddenly switch to fill-in artists. Pun intended: It’s a real buzzkill.
5. “Will You Dance With Me?”
The book closes with, of all things, a dance.
It’s only natural that we close with Bruce and Selina. Especially since almost this entire book takes place in Bruce’s head. While the issue does bounce back and forth between them and a Mikel Janin training scene with Bane and Flashpoint Thomas Wayne, the meat of the issue is in an extended dance sequence. But it’s hardly the Batusi. Yanick Paquette puts out a career issue as the two characters literally slow dance through a dream, through Gotham, through their history.
It’s a positively outstanding, and truly unique usage of the visual nature of the comic book medium. In yet another backtrack, Selina goes through multiple costume changes as she did in issue #44. But in two-page spreads such as the one above, we literally track our characters’ dance steps across the page. The use of sheet music is an absolute stroke of genius, which instantly makes this comic distinct among the thousands upon thousands in Batman’s history.
What’s more, because this is a dream there’s a subtext to it that I really enjoy. The scene is written as Bruce asking Selina why she left him. Her response involves his vow as a child, and how he can never really love her because of his devotion to the Batman, etc. But of course, the question Bruce is really asking is, “Why did she leave me?” Via a dream, he’s venting his own doubts about whether he can ever really love another person. And it ends in pretty much the manner you’d expect such a dream from Batman to end.
But the creme de creme, the moment of moments, comes on the final page of the issue and the final page in Knightmares overall…
Batman friggin’ cries. He doesn’t openly weep. But he cries. It’s not even played up at all. It’s beautifully subtle. Just two little strokes of Paquette’s pencil.
Issues like this are part of what makes Tom King’s Batman run so frustrating. Because he is a good writer. He’s a good Batman writer! He knows what he’s doing. But it feels like he got in over his head. The larger story he was trying to tell got too large and in the end he lost focus. That’s such a damn shame, given how many little gems we find in this run.
Incidentally, the song from issue #69 is one King has used before in his series. Sophie Turner’s “Some of these Days.” It dates back to the ’20s. It’s not required listening. But it’s a great little supplement. I recommend it.
6. Waking Up
There are a few collections in this Batman series that you flat out don’t need to read. Technically, this is one of them. But like Cold Days, it gets a recommendation from me. It’s not an amazing character study altogether. But like Tom King’s Batman run as a whole, it surprises you with moments that are absolute classics.
Email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check us out on Twitter.