By Alex Batts — This week sees the ‘City of Bane’ story arc shift its focus back to Gotham. The last two issues have served as an interlude of sorts that built up and solidified the relationship between Batman and Catwoman. Now, we return to Gotham, and with us, Batman and Catwoman return to their city as well. Tom King is joined by artist John Romita Jr., inker Klaus Janson, colorist Tomeu Morey, and letterer Clayton Cowles for this issue.
*Spoilers for Batman #80 follow. For final thoughts and a numbered rating, see the OVERALL section at the bottom of this review*
The return to Gotham is immediately an exciting prospect. While I’ve loved the last two issues and everything they’ve done for the overall story in King’s run, seeing Batman return to a Gotham City that is controlled by Bane is a very exciting prospect. The issue opens with a great sequence: Batman, in his Matches Malone disguise, is stopped by Two-Face and Professor Pyg. The two criminals are harassing Batman, thinking he’s an ordinary citizen out past curfew. They keep asking him if he knows whose city this is. Finally, after Batman has sufficiently beat the duo down, he responds, saying that he does indeed know whose city it is, “Mine.” The shocked expression on Harvey’s face as he realizes who he’s looking at is priceless.
The entire sequence is deliberate and methodical, surgical, even. The issue continues along like this for most of its scenes. We see different sequences of Batman and Catwoman systematically taking out various villains in Gotham. Catwoman deals with Mad Hatter as he’s about to abuse a cat. Batman yanks Kite-Man out of the sky only for the criminal to gasp, “You’re back?”. Batman replies simply and emphatically, “Hell yeah.”
In between the scenes of Batman and Catwoman slowly but surely cleaning up the streets, we see snippets of what Thomas Wayne Batman is up to. We see him at first meeting with Commissioner Hugo Strange beside the Bat-signal. I have to say again how much I love this inverse of the normal Gordon/Batman dynamic. Having Strange and Thomas in these roles works so well to emphasize how completely Gotham is under their (or rather, Bane’s) thumb. Strange is informing Thomas that Two-Face and Pyg haven’t checked, also trying to muster up plausible reasons for this. Thomas immediately knows the truth. He knows that Batman is back. Strange tries to deny this, arguing that he knows men’s psychology and that no one comes back from being broken like Batman was.
In another quiet scene with Thomas, we see him checking on Gotham Girl. She’s on a rooftop in the rain, but she looks drastically different from how we’ve seen her previously in this arc. Thus far she’s seemed unstoppable, ultimately powerful, but here she’s clinging to a post, looking drained and weak. She mutters that she’s so sorry, but she can’t see them (Batman and Catwoman). Thomas orders her to stop, and that without another dose she needs to rest. From this, we can infer that previously Claire was using venom and it negated the draining elements of her powers.
The concept behind this character is that Claire’s powers are nearly limitless, but they come at the cost of her own life. The more she uses them, the shorter her life becomes. It now seems as though the extra strain she was putting on her powers has finally taken its toll since she no longer has access to venom. We can also infer that this is why Batman and Catwoman had to previously stop the extra shipment of venom from reaching Gotham, to take Claire off the board. Claire asks Thomas if she’s going to die like her brother. He assures her that she won’t, but “For what he’s done to you…he will.”
Thomas’ final quote to her is very interesting to me. On my first read, I immediately thought he was referring to Bruce, but after thinking about it longer, I think he might mean Bane. Bane has been using Claire, putting her in a life-threatening position. I think a possible rift between Bane/Thomas is inevitable, and Claire may be one of the tipping points.
The final two sequences start to blur together as far as timeline. We get a fantastic old-west style stand-off between Batman and Hush, where Batman of course wins. A touch about this scene that I love is how Hush quotes Aristotle as he’s being defeated; his love for Aristotle is a famous character trait and it’s nice to see even in small moments. As Batman defeats Hush, we see Thomas putting Claire to bed and being interrupted by the Ventriloquist, who has a message from Bane.
Catwoman asks off-panel what they’re going to do now. We see Ventriloquist telling Thomas that Bane has given the order to kill the boy (Damian). The final pages work in complete tandem. Thomas slowly begins his way to the Batcave as Batman explains that he’s sure the order has been given, and that Batman has no way to stop it. He knows that Thomas will have been ordered to kill Bruce’s son and that now Thomas has a choice to make. The issue ends with Thomas holding a gun to Damian’s head. I said earlier that I feel Claire could be one of the tipping points for a Bane/Thomas schism, and I think Damian is going to be the other one. I don’t think Thomas will kill his own grandson, even if he is from another universe.
The final thing I need to talk about for this issue is the art. I must admit, I’m not generally a huge fan of John Romita, Jr. I think he’s a good artist, but his style has never had a large appeal to me. That said, this issue contains some of my favorite JRJR work. The page layouts are excellent, and the mood throughout the issue is top-notch. The action is clear and powerful, and Klaus’ inks bring a great level of depth to each page.
The real standout of the art in this issue for me though is Tomeu Morey’s colors. The high contrast in areas of light — the bat-signal shining against the dark night, light from a lamp against the purple night background, and the orange tint in front of storefronts — help to sell each scene, adding extra visual flair. The colors pull everything together and give the book a level of polish that continues to put it into the top-tier of superhero comics.
Overall: Batman and Catwoman’s return to Gotham does not disappoint. The pieces for a final showdown are falling into place perfectly. Seeing Batman in control of himself and wrestling for control of his city makes the book as exciting as ever. 8.5/10
Writer: Tom King
Artist: John Romita, Jr.
Inker: Klaus Janson
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: DC Comics
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Alex Batts is from Texas. A lifelong comic book enthusiast and movie lover, if he’s not talking about comics, he’s probably not talking. You can find him on Twitter by following @BatmanFiles