What’s Up With Batman’s Knightmares Story Arc?

By Alex Batts — Before we dive into the recent arc of Batman that just wrapped yesterday, I’d like to review the basic info to make sure we’re all up to speed. Also, this serves as a SPOILER WARNING. I will be discussing events from Tom King’s Batman run leading up to issue 61 as well as the events of this story arc, issues 61-69. I’ll avoid divulging everything that happens in these issues, mainly because I think they’re well worth experiencing in their entirety. But there will be spoilers.

So, Batman didn’t get married. From issues 24-50, Batman and Catwoman prepared for their wedding. We were treated to glimpses of what happy Batman would look like. Bruce had hope, and then that hope was taken away. Batman was left at the altar, and we learned it was Bane pulling the strings, manipulating the major events throughout this run. As we neared issue 61, Batman entered a frenzied rage. He knew Bane was controlling things, from Arkham, and he went on a rampage to prove it. Afterward, he returned to the Batcave to find Alfred bloodied on the floor, as his father, Flashpoint Thomas Wayne/Batman, stood over him, waiting. That’s the last thing we as an audience—and Batman himself—saw before the Knightmares story commenced.

Knightmares is a series of one-shots, each featuring a different and incredibly talented art team, in which Batman finds himself in seemingly unconnected situations. From the get-go, I was on board with the idea of this arc. I love one-shot stories, and I think creators often do incredible things with them. Throw in Tom King collaborating with some of the most talented artists in the industry as the one-shots explore specific genres, and you've got an instant hit in my eyes. That said, today I’d like to give quick overviews of each issue before reflecting on the story as a whole…

Buckle up!

Batman #61 - ‘Suddenly Indeed’

This issue might be the most confusing of the bunch. A follow up to Batman #38 with artist Travis Moore and colorist Tamra Bonvillain, this is the story of a young orphan who very creepily goes by the name "Master Bruce,” obsessed with becoming Bruce Wayne. He's gone so far as to have his own parents murdered, which is somehow not even the creepiest thing he does. This issues admittedly feels the least dream-like of the arc, almost as if it’s just placed in the wrong part of the timeline, but it does its job of unsettling the audience. It’s also nice to see a follow-up to the story in Batman #38. The art team knocks it out of the park with every panel, too, making the book a great read even if you’re confused about what’s happening during you first read through.

Gerads distortion and colors heighten the intensity of the mood in Batman #62.

Batman #62 - ‘Lost’

This might be my favorite of the arc. Batman wakes up, upside down in a meat locker, with Professor Pyg screaming at him and throwing blood in his face. I’m admittedly slightly (okay, massively) biased here, because Mitch Gerads is on art, but this book is incredibly striking. The distortion and coloring techniques Mitch uses elevate the mood, adding to the disorientation felt by Batman. There’s also an awesome narrative device established early, which is that Batman can’t hear. I love this because it makes Batman’s experience the same as our own as we read the book. We (unfortunately) don’t get sound when reading a comic, and now Batman is the same. This is also the first time Batman realizes he’s trapped, not just physically, but mentally. King knocks it out of the park with the inner narration of Batman puzzling over the problem, creating a clear sense of what Batman is feeling and thinking that helps us connect with his confusion.

Constantine is one of the first (but not the last) defense mechanisms Bruce conjures to try to escape his torture in Knightmares.

Batman #63 - ‘Smoke and Mirrors’

Mikel Janin and Jordie Bellaire join King for a real heart-breaker for BatCat fans (a group that includes me). This is also the first time in the arc we see Catwoman, a key piece to the Knightmares puzzle. This issue is comprised of a series of “What if?” scenes, glimpses of what it might have been like had Batman and Catwoman married in issue #50. But it's not all hugs and kisses. We have John Constantine appearing throughout, narrating and explicitly warning Bruce this is all a dream. Constantine informs Batman "they" have him strapped to a machine, pumping him full of Scarecrow gas to drive him insane. And then right before he leaves, he casually mentions there's no way out and he's really not even Constantine, just a part of Bruce's psyche trying to fight back. Swell guy, that Constantine.

NOTE: Issues 64 - 65 paused the arc here for a crossover with The Flash

Batman #66 gives us The Question interrogating Catwoman.

Batman #66 - ‘Cat’

Artist Jorge Fornes and colorist Dave Stewart join King here for another Catwoman-centric issue. This time, we see The Question (yes!) interviewing Selina Kyle about her relationship and history with Batman. This issue is noir-inspired, played out via narration over flashbacks. We get more of the argument between Bruce and Selina about whether they met on the street or on a boat (they’re both right, but that’s a topic for a different day), which I love. We also get a lengthy narration from Selina about them , why they work together, and how Batman is as good as he is. She reiterates that he is the vow he took when his parents died. That he doesn’t know how to be anything else, and nothing can be more important than the vow. The Question desperately tries to get the truth about why she wrote the letter ending things in issue #50. He emphasizes that him being here is the only thing Bruce can think to do toescape this (k)nightmare. Selina cites Bruce’s vow as the reason she couldn’t stay, and then as the issue ends, drops a bomb, “Okay. I lied.”

The issue-long chase sequence in Batman #67 features some of the best purely visual storytelling all year.

Batman #67 - ‘All the Way Down’

Lee Weeks, Jorge Fornes, and Lovern Kindzierski join King for a nearly-silent issue. This instantly became one of my favorites of King’s entire Batman run. The whole issue is a long chase sequence without narration and with minimal dialouge, and it’s breathtaking. If anyone asks me for a perfect example of graphic sequential storytelling, this is the issue I’ll point to. The tale starts on a rooftop in Gotham, weaves across multiple rooftops, through buildings, down corridors, staircases, fire escapes, a bar, and eventually the sewers. There's never any doubt about what's happening on the page; the art more than carries it, it elevates it. This jaw-dropping art mixed with clever and emphatic sound effects makes the chase feel cinematic and real. It also manages to be a follow-up of sorts to the incredible Batman and Elmer Fudd one-shot King did a while back and is essentially a chase between the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, but I'll let you read it yourself to really experience that connection.

Lois throws Catwoman a wild bachelorette party at the Fortress of Solitude.

Batman #68 - ‘Solitude’

The art team on this one is large, featuring Amanda Conner, Dan Panosian, John Timms and Mikel Janin. They’re joined by colorists Paul Mounts, John Timms, and Jordie Bellaire. This issue is yet another spiritual successor to a previous tale in this Batman run, serving as a follow-up to the fan favorite Date Night story that featured Lois and Clark on a double date with Bruce and Selina. This time Selina is having her bachelorette party with Lois, while Bruce has a bachelor party with Clark. King writes great moments between all these characters. Lois and Selina have a blast at the Fortress of Solitude, and you can't help but smile at their exploits. Meanwhile, Bruce and Clark have a quiet night at Wayne Manor, playing chess (Bruce wins) and watching football. It's funny seeing the contrast, and the story really strikes an emotional chord when Clark confronts Bruce about why he seems discontent after finding the love of his life. "I love being Superman. But I hate that I have to be Superman. You hate being Batman. But you love that you have to be Batman.” We don’t get a response to this, which really makes you wonder. This issue ends with confirmation of something hinted at early in this arc: we see Bruce strapped to some kind of crazy machine, pumping him full of fear toxin, trying to drive him insane.

Batman #69 - ‘The Last Dance’

For the Knightmares finale, King is joined by artist Yanick Paquette with Nathan Fairbairn colors. Allow me a moment to praise the art team before getting into the narrative. Paquette delivers some of my favorite page layouts of the run, fitting the dream-like motif of the issue perfectly, and Fairbairn’s colors really take the book to the next level. The dream sequences feel ethereal, using the same song lyrics King did in Batman Annual #2. The narrative of this issue also does a great job tying the arc together, providinginsight into the Thomas Wayne/Bane relationship that fans have been clamoring to see. The Batman and Catwoman narrative features the two in a grand dance, switching between iconic costumes and different locales, as Batman explains he knows he’s trapped in a (k)nightmare and has realized how he can escape. This is intercut with a scene of Thomas Wayne sparring a nude (oh hey, I Am Suicide Bane) Bane, exchanging some intriguing dialogue. As for how Batman has to escape and what exactly Bane and Thomas Wayne discussed? Well, I don’t want to spoil everything for you.

In Batman #69, Bruce and Selina waltz through time.

Batman Knightmares Overall

This story was ambitious, especially for the main Batman title. Many fans were turned off by the idea, losing interest mid-way or ending up confused. I think it’s compelling that the confusion near the start puts the reader in the same state as Batman, leaving us to solve the mystery right along with him.

I'm always eager for more creative diversity and risks in storytelling, and it paid off here. After everything is wrapped up, the reader is left with a wholly-unique Batman story that delves into the psyche of the Bat and what he fears most. We also see the lengths Bane is going to in order to break the Bat, emotionally and spiritually, and it's terrifying. For me, every part of this arc clicked. I've come away with some of my favorite issues in the entire run, spread throughout one varied and connected tale.