By Alex Batts - The end begins. With the release of Batman #75 this week , the final story arc of Tom King’s Batman epic gets underway. City of Bane is the beginning of the end for the journey the Caped Crusader has been on since issue #1 back in 2016 at the start of DC Rebirth. Though this won’t be the final story King tells with the Dark Knight (see Batman/Catwoman, a 12-issue maxi series launching in January 2020) it is the bombastic finale to his run on the main title. King is joined by longtime creative partners Tony S. Daniel and Tomeu Morey on main art duties, with Mitch Gerads contributing a brilliantly illustrated 8-page epilogue/prologue of sorts following the main cliffhanger ending. Rounding out the team is consistent Bat-letterer Clayton Cowles.
The first page of the issue is a big splash with raindrops falling on the ground, and the timestamp “Later.” as the only text on the page. This is interesting to me because it could just mean later…as in a while after the end of #74, or it could imply that there will be more ground covered prior to the events of this issue at a later date. Only time will tell. Theories aside, this issue opens with a Gotham City that we’ve never seen before. The Riddler and Joker are in a police squad car responding to reports of a double homicide, where they quickly go to investigate. You read that right, The Riddler and Joker are acting as the police.
This is only the first of many inverted elements we see having taken over Gotham in this issue. The stakes and tone are immediately set, while Batman has been away, Bane has taken control of the city. Hugo Strange is the acting Commissioner, Thomas Wayne is the Batman the city now fears, Arnold Wesker acts as his butler, Gotham Girl acts as his Robin (“but better”, her words), and The Riddler and Joker are doing what they can to track down any rogue villains who haven’t bowed to Bane’s supremacy.
Everything is such a stark contrast to how we normally see Gotham, and it’s all the more compelling for it. King (and through his hand, Bane) has turned Gotham on its head and handed it over to the villains. It’s almost reminiscent of the lack of control that Batman has during the infamous Knightfall storyline, but this is another level of calculation. Instead of random chaos, Bane is in complete control. Nothing happens without his approval, and if it does, there’s to be hell to pay.
The main conflict in this issue arises when Batman (Thomas Wayne) goes to bring in Two-Face, who is accompanied by Solomon Grundy and Amygdala. Thomas calls in Gotham Girl for reinforcements and she steals the scene. She’s very talkative, which fits her character and journey so well. She’s been one of my favorite new creations within King’s Batman, and her character and arc continue to be compelling. She fits perfectly as Thomas’ “Robin” and has an incredibly badass action sequence showing off some of her powers.
The sequence concludes with Two-Face putting a gun to his head, threatening to pull the trigger because he knows Bane wants him alive. Thomas barely reacts and tells a tale of the “False Batman” and how once upon a time in a church the Joker did what Dent is doing, and because of this coerced the “False Batman” into doing whatever he pleased. Thomas finishes by saying that was the “False Batman” and that he was a child, while Thomas is not. He then swiftly throws a Batarang into Dent’s eye, incapacitating him.
The impact of referring to the Batman we know as a “False Batman” is one that hits home. It’s a shock to the system, followed quickly by the knowledge that Thomas views Bruce as nothing more than a child, and that any sympathy and compassion he may have had for Bruce has vanished.
One of the most important tools that Bane has in his arsenal is the villain known as the Psycho Pirate. Psycho Pirate can manipulate and control the emotions of anyone, and it’s partly thanks to this that Bane has conquered Gotham. We see that after Two-Face is captured, Psycho Pirate begins therapy with him, reciting that the emotion they will focus on is love. Love for Bane’s city, and love for Bane. This begs the question of just how many of Bane’s loyalists and completely loyal of their own free will? Who joined willingly, and even if they did, are they completely free of emotional manipulation? Or has Bane taken extra measures to ensure everyone’s obedience? My money is on the latter.
The issue doesn’t only follow the events transpiring in Gotham, though. Intercut between the action and horror of a Gotham run by its worst villains is the journey of Bruce Wayne up snow-covered mountains in search of the Memory of the Mountain, one of Bruce’s teachers. He’s met with violence at the hands of imposters at the peak and eventually left for dead. It’s here that we get a callback to a running line of dialogue throughout King’s run, and the reunion we’ve all been waiting for. Almost incoherently Bruce is muttering, “It was…a boat…”. He’s then greeted by none other than Catwoman and a fantastic splash page of her saying, “No, Bat. Don’t you remember? It was the street.”
Before I touch on the epilogue/prologue (where I promise I’ll explain why I keep calling it both), I’ve got to talk about the art. Tony Daniel is one of the top artists in the industry, and this issue is a prime example of why. The details and scale he gives to every page is incredible, and Tomeu Morey's colors bring everything to life in a fantastic fashion. Each character looks excellent and there are a plethora of wallpaper worthy splash pages throughout. The emotion, action, and drama are all conveyed with ease and the book is just a pure pleasure to look at. From the mountain trek Bruce is on to Hugo Strange turning on the Bat-signal for Thomas, everything looks spectacular.
The epilogue/prologue by King and artist Mitch Gerads gives some great insight into Bane's motives and his standing with the rest of the world. Year of the Villain has just kicked into high gear, with Lex Luthor sending out offers via drones to the biggest bad guys in the DCU, so naturally, Bane received a message as well. This epilogue/prologue, which I call both because it serves as an epilogue for this issue, but as a prologue of things to come, follows a drone flying around a Bane-controlled Gotham as we get text boxes of Bane and Lex Luthor conversing.
Lex is curious why, with so much power and talent, Bane is content to stop conquering with Gotham. Bane responds by saying that no matter all the feats Batman has accomplished, he has never achieved order in Gotham, and now Bane has. The only thing Bane wants from Lex is an understanding with the US Government to respect Bane’s rule, which Lex easily concedes to. The interaction between these two mega-villains is fascinating as we see the respect each has for the other, while also getting notions of the larger plans and end goals they each pursue.
Gerads’ art is as stunning as ever, as we witness firsthand what a Gotham ruled by Bane looks like. The color palette is top tier and we see highlights from many of Batman’s most famous rogues. This sequence ends with our only look at Bane in the issue, as he’s stationed deep within Arkham Asylum. The page we see him on has instantly become one of my favorite images of Bane. Gerads captures the menace and power of the ultimate strategist as he looms over the hologram of Lex Luthor, a foreboding sign that things have just begun.
Overall: The first part of ‘City of Bane’ is an otherworldly experience that expertly sets up what is sure to be the biggest, craziest, and most emotionally-charged arc of King’s Batman saga to date. 9.7/10
Writer: Tom King
Artists: Tony S. Daniel and Mitch Gerads
Colorists: Tomeu Morey and Mitch Gerads
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