By Alex Batts — Batman #77 continues “City of Bane”, which keeps getting better with each new issue. King is joined on this one by artists Mikel Janin, Tony S. Daniel, Norm Rapmund, Jordie Bellaire, and Tomeu Morey. Like the other issues in this arc so far, there are two narrative threads, one in Gotham, the other in Paris. Janin and Bellaire handle art duties for the Gotham scenes, with Daniel and Morey handling the art for the Paris scenes featuring Batman and Catwoman (I’m not sure exactly where Rapmund fits in, I’m assuming with Janin and Bellaire since I normally see Daniel inking his own work, but I'm not 100% sure). With the setup out of the way, this issue pulls no punches.
*I normally go into spoilers for each of my reviews, and thus far I haven’t included spoiler warnings, but I’m going to start. There is a MAJOR event that happens at the end of this issue, and it’s a massive spoiler I’ll discuss. You’ve been warned. If you don’t want it spoiled, just skip to the overall section at the bottom for a rating.*
If I had to pick a current theme for this arc, it’d be escalation. It’s certainly the main theme for this issue. The Gotham storyline here shows Damian Wayne infiltrate the city in the hopes of reclaiming it from Bane. This issue might feature my favorite writing of Damian that I’ve ever seen. Every line of his dialogue is great and fits his character perfectly. He steals every scene he’s in (with one exception that I’ll get to later) and it’s a blast to read.
He first confronts Gotham Girl and makes quick work of literally tying (chaining) her up, using the wand of Klarion and its magical capabilities. He then goes on to take down the Scarecrow and Victor Zsaz as they’re out patrolling (terrorizing) the streets of Gotham. The art for these two interactions is great. Janin is so clearly comfortable in Gotham and with drawing Damian, and the action is laid out dynamically. The pages have an orange/yellow tint to them with blurred backgrounds that make the action in the foreground pop that much more, almost giving the illusion of daytime in Gotham.
The last stop Damian makes is to confront Thomas Wayne, who is ominously standing atop a gargoyle with his back to Robin. Their back and forth dialogue is incredible and is one of the highlights of the issue. The mood is immediately set with the blurred Gotham background bathed in green hues in varying levels of brightness, setting the scene at night. The washed-out backgrounds are striking and illuminate the characters and action on page brilliantly. Damian stands up to Thomas with no fear and zero hesitation, even after Thomas turns and presents himself in maybe the most intimidating panel of him I’ve ever seen.
The fight between the two is brutal and heart pounding. Thomas is warning Damian of the mistake he’s made here. As a reader, you want Damian to win so badly, but the odds prove to be insurmountable. Seeing Robin fall dashes the brief glimmer of hope that’s been built up throughout the issue. Janin’s character work is as good as ever and the colors from Bellaire continue to impress.
Before I get into the shocking ending of the issue, I've got to also touch on the Paris narrative, which features a finally awoken Batman and Catwoman. These scenes are intercut throughout the issue, breaking up the pacing of the Gotham narrative at opportune moments. Each scene is a singular page and all the more powerful for it. We see Selina making dinner as Bruce wakes. Then we see Bruce sitting up, elbows on his knees, head hung low, uttering “I lost.” As Selina sits in front of him.
Another scene features the pair at a local café with Bruce saying he needs to go back to Gotham. Selina tells him it’d be suicide, to which he responds that he knows, but at least “It will be…a good death.” Which is a brilliant callback to the very first issue of King’s run, in which Batman is searching for a good death. Selina, however, will not let Batman die. She refuses to let him get himself killed, and though he says he’s seen every option and it ends with his demise, she inserts that he stubbornly still doesn’t see her.
Daniel and Morey present each of these scenes with pure intimacy and fantastic character detail. Daniel’s renditions of Bruce and Selina are beautiful, and you can feel the love they share for each other in their facial expressions. Morey’s colors are soft and accurate, which creates a nice contrast from the palette we see in the Gotham scenes. The last page of the issue features Batman and Catwoman, in costume, as she tells him that she’ll show him the way to take their city back.
So, now for the most shocking moment of the series so far. After Thomas defeats Damian, he takes him back to Wayne Manor. We see Damian gaining consciousness as text bubbles litter the page. Thomas is saying he wishes there was another way, and another text bubble with shaky edges pleads for this to not happen in front of the boy. Thomas concedes that this is not the city of Batman as Damian gains full awareness and shouts "NO!"
"This is the City of Bane" is the sole text bubble on a splash page of Bane snapping Alfred's neck. Damian is in tears as Thomas explains that the Bat-Family still can't enter Gotham, because now they have Damian as a hostage. This scene is beyond shocking, and I’m still not sure I completely believe it. It’s rendered to illicit the maximum emotional response, with no lights on in the manor and the moonlight gleaming in through windows, and a sole lightbulb hanging above Alfred. The splash page features a terrifying Bane emerging from the shadows to do the deed. This is the first time we’ve seen Bane this story arc (aside from the singular page where Lex makes his offer), and it’s an extremely powerful first appearance. Bane is not playing games.
That said I’m still not sure how to process this scene. It definitely looks like Alfred is dead, but is he actually? I mean, this is a comic after all, and not everything is as it seems. There's the Psycho-Pirate and Scarecrow in this story, so maybe that wasn't Alfred? Only time will tell if what we see here is what truly happened, but it's tragic and heartbreaking, nonetheless. Damian appears broken by the act, unable to believe his eyes.
Overall: Batman #77 puts the spotlight on Damian in a stellar issue that pushes ahead with the high stakes promises made from the start of “City of Bane.” The art team continues to triumph, and King continues to deliver on both action and emotion. 9.0/10
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mikel Janin and Tony S. Daniel
Inkers: Janin, Norm Rapmund, and Daniel
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire and 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