I love Tom King's Batman, from his one word answers to his grunts, from his love affair with Selena Kyle, to his complete take down of Bane. I know I'm not alone, but I also know there are naysayers out there; those who absolutely hate King's brevity in his writing, the "booooorrrring" plot lines, and that huge setup to "The Wedding" that (spoiler alert!) doesn't happen. I am a huge Bat-fan in general, having read from Bill Finger to Denny O'Neil, from Starlin to Snyder, and no one, in my opinion, has matched King's work. He deconstructs Bruce Wayne/Batman, and makes him into what he'd be in our world: a brooding, self-serving, one-word-answering boy of a man, who, through trials and tribulations finally learns to let go, to grow up, and to love. This Batman was indicative of King's other work (Vision, Mister Miracle), which are stories about heroes deconstructed. If any superhero in the pantheon of superheroes is just a person, it's Batman. So, I dedicate this article to Mr. King's fantastic 85 issue (plus Annuals) run of the Caped Crusader. This is a retrospective of said issues and all the joy they brought me, and hopefully many others.
When Batman (2016) was rebooted along with all of DC's line post-Rebirth, I hopped on. As a Bat-fan I was curious what the writer of one of my favorite books, Vision, had to say about my favorite hero. I'll admit, the first arc, "I Am Gotham" didn't hook me; David Finch's art was outstanding, but the story didn't grab me right away. Having two new characters in Gotham was kind of cool, though (Gotham and Gotham Girl), and there were some spectacular moments (Batman having to call in the Justice League comes to mind). Five issues are not a lot by which to judge a writer, so I kept going. I'm so glad I did.
King set up Bane as Batman's main adversary; something not done in a while. But he didn't make the hulking, venom-using villain simply that: a villain. He gave him emotion, a reason for what he was doing, and a background story that, while not excusing them, gave reason for his actions. From there Bruce Wayne and Batman's lives were, in my opinion, safe in King's Hands.
One of King's strong suits is bringing peripheral characters to the forefront. Kite Man anyone? Issue #27, within "The War of Jokes and Riddles" arc (one of the most polarizing for fans), introduced us to a sort-of-one-off character from back in the day: Kite Man. Here's a guy who falls on the wrong side of the law and into the hands of the warring Joker and Riddler. For whatever reason, King saw potential in this guy, and gave us a back story that, I'll admit, made me weepy. A joke to everyone in the Bat-verse, to the reader (me at least), Kite Man was a three-dimensional, important part of Gotham. The essence of that "one bad day" mantra Joker spewed so many years ago. It took one bad day, one bad thing, to turn Kite Man. But did he really want to be a criminal? Probably not. Here is where King really shined in his career with the Bat. He had a Joss Whedon-esque moment. For those not familiar, Whedon was the writer/creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and his critics thought the show would never do well without his quippy dialogue, so he wrote an entire episode where no one talked... and won an Emmy for it. I think to prove to people that he was a good writer (this is my own conjecture I'm adding), King said, "Hey, there's this old character you don't remember, but I'm going to make him sympathetic and cool." Not to dwell on one character, I'm going to move on. But if you get a chance to read one of King's arcs, "The War of Jokes and Riddles" should be on the top of your list.
The Wedding! The moment where many of King's Batman fans fell off, or so they claim. During his run, King had built this amazing romance between Selena Kyle and Bruce Wayne, Batman and Catwoman. It was visceral, it was real, it was amazing. All to lead up to the wedding of the Bat and the Cat. But (Spoiler alert!) Selena leaves Bruce at the altar; she wants him to continue being Batman, and a contented Bruce is not Batman. For those who kept on, and anyone who really read between the lines, we knew that the romance between the two was too good to leave behind. And so it continued to the end of King's Run (and in an upcoming 12 issue maxi-series!) But here, for multiple arcs, people waited for the wedding. It wasn't about the wedding, though, it was about all of those issues in which Bruce and Selena fall into and are in love. The humanity in Bruce, the humanity in Batman. This is what made King's writing on the title so amazing!
And where would be with some levity. Issue 37, one of my personal favorites, in which Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Selena Kyle, and Lois Lane go on a double date. The twist: it's at a superhero themed restaurant so Bruce and Clark have to wear the other's costumes. Kind of sitcom-ey, I know. But the way King writes it, it's far from it. This also ties into Bruce and Clark's relationship; their bromance if you will. Bruce doesn't do too well with peer relationships, so King makes his and Clark's real: it's awkward but it's genuine. And so, the farce of switching costumes in a superhero themed restaurant where they are both actual superheroes becomes less campy and more grown-up.
A great writer can be measured by many things, and one of those is awards. The Eisner Award is the most coveted in the comics industry. The Oscars of comic books if you will. The guy has won two for best writer: one in 2018 and one in 2019, due in part to his work on Batman, specifically Batman Annual #2. Batman Annual #2 is one of his most impressive works. A love story of the Bat and Cat that spans time, I found it to be his magnum opus. If he had left the title with this story, I could have said he went out on a high note.
After having read all 85 issues plus annuals plus his Batman/Elmer Fudd story (which I absolutely recommend), Tom King left Batman. I contemplated removing the title from my pull list, simply out of spite. But that's not fair to its new creative team, and I think the character is in good hands. I just don't think any other writers, at the moment, will be able to do what King did for so many issues in so few years. And so, Tom King, thank you so much for a wonderful three years of Bat stories; some of the most memorable since Bruce swung on that out-of-frame rope across rooftops oh so long ago.
Ah, and one last thing: the artists! From Joelle Jones to David Finch, Lee Weeks to Mitch Gerards, Janin to Mann, this run featured some of the best artists working today. The memorability of this run is due in part to its art team, and they were wonderful: all the pencilers, inkers, colorists, letterers. I've seen King defer to their talent as the real talent behind his books; a humble writer no doubt. I hope these artists continue on the title as one of my favorites is right now, Tony S. Daniel.