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Review: Batman #20

The final showdown is one of the greatest staples of the comic book experience.  It’s a testament to how well writers and artists can work together to tell a cohesive story.  Here, we get one hell of a showdown.  You’ll have to indulge my inner combat-sports fan for a moment while I do my best Michael/Bruce Buffer impersonation:  “In this corner, weighing in at 210 pounds (before the gear) and standing between 6’ 2” and 6’ 7” (depending on who’s drawing the cowl), Gotham’s Darkest of Knights, the Capest of Crusaders, Martha’s boy, BATMAN.  Challenging him for everything is 300-something pounds of mean thoughts and Venom standing at what seems like 7’ friggin-6” the Santa Prisca miracle child, the breaker of bats, BANE.”  I’m done now.  I’m glad we could share that moment.


The team wastes no time in getting down to it.  Batman’s had time to recover from his most recent trouncing at Bane’s hand while the behemoth himself has been working his way through Batman’s rogues gallery and the grand finale is at hand.  We get the sufficiently bloody beatdown I was expecting.  Bane is shown as a monster here and Batman has little recourse besides attempting to stay out of his way and wearing him down with quick shots, neither of which he gets away with.  It’s fairly one-sided with Bane delivering the majority of the punishment.  All the while Batman shows his amazing resilience and determination.  He gets back up.  This is one of the key points of the character, I feel.  He’s, for the most part, a normal man.  While he’s in peak physical condition, he has no straight-up super powers to speak of (other than being rich and being able to take a beating, of course).  He’s inspiring to a lot of people that way.  He eventually comes to the decision that to defeat Bane he has to let Bane win.  He has to let himself be pushed right up to the point of defeat.  That’s the only point Bane will let down his guard.  When Batman sees his opportunity, he takes Bane down with a deft headbutt and the fight is over.  The fight was satisfying, but the ending seemed rushed.  We’ll get more into that in a moment.


The fighting may be the main focus of the book, but it is intertwined with a recap of King’s run up to this point, narrated by an unknown person.  They comment on how Batman knew he would eventually die in the line of duty, and that in Gotham and Gotham Girl he saw an exit plan.  He saw a duo in whom he could put his faith to save the city after he eventually falls, and how every questionable decision he’s made throughout the story works towards that end.  As the fight progresses to the point of Batman’s seeming defeat, the narrator reveals herself as Martha Wayne.  She reassures him that he doesn’t need to do anything to prove his worth to them.  They’re proud no matter what.  It’s a warm scene, but entirely unnecessary.  It offsets the fight far too much and kills some momentum.  I see what King was going for in tying everything together nicely, but the recap was too much.  I’d have liked to have seen that portion of the book tightened up.  We didn’t need to waste five or so pages on rehashed scenes from previous stories.  Especially a two-page spread of Batman riding the plane from the first issue of this run.  It was excessive.  All that space could have given us some time at the end of the issue to wind things down.  Instead, we get a rushed ending with no real closure.  Just a victory for Batman.  The side stories are all left by the wayside.  No updates on Gotham Girl and Psycho Pirate.  No word from Catwoman or the rest of the Bat-family frozen in the Fortress of Solitude.  Just the ending.  I wanted more.


Finch’s art was one of the highlights of the conclusion to this story.  The fight scenes had a violent beauty to them.  The action was intense, but never felt overplayed, but still very grounded.  This is how I would expect a fight between two men of their calibers to go.  I’ve said it many times before, but I love his approach to Bane.  Since his version of Bane is back on the Venom, he’s much more different than Mikel Janin’s leaner, cleaner version we saw in the last arc.  He’s a monster and Finch’s work bleeds that into every panel.  Bane pummeling Batman while bragging about all that he will do after Batman’s death at his hands was thrilling and looked terrifying and amazing.  Kudos to Finch, Miki, Scott, and Bellaire.  This fight was one of the best I’ve read in recent years on the Batman title.


We’re twenty issues deep in Tom King’s Batman career, but I’m not sure where we stand.  “I Am Bane” brought a lot of great stuff to the table, but also more mediocrity than I would have liked.  Overall, I’m still in Tom King’s camp.  He’s a great writer, but I feel like he’s stretching to make stories larger or more epic than they necessarily need to be.  The “I Am…” trilogy’s quality has been all over the map, and I feel a lot of that has to do with the themes and approach to the story.  I don’t want to read another “Death of…” story.  It’s been done, both in the physical and metaphorical sense.  Tying the narrative into these themes of finality and legacy cheapen the story on some level for me.  I expect more out of King, especially on a stage as large as the one he’s standing on now.  This could very well be editorial influence.  “Bigger is better” and whatnot.  King’s shown he can handle specific storytelling beats, especially with his work in the Annual and the Catwoman interlude “Rooftops.”  I can’t speak for everyone, but that’s what I want to see from future stories.  Scale down the scope, focus on the characters and give Batman a chance to find his voice.  Up until “I Am Bane” he really didn’t feel like Batman.


Where do we go from here?  Right into the DC Rebirth mythology in a four-part crossover with Joshua Williamson’s “The Flash.”  We’re going to (hopefully) be getting some answers.  Reread your DC Universe Rebirth one-shot and get ready to hash some stuff out.  We’ll be back in two weeks to talk about “The Button.”


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