Overview: In part two of “The Fall and the Fallen”, Batman’s plan to rally his allies to take on Bane doesn’t go as planned.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): The issue opens with Batman sitting in the Batcave, with his cowl off and his hand on his brow, as an intruder alert blares on the monitors in front of him. The story then flashes earlier on the roof of police headquarters where Batman activates a red Bat-signal as Gordon tells him to get off his roof.
Back in the cave, Bruce slowly puts on his cowl and climbs the stairs towards Wayne Manor. In the past, Gordon is visited by his daughter who he tells about his encounter with Batman and the red Bat-signal, after which Barbara disappears.
In the present Batman enters his study as a disembodied voice welcomes him and tells him that they have been waiting for him. In the past, Barbara swings through the city as Batgirl, notifying other members of the Bat-Family of the red Bat-signal. Tim Drake, Damian, Huntress, Signal, and Orphan say they are on the way as does Batwoman who explains she is out of the country and twelve hours out. Dick… sigh… I mean Ric Grayson and Jason refuse and a single panel shows Stephanie in bed receiving a text message.
Batman walks into the dining room to find Bane sitting at one end of a long table with Thomas Wayne’s Batman standing over him as he is served by Alfred. In the past, Batman stands on the edge of a roof as he meets with Batgirl, both Robins, Signal, Orphan, and Huntress.
Bane tells Batman to have a seat as Bruce starts reciting to Bane that he’s going to break his back. Bane tells Alfred to serve Bruce some food, and Batman knocks the tray out of his hands. In the past, Batman explains to his troops about Bane’s plan.
At Wayne Manor, Batman knocks over the table, again stating to Bane that he is going to break his back and punches Bane across the chin. In the past, Batman and his team get ready to attack Arkham Asylum. In the present, Bane laughs off Batman’s punch and throws his own punch at Batman, knocking him to the floor.
Batman and his team arrive at Arkham to find the hospital in order with no sign of the escaped villains. In the present, Batman is helped to his feet by Alfred, who explains to him that while he understands his impulse to fight, this time, for the first time, Batman has lost.
In the past, on a rooftop, Batman’s team confronts him, stating that there is no record of Bane taking over the asylum and that they have spoken to Alfred, who they say has told them that he was never attacked by Thomas Wayne. Tim Drake reaches out to Batman, offering to help him deal with his pain over Catwoman leaving him.
The issue ends one a split page, with Batman savagely hitting Tim as his team looks on in horror on one side, while on the other side, Bane and Thomas Wayne’s Batman looks on as Alfred explains to Batman that Bane has broken him.
Analysis: Writer Tom King has recently stated in interviews that he has been building to Batman hitting rock bottom in issue #74 which will lead to a major status quo change in Batman #75. This issue feels like a fairly major step towards Batman hitting rock bottom, as he spiral’s out of control and further alienates those closest to him. While the issue leans heavily into the shock value of Batman decking Tim Drake at the end of the issue, the most jarring shock for me in the issue was that of Alfred waiting on Bane at the dinner table before trying to reason with Bruce that his has lost.
There is something very dark and surreal that I enjoyed about the scenes in the present at Wayne Manor in general, which is highlighted by Batman’s closest aide and confident serving a four-course meal to a casually unmasked Bane as the Thomas Wayne Batman stands next to him. It reminded me of a sort of dark funhouse mirror to the dinner issue in the War of Jokes and Riddles. If this scene had taken place in a different comic, I would have had a lot of trouble accepting this as something that flies in the face of who Alfred is as a character, but in a story where part of the mystery involves characters acting in new and surprising ways, it makes me more curious than anything else to see how this continues to play out. The one caveat I would make is that especially after the Knightmare story arc, I’m going to be disappointed if this turns out to be some sort of warped reality or illusion as that would rob this issue of the stakes that it’s setting up.
The scenes in the past with Batman’s team are played very straightforward, with Batman rallying his troops and letting them know what is going on, only to have Batman’s sanity called into question as they storm Arkham to find that all seems well. I liked the use of Batgirl in this issue and how she just steps up and starts getting things organized the moment she hears about the Red Bat-signal. Tom King writes Batgirl as Batman’s unflappable lieutenant here and it feels like a natural extension of Barbara Gordon’s time as Oracle. I also like the inclusion of Tim Drake and the use of him in this story. Tim Drake entered Batman’s world at a low point, offering to help him when he was in pain, and I enjoyed the juxtaposition of having him make a similar plea to Batman at the end of this issue, to disastrous results. I do wonder at what point Huntress got let into the inner circle of the Bat Family to the point that Barbara is comfortable calling Batman ‘Bruce” in front of her, but that might just be might a blind spot for me as I haven’t read a lot of her post new 52.
While I usually don’t particularly enjoy it when art duties are shared within a single issue, for this story, the tag team of Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes is very effective. Janin handles the scenes in the past with his usual detailed and realistic flair while Fornes’ sequences in the cave and the manor are all mood and shadow and give the sequences an uneasy quality. The splash page of Batman and his team swinging into action is a standout, as is the final page where Janin and Fornes each handle their respective halves on a single page. If you are going to have multiple artists on a single issue, this issue is a perfect example of crafting a story that accommodates the shift in styles.
Final Thoughts: After being introduced to Tom King through his work on Batman, I have branched out and read some of his other work (like his amazing run on Mr. Miracle) where I’ve had the advantage of reading his stories in the context of a complete story, which I think is how King’s work should be read. King is a writer that enjoys a slow burn and while the story is definitely moving, it’s hard to really gauge the story in pieces. That being said, King has excelled at writing a Batman who’s unraveling appears to be picking up steam and there is definitely a feeling that the hammer is about to drop and the word is already out that it’s only going to get worse.