We’re several months into the new James Tynion IV-led run of Batman, which means we’re now a healthy distance away from the both beloved and maligned Tom King run that dominated the Batman comics conversation from June 2016 through December 2019. Whether you saw King’s run as transformative or were in the house-divided section of Batman fans who couldn’t wait for it to end, this run was nothing short of legendary (one way or the other). It challenged readers, brought new ideas to the table, and workshopped the character of Batman in a way that hadn’t been done previously. Comic scribe Tom King added his own style and fascinations to the Batman lore, and many of these additions will turn out to be permanent fixtures on the character’s history.
Now that we can look back on the run in its entirety, we’ve read through every issue and picked moments from King’s run that we consider being truly the greatest additions to the Batman lore. Some are silly. Other moments are heartfelt and sincere. Together, these are the seven greatest moments that we think will live on as landmark moments for Batman. (Naturally, we’ve also written a 7 Most Cringe-Worthy Moments feature as well.)
Before we get into the breakdown, we do have a few rules. Issues like the “Prelude to the Wedding” series or the “Night of the Monster Men” event that happened during this run will not be featured in either list. King had little to do with these stories, and it wouldn’t be fair to judge his Batman run based on whether we liked or disliked these series. Having said that, we do have one honorable mention that both King and Scott Snyder worked on together, and we include that for reasons that will soon become clear.
Honorable Mention: Batman: Rebirth #1
The story for this one-shot battle between Calendar Man and Batman revolves around Calendar Man growing in power and withering and dying along with the changing of the seasons. It’s a neat idea that shows us a rejuvenated Calendar Man at full power in the spring and summer. This villain withers and dies in the fall and winter, only to be reborn anew from his wrinkled corpse in the following season. It’s not the story that makes this a landmark moment so much as the idea behind it.
In this tale written by both Scott Snyder and Tom King, we’re treated to a metaphor about the nature of creative runs in comic book titles like Batman. At one point, during a climb, Lucius Fox and Bruce Wayne chat about the cyclical nature of their lives. Bruce asks Lucius how many times he has lost a fortune only for Lucius to save it. Lucius responds by saying that it’s like a calendar with the changing of the seasons.
Later during the issue, when Duke Thomas and Bruce are discussing the Calendar Man’s constant evolution, Duke says, “Every time he comes back, he comes back slightly different, his DNA altered. He’s a different person, but he retains all the memories he had last time. He’ll come up with new ideas.”
When Bruce asks Duke what his point is in noting this evolution of Calendar Man, Duke replies that Calendar Man comes back better every time he evolves. Bruce then responds, “Easy. We come back better each time, too.”
The metaphor is very on the nose in this stand-alone issue, but at least the message is clear: Batman (and comics in general) have a very cyclical nature to them. Each time these characters encounter the same villains and plot points, again and again, they’re also growing and evolving too. Characters like Batman grow and evolve with the times. They change with each creative team putting their own unique spin on plots and using the knowledge of previous storylines to inform the future. Though on the surface, it may seem like everything stays the same, King and Snyder are pointing out that this is not exactly the case. The cycle of death and rebirth grows and evolves with each incarnation of the character, and it will continue through the end of time.
Greatest Moment #7: Batman #6
After her brother Hank dies, Gotham Girl goes out every night to fight crime and save the citizens of Gotham. While on patrol, she’s constantly speaking out loud to her deceased brother, and Batman is struggling to find a way to help Gotham Girl. Obviously, his attempts aren’t working, and she’s plummeting further into a state of despair and grief.
After discussing this dilemma with Alfred, Batman decides the best course of action isn’t to try and help Gotham Girl. He should ask her for help.
“Please, I’m not here to help you,” Batman says. “I thought maybe you could help me. Like you’re helping this city.”
From this moment, Batman reveals his identity to Gotham Girl and confesses that he talks to his dead mother. Gotham Girl and Batman truly begin to bond, and the scene that plays out while they share their mutual grief with one another is filled with vulnerability and beauty. It’s this vulnerability early on in Tom King’s run that defines the course that this series takes over the next three years. Behind the cape and cowl and the preservation of Gotham, this issue set the stage for the exploration of trauma and grief, and how important it is to share our emotions with one another, that would dominate King’s run.
It’s not enough to grieve alone. We need to open up and share ourselves, all of ourselves, with each other.
Greatest Moment #6: Batman #16
At the time in which Batman #16 came out, we didn’t realize how good we would have it as fans of the greater Bat-Family. This issue is the first part of the “I Am Bane” storyline, which sees Bane come to Gotham in order to steal Psycho Pirate back from Batman. In this first part, we see Damian Wayne, Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Duke Thomas, together with Bruce at Bat Burger, a local, Batman-themed fast food restaurant.
The Bat-Family has a spirited meal together, one in which Bruce warns his children to stay out of Gotham because Bane is coming for them. King does a fantastic job of conveying Bruce’s love and concern for his Robins, especially after the recent “death” of Tim Drake in James Tynion’s run of Detective Comics. Setting this conversation in Bat Burger adds a sense of lightheartedness that makes this scene sweet and schmaltzy, which are two feelings we didn’t know, at the time, we would see less, and less of as the series ran its course. These are definitely vibes we treasure on reread, especially given the state of the Bat-Family at the moment.
With much of King’s run being remembered for its darkness and grief, this issue showcases that King could highlight the fun and silly moments of Batman, too.
Batman #16 also stands out for another reason, too. It was our first introduction to Bat Burger, which would become a semi-regular gag throughout this run.
Greatest Moment #5: Batman #49
In this lead-up to the wedding, Joker has paralyzed Batman with a toxin and lies bleeding out in the ruins of a cathedral with Catwoman, who is also bleeding out. The two have a heart-to-heart about Batman, and they discuss Joker’s concerns for losing Batman once Bruce is married to Selina Kyle. More importantly, this issue leans into this idea of Catwoman and Joker being old criminal colleagues with a lot of history and memories together. They chat as they bleed out, reminiscing one last time before the wedding that wouldn’t be.
It’s sincere, tender, and 100% Tom King. As Batman fans, we expect the bombastic, fisticuff-fueled finale to any arc involving the Joker. We get the opposite here. We get two old friends talking, and it’s so sincere, it’s hard not to get swept up in the moment. Ultimately, this issue stands out for its unique approach to how Batman comics generally tend to work.
Current Batman scribe James Tynion seems to have appreciated this moment, too. In his current run, we see glimpses of this camaraderie between the rogues in flashbacks seen during the Designer arc.
Greatest Moment #4: Batman #74
In part 5 of “The Fall and the Fallen” storyline, Flashpoint Batman (Thomas Wayne) drags his captive son, Bruce, to the Nain Pit out in the middle of the desert. His goal is to resurrect Martha Wayne, so the three of them can be a family again. Along the way, Thomas recalls the folk story he read Bruce over and over again as a child, one involving animals trapped in a pit. These animals eat each other until there is only one left, and the story ends before readers can learn whether or not any animal escaped or ultimately survived the pit.
This animal story first came up in an earlier arc where KGBeast shot Dick Grayson in the head. In its return here, this story takes on a new meaning and becomes something of an allegory for both Thomas and Bruce Wayne. Each one’s version of Gotham is their pit, and Thomas believes that by resurrecting Martha and rebuilding his old life with his family, he’s dragging himself out of that pit.
We find out from one of Thomas’ memories of that story, that Martha once said that Bruce could see the horrors of the animal story and dream of a better life. While Gotham was Bruce’s pit, he was in the process of escaping through other means (i.e., his marriage to Selina). Thomas simply can’t understand that by rebuilding their old life, he’s dragging Bruce back into that metaphorical pit.
It’s a very interesting and layered idea, one that perfectly captures the very literary style Tom King often relied on upon his Batman tales. In this particular issue, this metaphor embodies the totality of King’s Batman run and transcends what would otherwise be just another comic book arc into something of the artistic merit of the highest quality.
In short, it’s in our opinion that King pushed the envelope with this story, and this metaphor of Gotham as a pit in which Thomas and Bruce are both trapped is an idea worthy of the greater Batman lore.
Greatest Moment #3: Batman #23
On the surface, this stand-alone “The Brave and The Mold” story is a simple one-shot that sees Batman teaming up with Swamp Thing to solve the murder of Swamp Thing’s father. The story plays into the idea of shared grief, as well as denial. At the beginning of the story, Swamp Thing shares this beautiful sentiment with Batman about all those who have died having fallen back into life and that the cycle of life, death, and rebirth is a constant through which all living things flow. As the mystery unfolds, Swamp Thing changes his opinion. He also reveals that he never read any of the letters his father sent him, choosing to let them sink into the mud unopened.
A sort of nihilism washes over Swamp Thing after they find his father’s murderer (whom Swamp Thing murders in cold blood). As Swamp Thing leaves, Batman questions him about his changing perspective regarding this falling back into life. Batman is denied an answer, and his demands to get one grows angrier and more desperate.
The issue ends with Batman calling the pile of leaves Swamp Thing disappears through a coward. He’s enraged both by Swamp Thing’s murder of this criminal, as well as his more nihilistic attitude toward life and death.
What makes this issue interesting is in how it explores people dealing with the loss of loved ones, as well as the ideas we tell ourselves and one another as a way to cope. It’s a unique approach to retreading Batman’s origins once more in that it explores the ways in which Batman copes and how Swamp Thing, in a way, disrupts that coping method. Batman isn’t as sound and resolute as we think he is by the issue’s end, and this could be construed as how we never fully heal.
Greatest Moment #2: Batman Annual #2
If there’s one thing Tom King is known for in his run more than anything else, it’s his deep dive into the romantic relationship between Batman and Catwoman. While they ultimately didn’t get married, readers were still treated to some amazing, heartfelt moments between the two.
In Batman Annual #2, specifically, we see their relationship quite literally from the cradle to the grave. King treats us with their relationship from its cat-and-mouse origins all the way up to them as an elderly couple walking down the street together, with Bruce slowly dying from cancer. We see snippets of their life up to this moment, of their passionate youth as hero and villain, of them with a grown daughter, and of them spending their final moments together as a couple.
It’s an absolutely beautiful tearjerker of a story that makes readers feel a multitude of emotions, and it singularly defines one of the major ideas fueling King’s Batman run — love.
Greatest Moment #1: Batman #83
There’s only one love more powerful than the romantic bond between Batman and Catwoman, and that is the love between Bruce and Alfred, surrogate father and son.
In this issue, near the end of King’s run, Batman is about to confront Flashpoint Batman for the final time. He first wakes at a table near the deceased body of Alfred, and after a momentary lapse into the grief of seeing his surrogate father like this, Batman searches for a way out, so he can avenge Alfred.
While all of this is going on, readers are shown portions of a letter Alfred had written to Bruce in his final moments. It covers Alfred’s memories of Bruce’s life thus far, from a happy child to brooding Batman. More importantly, it also tells Batman everything he needs to hear about being loved forever and the pride he instills in others.
“But there are good lives,” Alfred writes. “And you, my son, are living one. Your parents would be so very proud of you. What is more, Master Bruce. I am very proud of you.”
We’ve seen plenty of tender moments between Alfred and Batman over the years, but arguably this is one of the more definitive ones. Not only does Alfred relate his deepest feelings, he uses those two words we rarely see in Batman comics (but need to). Alfred calls Batman “my son.”
It’s beautiful, emotional, and easily the greatest moment in Tom King’s Batman run, and its also the only moment that can top the very best of the Bat/Cat romance.
Agree? Disagree? What are some moments that resonated with you? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know how you feel!