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 Batman comics from June 2016 through December 2019. Whether you saw King’s run as transformative or were in the house-divided sect of Batman fans who couldn’t wait for it to end, this run was legendary. It challenged readers, brought new ideas to the table, and workshopped the character of Batman in a way that hadn’t been done previously — for better and for worse. Comic scribe Tom King added his own style and fascinations to Batman lore, and we can expect many of these additions will most likely turn out to be permanent fixtures on the character’s history.
Earlier this month, we released a list of “7 Greatest Moments from Tom King’s Batman Run” that celebrated a handful of the fresh ideas and arcs King brought to the Batcave over the past few years. This time around, we’re highlighting some of the missteps. These moments from King’s run made us cringe. Some of the featured moments are silly; others work in contradiction of how they were intended.
As any creator knows, you can’t win them all! At the very least, we can point out the ideas we didn’t like and commiserate together over issues that made us avert our eyes and cover our collective Bat-shame.
One note — we’re only showcasing moments where Tom King arguably exhibited the most creative control. We know the “Night of the Monster Men” arc is a much-maligned Batman story, but it’s not King’s fault. As such, you won’t see that diabolically disappointing crossover on this list. The “Prelude to the Wedding” series or “The Price” arc won’t be included either.
Of course, if you want to commiserate over how cringe-worthy you found any of these, feel free to join us in our Discord server. Without further delay, we present to you…
Honorable Cringe: Batman #69
One of King’s recurring mysteries in his Batman run is his insistence of showing us a naked Bane. Naked Bane shows up semi-frequently throughout the run, and for the life of us, we can’t figure out why. We didn’t ask for it, yet it keeps coming up on the menu
The most cringe-worthy appearance of naked Bane, however, can be found in the pages of Batman #69, where our nude arch-villain can be seen wrestling Batman’s dad. Avert your eyes in 3, 2, 1…
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment #7: Batman #50
One of the most hyped and highly anticipated moments during the first half of Tom King’s Batman run was the wedding between Batman and Catwoman. Passion quickly reignited between the two under King’s stewardship, and before readers knew it, Bat popped the question to his beloved Cat.
The lead-up to this wedding was, arguably, wonderful. We had fun moments like the double-date between Superman and Lois and Bat and Cat, Selina stealing a wedding dress, a whole spin-off prelude series, an annual that showed Bruce and Selina growing old together, and so much more. The anticipation built for months and months, and DC Comics pulled no punches in advertising and promoting this wedding as something of a summer event. Tom King even went on Late Night with Seth Meyers to promote the wedding, and when asked if Batman and Catwoman were going to get married, he gave a definitive answer of yes.
A few days before the wedding issue was released, tragedy struck. The New York Times released an article about the penultimate issue early. Before we even had a copy of Batman #50 in our hands, we knew the bad news. The wedding wasn’t meant to be. Catwoman left Batman at the rooftop, and comic fans abandoned their copies of Batman #50 at retailers.
It’s true that King’s hands were tied and the hype wasn’t necessarily his fault. He didn’t write the prelude series, and he doesn’t control DC’s marketing. Still, he went on national TV and told everyone otherwise. And when we finally got the issue in our hands, we found out that Catwoman broke up with Batman through a note!? What kind of grade school breakup is this? To jam that knife in further, we got to read snippets of the note to the backdrop of full-page Bat/Cat posters by some of DC’s most celebrated artists. The issue also culminated in a reveal that this was some sort of plot by Bane. UGH!
The wedding issue was a slap in the face, and it represented a turning point in how readers treated King online. He always had his naysayers, but after our trust was broken, these groups online grew louder.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment #6: Batman #9-13
You know what’s a cool line to repeat to death to anyone and everyone who will listen? “I’m going to break your damn back!”
In the “I Am Suicide” arc of King’s Batman run, Batman repeats this phrase over and over and over again. He says it to Bane, to others about Bane, and near the end of King’s run, Batman brings it up again in the “City of Bane” storyline.
We’re highlighting it, specifically, in the “I Am Suicide” arc because this is where it first appears in King’s run. Unlike “City of Bane,” it also sticks out more here because we’re less invested in the arc overall. When writing this arc, King tried a unique approach by having Batman assemble his own Suicide Squad and have each member play an integral role in stealing the Psycho-Pirate from Bane.
Unfortunately, readers are left clueless as to what purpose each member of this Suicide Squad serves. This is a cool technique when there’s some sort of investment in the characters, but in this instance, it steals all the tension from the action. Since we don’t exactly know who’s doing what and we don’t necessarily care about these characters, we’re left in the wind. That “I’m going to break your damn back” ultimately gets amplified in the deafening silence of a struggling storyline, and we’re probably cringing harder than we would have otherwise.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment #5: Batman #45-47
Right before the wedding, readers were greeted with a little, three-issue story called “The Gift.” In it, Booster Gold tries to capture a world where Batman’s parents hadn’t died as some sort of a wedding gift for the real Batman.
Besides being a vehicle to set up King’s miniseries Heroes in Crisis, this was a strange story with an off-key Booster Gold, bizarre humor, and a mind-bogglingly dumb plot that leaves readers guessing as to its purpose.
Moments of humor and tragedy are blended in a way that makes it indecipherable to audiences as to how they should be reacting. Should we find this silly and funny, or is it sad? And why is this alternate reality Catwoman content with just saying “Meow” over and over again?
“The Gift” was reminiscent of a sillier, more bumbling “goofus” style of humor we would have expected from Jar Jar Binks, and we’re not sure why it’s found in the pages of Batman. And while Booster Gold is often depicted as a clown, this representation feels uniquely out of character for him.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment #4: Batman #67
We’re singling this issue out of the seven-part “Knightmares” arc in King’s run. This particular nightmare, “All The Way Down,” embodies everything wrong with this arc as a whole. In this issue, we have almost no dialogue as Batman chases a masked goon across Gotham. We do get the occasional Looney Tunes sound effect though. Clearly, this is a tribute to King’s much loved Batman/Elmer Fudd special. It’s also a super meta dissection of Batman comics in general, as it toys with the convention of Batman repeatedly chasing the same criminals over and over again. That’s cool in theory, but it’s not an idea worth having its own issue.
Worse still, this issue (and seven-part arc), comes at a time when tensions are rising in the series. Batman’s mentally gone off the deep end, and unexplained happenings (like the reappearance of Flashpoint Batman) are driving the mystery and narrative forward. Suddenly, “Knightmares” interrupts and makes readers suffer through literal months of Batman recapping and workshopping the King run in his dreams. Not. Cool.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment #3: Batman #51
Immediately after the wedding that wasn’t, Bruce Wayne inserts himself into a fun 12 Angry Men scenario where he’s going to undo what Batman’s done to Mr. Freeze. The story itself is exciting and thoughtful, but it also leads to one of the most unintentionally funny moments in Batman history — Bruce Wayne ripping a urinal off of the wall of a public restroom with his bare hands and then throwing it.
That’s public property, Bruce. Come on…
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment #2: Batman #30
Love or hate the “War of Jokes and Riddles,” it ultimately gets recalled and referenced quite heavily in King’s Batman run. The core concept of the war is neat, but it also contains the most “un-Batman-like” Batman we’ve ever read.
To sum up what makes us cringe, Batman decides he has to pick a side in the war between Joker and Riddler. He sides with Riddler and starts taking down Joker’s army of villains. To make matters worse, he makes Kite Man the last of Joker’s villains on his list to eliminate because Kite Man will talk and reveal Joker’s location. Batman does this despite knowing that Riddler murdered Kite Man’s son. It’s sick, twisted, and the most egregious, un-Batman-like thing in this storyline as Batman is knowingly taking advantage of someone who is mentally broken.
It’s true that in Batman #31, Batman helps Kite Man get his revenge on Riddler. He also expresses some remorse when telling the tale of the War of Jokes and Riddles to Catwoman. However, this remorse is shrouded by Batman upset that he nearly murdered Riddler and endangered Catwoman. Overall, Batman comes off as uncharacteristically cold and self-centered, and it makes us cringe hard. We’d like to forget this storyline ever happened.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment #1: Batman #58-60
Remember when we mentioned earlier how Tom King has a weird sense of humor that sometimes makes us cringe? In these three issues, Penguin switches teams from working for Bane to aiding Batman because Bane murdered Penny Cobblepot, a seemingly secret wife of Penguin.
King is slick about the introduction and reveal of Penny Cobblepot, toeing the line between defining her as a human or a literal penguin.
Who is Penny Cobblepot? We know through Penguin’s monologues, that she was passed around from “man to man,” and that she could have had a soul, though no one might have known it. King leans into teasing us with this idea that Penny was perhaps a prostitute around the age of twenty that Penguin took in. She had no family that cared for her, and Penguin denied them at her funeral, choosing to bury her next to his own grave alone.
However, penguins also live to the age of twenty, and Penny is also described as having black feathers and a sun-drenched beak. At first, it was a toss-up as to whether King was using poetic language to describe her or if he was being literal. Tom King later confirmed that he was in fact being literal in Batman #60, where Cobblepot revealed that Penny was ultimately an actual penguin.
This makes us question Penguin’s relationship with Penny, and we want so much to believe that it was wholesome. Please?
What are your most cringe-worthy moments from King’s Batman run? Think any of the mentioned comments above aren’t cringe? Tell us in the comments below!