Overview: In Batman #136, the Bat-Family checks in on Bruce Wayne, who worries about the doubt and anxiety that has comprised his life as a vigilante.
Editor’s Note: Due to the anthology nature of this collection, we will feature a synopsis and analysis for each story, rather than breaking up the synopsis and analysis. Spoilers are sure to be revealed.
Story #1: “Dusk to Dawn” by writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Belen Ortega
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): In the Batacombs, Mr. Terrific runs a recently returned Batman (see Batman #135) through some tests. Everything seems fine, albeit Batman still has some residual multiversal energy from his bouncing between dimensions in pursuit of Red Mask (Darwin Halliday). Mr. Terrific asks Batman how he’s feeling, and Batman says that he is fine, noting that everyone is worried about him.
After the tests, Batman suits up, putting a glove over his black hand that was reforged in the multiverse. Robin (Tim Drake) calls to check in, and Batman asks for what’s been going on. Robin fills Batman in on Penguin’s two children running the Iceberg Lounge.
In Bruce Wayne’s brownstone, Bruce meditates. He confronts Zur En Arrh, reflecting on the mistakes of his youth. Zur and Bruce argue, with Zur noting that Bruce hasn’t destroyed him, possibly because Bruce needs Zur for what’s coming. Another call comes in.
Batman visits the Orgham Hotel (which is the name of the family that’s up to so much trouble in Detective Comics right now). Addison and Aiden Cobblepot have set up smaller “growlers” for high rollers to gamble. Batman drops down and busts up the game.
Though he initially underestimates Aiden, Batman gains the upper hand and shows the twins what he’s capable of. Later, he fills in Oracle (Barbara Gordon), who tells Batman that Catwoman (Selina Kyle) recently escaped from prison.
Batman tracks down Selina, who is using another identity to get by. He asks her why she refused his help to get out of her prison sentence. Selina has her own methods, noting that by breaking out, she can live as a ghost for a while, just like Oswald Cobblepot. This begins Selina’s reveal of Oswald’s new life to Batman (as seen in the backup in Batman #127). Batman feels betrayed at Selina’s secret, and when she calls him out by saying he was out in space, he tells her that he met another Selina in another universe, revealing Selina always has a hold on him, this one included.
Before they can finish their conversation, Batman gets an alert to a break-in at Wayne Manor. Though he lives in the brownstone, Wayne Manor is home. Once in the Batcave, he notes that the commotion is coming from upstairs. When he heads up, he sees Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Batgirl (Stephanie Brown), Red Hood (Jason Todd), Robin (Damian Wayne), Batgirl (Cassandra Cain), The Signal (Duke Thomas), Barbara, and Tim all making a feast.
The whole Bat-Family sits down to a feast, and though Bruce finds it nice, he can’t help but feel the doubt and anxiety within him. By releasing Zur En Arrh, he started what feels like the end to everything, and he won’t be able to save the Bat-Family.
Analysis: For all intents and purposes, Batman #136 is a bridge issue that serves as both an epilogue to the “Bat-Man of Gotham” arc that just wrapped last issue. It’s also a showcase as to what comes next, which appears to be a showdown with Batman of Zur En Arrh, as well as the upcoming, highly publicized Batman vs. Catwoman. Writer Chip Zdarsky layers some emotional resonance and anchoring to this story, as Batman mulls over his fear for the future, self-doubt, and his ultimate love for his extended Bat-Family. It’s a heavy mix of emotions, with no emotion occupying front and center too long before another is brought forth. As some of the background players note within the pages of this issue, Batman feels somewhat broken, a jumbled mess of a man trying to clear his head.
It’s not a bad idea, but after the recent Batman runs of Tom King, James Tynion IV, and even Joshua Williamson’s brief stint to set up the return of Batman Incorporated, it feels as if the overarching theme is, consistently, Batman battling with himself and his failures. The villains, when they do appear, serve less as antagonists and more as chess pieces pushing Batman to the realization that he biffed it, that he bungled everything. Zdarsky’s riff adds in the mix of youthful ignorance versus age and wisdom, which feels more adult, but another story where Batman grapples with himself sounds…exhausting (especially on the heels of Failsafe and Bruce’s adventures in a multiverse where he died). That said, it’s nice to see the Cobblepot twins again, and see reflections of the recent changes in Gotham, including a reference to what Ram V is doing in Detective Comics.
Belen Ortega’s artwork is beautiful, but it strikes a weird chord with this issue. Ortega’s depictions of the Bat-Family are youthful and energetic, bordering on manga-inspired. They’re cute, but in an issue shouldering the weight of Batman’s recent misadventures in his own gallery of failures, the levity and artistic vibe feels mismatched.
Story #2: “The Plans Below” by writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Jorge Corona
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): Years ago, Alfred Pennyworth greets Bruce Wayne, who is brooding over a case involving The Riddler. When Alfred leaves, Batman of Zur En Arrh takes over, heading down to the lab to test out his prototype Failsafe. Zur runs through Failsafe’s directives, and the two spar, with the fight ending with Zur winning.
Once the sparring is over, Zur heads to the Batcomputer, chiding Bruce for taking a two-by-four to the chest the previous night. As Bruce comes back, he makes the connection between Riddler and Calendar Man. The mystery shall continue.
Analysis: In this backup, we get a glimpse at the creation of Failsafe and how the Batman of Zur En Arrh seemingly has the ability to assume control of Bruce on a whim. While there’s not real “story,” to this backup just yet, the threat is there, planting the seeds of just how powerful and overwhelming a potential battle with Zur could become.
Jorge Corona’s pencils take what would otherwise be a boring backup and give it a wild, stylistic edge. Corona’s style is equally cartoonish and seemingly inspired by German expressionism, which results in zany, eye-catching pops that draw readers in.