Batman: Rebirth #72
Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer), Jorge Fornes (artists), Mikel Janin (artist), Tom King (writer)
June 5th 2019
Spoiler warning: discussion of plot points follow
Much of Batman: Rebirth has been focused on the relationship between Batman and Catwoman, the wedding that wasn’t, and the great fallout that Bruce Wayne experiences at the expense of losing the love of his life. It became such a focal point around the arc of the series that everything around it felt like filler—an excuse to continue to weave this tale around two star-crossed lovers. Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne, a thief and a prince, how they’d fall apart and come back together again. Boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy loses girl—and the last issues up to issue #100 would be about boy getting girl back. A tale as old as time.
If there’s one thing that’s been learned in the last few issues of this comic run, it is that nothing is ever really as it seems, and nothing has been as clear cut as it appears. After spending seven issues locked into Bruce’s greatest fears and nightmares, and then two issues questioning Bruce’s sanity since—Tom King finally gives readers the identity of the true villain behind Bane’s master plans, and the extent to which they planned to break the Bat.
The comic takes the form that most of the climax issues have taken: largely silent in dialog, instead focusing on narrating the larger internal turmoil while moving action through images. The muted narrative for Batman works, it gives insights into motivations for characters that have largely been silent, and finally brings the reader in on the big villainous plan to break Batman down.
Keeping the narrator hidden from the readers until the last panel was a great tool to use to enhance the story. It keeps up the suspense over who’s telling the tale. Is it Alfred? Bane? Is it someone else hidden in the shadows, maybe even Detective Gordon? The reveal also feels poignant, and raises as many questions as it answers. Thomas Wayne isn’t a hidden figure of Bruce’s imagination, but what role does he really have to play? Bruce is a man that puts his parents’ legacy above all else, and if his father is the great author of his demise, how will this change him?
The book takes concepts that have largely driven many Batman stories over the years, and turns them on its head. Bane and the breaking of the Bat is taken directly from Knightfall, but the focus on breaking Bruce emotionally instead of physically is a change of pace that Batman needed. The run has largely been about discovering who Bruce is—not Batman, not Bruce Wayne Millionaire Playboy, but Bruce. The kid who lost his parents in an alley, and decided to seek out his revenge dressed as a bat. The picture given is a man who’s broken, who’s never really grown up, who can’t find happiness. It asks the question, can Bruce be happy and be Batman? What does he lose when he loves so hard?
There’s a dynamic to this version of Batman that is new and fresh. We’re not rooting for him to beat up the next villain, or save Gotham. We’re rooting for him to settle down, find love, keep his family together. To shed the toxic skin he’s been wearing since the nineties and transition to someone and something different. Not perfect, just different. The upset and fallout over the wedding has been felt throughout the comic, and by readers as well. Many people threatened to boycott over the failed nuptials, upset that Bruce couldn’t just be happy. This upset is what drives the comic, and makes issue #72 that much harder to take.
Everything was planned, meticulously, by Bruce’s enemies. The fear for his mortality, the thought of settling down, even Selina being the bride-to-be. Everything was laid out by the person who knows Bruce the most, and at the end of it all, Bruce is broken by Bane. Not only physically: he’s broken emotionally, he’s lost everything. His family, his children, his bride-to-be, and the question hangs in the air—was any of it even real to begin with?
The whole thing will make you want to go back and read the first seventy-one issues again, and look for any details you’ve missed that hint at how much of a long con for Bane this has all been. It looks like anyone who failed to read the signs was as duped as Bruce had been through the entire run.
The art of Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes carries so much of this book, interweaving with the narrative to tell a rich and compelling story not only through the moving action of Bruce’s fight with Bane, but also these stylized flash-in-the-pan moments from previous issues. Jordie Bellaire slips between richly colored panels with depth and texture to the simple flats of the present. Bruce faces Bane in an art style that is totally simplistic: flat colors and barely ironed-out details that juxtapose the complex and detailed art of Bruce’s personal life and his past. The fight with Bane is simple, stripped down; everything is laid bare, the untwisted complications are finally gone. This allows the narrative to come forward, the art becoming the backdrop of focus.
The book flips between flashbacks of previous panels, from previous issues, and back again. This flipping back and forth in issue #71 and #72 creates an almost vertigo effect, calling into question what’s real and what’s fake. Is the detail the dream? Is Bane’s fight with Bane a dream? It also reins the focus in. The words mean more than the art in this issue—what you’re reading versus what you’re seeing.
It will be intriguing to see what Tom King brings to the table for the final act, now that we know issue #85 will be the last in his Batman run while he spins off into Batman/Catwoman. Will Thomas Wayne be the new great enemy, the head of the Rogues Gallery? Is this Thomas Wayne at all, or does this tie into the greater multi-verse collapse that has been anticipated for the end of Rebirth? Will all these answers be given in the next twelve issues, but with the cadence of issue #72 it’ll be exciting to find out.