Clayton Cowles (letterer), Mikel Janin (artist/inker), Tony Salvador Daniel (artist/inker), Norm Rapmund (inker), Tom King (writer), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Tomeu Morey (colorist)
August 21, 2019
Batman #77 raises the stakes and breaks hearts as the true brutality of Gotham City’s greatest villain and new dynamic duo are brought to light.
When we last saw Gotham in Batman #76, we knew it was under new management. Hugo Strange is the commissioner, and Thomas Wayne and Gotham Girl are the new Dynamic Duo. There are new rules for all its citizens and the heroes beyond the city walls. The first? Villains go down, and Heroes go out. The second? The Bat family has been banished, dethroned, and told that if they darken Gotham’s proverbial doorway again, then Alfred would pay the price. This setup is paid off in Batman #77, raising the stakes and adding weight to this New World Order that we’ve been thrown into.
Unsurprisingly, it’s Damian Wayne who breaks Bane’s rule in Gotham. In a very typical Robin move, he smart talks and ass kicks his way through Zasz and Scarecrow. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Gotham Girl to show up. Watching this mirror world role reversal is interesting, especially Gotham Girl’s banter and Damian’s equally sharp retorts. After Gotham Girl was able to literally kick The Atom out of Gotham, it seemed that the biggest hindrance to the Bat family being able to reclaim some ground was her Kryptonian-like powers. It takes a bit of magic, and some soul-selling, but Damian is able to trap her. It’s an easy exchange that only lasts a few pages, leaving a lot of room for what’s to come next.
Thomas Wayne slips out of the shadows and explains that he’s the new Batman—the true Batman. The exchange they have is on the nose for a Wayne-to-Wayne interaction. Damian interjects, and Thomas tries to explain. Short, clipped, and very close to how we’ve seen King write interactions with Damian and Bruce. It paints an important picture, these similarities between Bruce and Thomas, when it comes to family. Cut from the same cloth, easy to see, difficult to spot where the edges start to fray. It’s a family dynamic, and it works. When Thomas bends to talk to Damian, we see a father talking to a son, a grandfather talking to a grandchild. It’s a position we’ve seen before, a repeat in panel design. Batman kneeling to humor Damian’s petulant sense of righteousness. Even the way Thomas hits Damian is something we’ve seen before. It’s not really a cardinal sin for Thomas to smack Damian around, not when we’ve seen Bruce do it so many times. That iconic back hand when his brood disobeys isn’t new.
It’s what happens next that sets the stage for Thomas’ deep betrayal. A character death that I didn’t see coming. It’s a level of menacing evil that seems reserved for true super villains, befitting Thanos more than someone who has the helm of The Bat. With everything we know about Thomas Wayne, from Flashpoint to the last few issues, it didn’t seem like he was capable of doing something so monstrous.
I was actually left a little bit breathless when we see Damian in the Manor tied to a chair. As a reader, I knew what was coming. Thomas’ narration gave me chills, the gaslighting horror of an abuser, ramped up and elevated through a comic book lens. It places Thomas firmly as a villain, and by being responsible, or at least culpable in what happens next, it solidifies his place as a true Gotham villain. This is one instance of brutal violence that not even the Bat family will be able to forgive.
Batman #77 was penciled by both Mikel Janin and Tony S. Daniel, and colored by Jordie Bellaire and Tomeu Morey, and the use of two artists and two colorists was used to great effect. The art in this issue really lends itself well to setting the stage for this major death. Gotham is lightly outlined on stark backgrounds, hazed in a green reminiscent of Bane’s venom. It’s a vague city, missing the large and ornate sky scrapers and backdrops we’ve come to be familiar with. Our focus is on the characters within the city, not the city itself. On Wayne Manor, not what’s within it. It’s such a stark difference to Paris, where the backgrounds are busy and ornate. A world we know versus a world we don’t.
It’s in this beautifully bustling version of Paris where Bruce finally awakens. There’s a nice scene in a café, which felt like a nod to the end of The Dark Knight Rises. Selina and Bruce talk about going back to Gotham, facing off their adversaries, and certain death. When they suit up, we know that Catwoman and Batman are back in business.
For such a significant portion of the post Bat-Cat run of Batman: Rebirth, it feels like Bruce has been somewhat out of commission. Between dream sequences and trips to the Nain Pit, it’s nice to finally see Bruce dawning the cowl and cape again and being reunited with Selina. I think that these issues glean different portions of the story one angle at a time. Without Batman, we get to focus on Gotham City, and without reality, we get to see Bruce’s true fears. There are times where it dragged, and felt a bit stagnant. A shift in the narrative towards action with nine issues left leaves a lot of breathing room for conflict. With the setup of Thomas Wayne as the villain, I hope to see the Bat versus Bat conflict pay off.