Batman: Rebirth #81 & #82: Haven’t We Done This Before?

Bane crouches in a fighting pose ready to attack

Batman #81

Clayton Cowles (letterer), Tom King (writer), John Romita Jr. (artist), Klaus Jansen (inker), Tomey Morey (colorist), Mitch Gerads (artist/inker/colorist),
DC Comics
October 16, 2019

The thing about doing something that’s already been done before, is that in order to make it memorable, you have to make it not only different, but better.

The thing about doing something that’s already been done before, is that in order to make it memorable, you have to make it not only different, but better.

Cover for Batman #81 - Clayton Cowles (letterer), Tom King (writer), John Romita Jr. (artist), Klaus Jansen (inker), Tomey Morey (colorist), Mitch Gerads (artist/inker/colorist), DC Comics October 16, 2019 - Bane stands in front of Bane Symbol

This is something important to consider as we start to dive into the last few issues of Tom King’s run of Batman, and the last of the City Of Bane arc. It’s treading on ground that we’ve become very well acquainted with. In Knightfall, Bane broke Batman’s back which later inspired Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, where Bane takes over Gotham City with the help of a handful of other Batman Villains and leaves Bruce to nurse another broken back before he and Catwoman decide to take back a city that is theirs.

Are we starting to see the pattern here?

The original shift in King’s run was the idea that Batman broke Bruce down mentally, that he took his life and flipped it on its head. There was no physical breaking, only mental. Add in a pinch of Daddy Issues with Thomas Wayne dropping in from the multi-verse, and you have all the ingredients to make a world class Batman Arc. Which is why it’s so frustrating when it seems to continue to play it safe, play it vague, and tread on that old familiar stories that we’ve seen before.

Issue 81 gives us some great setup. Damian is able to call in (almost) all of the Bats to take over Wayne Manor and defeat Flashpoint Batman. There’s even a neat moment where they all debate whether or not to kill him to save Batman the torment of having to choose. Or do they want to give Bruce the choice and risk the guilt if he decides to commit patricide. It’s an interesting reminder that most of the Bat-Family actually don’t have an issue with killing. That its Bruce’s self-imposed rule and their respect for him that drives it.

I’ve actually missed the complexities of the Bat-Family dynamic. King has chosen to leave a lot of it out in his run, and its a dynamic that I think shines some great light into each character. However, it’s probably for the best after the second biggest revelation of Batman #81. That Batman supposedly would never hit his kids. When Selina questions him about hitting Tim Drake, he tells her that its a code word. A way for Tim to know that there’s a bigger plan, and to lay low.

To be honest, I don’t mind when writers take Bruce’s absolutely terrible parenting skills and retcon them. If Tom King decided to do away with the New 52, and Pre-Crisis kid slapping, victim blaming, all around terrible Bat-dad, I’d be fine with that. The issue is that the Rebirth canon absolutely has canon where Bruce hit his kids. After all, check out Red Hood and the Outlaws #28, where Bruce most certainly knocks the tar out of one of his children. This is made worse by the fact that its glossed over, like it somehow makes Selina not a culpable and enabling individual to Bruce’s abuse. By negating it happened, we don’t have to question Selina as a character, choosing to return to a man who can’t keep it together enough not to slap his own kids.

It was a whole lot of hamfisted explaining, and I really wish that the editing team had just avoided it altogether. The whole thing came across as one big gaslight. Not only to Selina, but to us as readers. If it was part of Bruce’s character development the same way it is with someone like Deathstroke, I wouldn’t have minded. Instead, it was used as a way to wave off a blatant gap in his character, and the whole thing just felt lazy, and ultimately perpetuates a really unhealthy narrative around child abuse, and what it means to actually be abusive.

Batman isn’t a good father, and I think ignoring that and pretending he’s this perfect figure for the sake of a romantic relationship isn’t really worthwhile story telling. I think taking the time to explore how much this entire train wreck has left Batman’s interpersonal relationship in shambles would be worthwhile. Instead, we get one page of explanation and we’re all supposed to nod like there isn’t other instances in canon where this simply isn’t true.

Hitting his kids aside, Batman and Selina take on Gotham and fight their way to Bane, while the Bat-Family gets taken down by Thomas Wayne.

The exchange that happens in the cave is one that sat with me for a while, and I went back and reread a few times. Very rarely in a comic book do I find that I am siding with the villain. This has been the exception. When Thomas tells the family that they’ve bought into Bruce’s sickness and asks, “What’s wrong with my son?” I was left holding the page thinking that I wanted to know what was wrong with Bruce too.

Batman #82

Clayton Cowles (letterer), Tom King (writer), Mikel Janin (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colorist),
DC Comics
November 6, 2019

In Batman #82 we have a showdown between Batman, Catwoman, and Bane. We get the repeated phrase that Batman is going to “break Bane’s back,” a callback that has been used so much in this run that it really feels like it’s lost its dramatic effect. Batman and Catwoman use Gotham Girl’s enhanced venom to poison Bane, and right when they are about to win, he barrels on.

Batman #82 Cover - Clayton Cowles (letterer), Tom King (writer), Mikel Janin (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), DC Comics November 6, 2019 Bane smahes Gotham city

It reminded me of the scene in Dark Knight Rises, right at the end when Bane and Batman are fighting in the streets of Gotham. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat and thinking “How the hell is Batman going to beat him?” How are the writers going to write themselves out of this predicament when we already know Bane is smarter, tougher, stronger. What followed was one of the biggest disappointments to that setup. Catwoman rides in on a motorcycle and shoots Bane, and he’s gone from the movie-verse forever.

In Batman #82, Thomas shoots both Bruce and Bane. Fight over. Problem solved. The entire setup just gets completed by a gun, and the whole thing feels like a lackluster wrap up.

I’m still interested in how Thomas engages with Bruce, in how the fight between two Bats goes for the next three issues. My only hope is that Thomas doesn’t die in some mundane accident, and that there’s actually some more meat to this story. So far, it feels like everything has been on the surface level. A hundred miles wide but only an inch deep, with each new added layer to the story.

I’m hopeful that the delivery of the last three issues will tie up the loose ends that King has created. But, I’m not at all sure that they’re going to be satisfying.

One thought on “Batman: Rebirth #81 & #82: Haven’t We Done This Before?

  1. I’ll also be interested to see how this story plays out. I was a pretty big fan of King’s run until the past two arcs or so — to the point where I switched from single issues to trade waiting because of how disjointed it felt. Maybe that sloppiness will make sense/be worth it when City of Bane wraps up, or maybe the Cat/Bat series will redeem it. I don’t know. In any case, at least for me, the new car smell has worn off of King’s work, and it’ll take some pretty phenomenal stuff to make up for that.

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