This review contains minor spoilers.
It’s no secret that I thought Batman #15 was one of the weakest Dark Knight books I’ve read. Consequently, I felt ambivalence to what the first installment of “I Am Bane” would bring. Part of me remembered all the false starts from before, while the other side prayed for Tom King to deliver a truly sensational Batman story. Well, the gods have listened: Batman #16 is the issue we need and deserve.
Batman requires five days to reverse the effects of what Psycho-Pirate did to Gotham Girl (remember her?). However, Bane is coming for the Bat (hopefully wearing pants this time), and no one is safe from his wrath. Deciding to fight his foe alone, Bruce tells Dick Grayson, Damian Wayne, Jason Todd and Duke Thomas to leave the city. He says he needs to save Gotham Girl and he won’t sacrifice anyone else after Tim Drake’s death. Naturally, some of his partners listen, while the others, eh, not so much.
Encountering Catwoman on the GCPD rooftop, Batman informs her of the danger due to her involvement in Santa Prisca. She responds in typical fashion by saying she’ll still be there when he needs her. Jim Gordon and his men interrupt the heart to heart, however, and Catwoman escapes into the night. In the final act, Alfred and Bruce help Gotham Girl down to the Batcave where an unexpected shock awaits them.
From a pacing point-of-view, King absolutely nails it. Time is against the Batman, with Bane’s arrival in Gotham City imminent, and it’s a recurring theme throughout. There’s a sense of panic as Batman rushes to protect everyone he cares for and King captures this genuine anxiety. You feel the impending dread deep in your stomach, and know this will prove to be one of Batman’s biggest tests.
Another impressive aspect of this issue is King’s characterizations. Not only does he embrace the youthfulness of the Batman’s partners, but he also revitalizes Bane as a serious threat. The Santa Prisca native isn’t just another villain here; he’s painted out to be a real monster. While he’s never shown, we know he’s there in the shadows, watching and waiting to strike. There’s a renewed level of menace to this character that we haven’t seen since Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench created him. It’s still early days, but “I Am Bane” already has the potential to become one of the character’s definitive stories.
With the return of David Finch to the art department, King has his old partner in crime back, and what a comeback it is. His initial run on the series might’ve been good – but this time, it’s great. Even though the action is low in this issue, he still manages to showcase the emotional conflict with his impressive artwork.
Now to the bad. If I can find any criticism, it’s the one glaring plot hole I can’t ignore: Catwoman. In “Rooftops,” Batman was determined to hand her over to the police, but she escaped. Now, he has another opportunity to do so, and lets her escape again. Yes, he cares for Selina and yes, he doesn’t want Bane to hurt her, but wouldn’t the world’s greatest detective think of this beforehand? It’s a bit of a head-scratcher, really.
Catwoman aside, Batman #16 is the course correction that this series required. The ending, in particular, sent shivers down my spine in the same way that “Death of the Family” did. Let’s hope the whole arc delivers like this issue did.
It's terrific. Batman #16 is the issue we've wanted Tom King to deliver since day one.