This review contains minor spoilers.
As the world celebrates the fun, silly side of Batman in The LEGO Batman Movie, it’s good to see DC hasn’t gotten carried away with it in the main series. While I love the Brick Knight as much as the next guy, I like Batman like my coffee: black and without Michael Cera. So, yes, I’d like the comics to reflect this preference as well. Tom King might’ve taken 16 issues to find this sweet spot, but “I Am Bane” looks like the real deal.
Like the previous issue, Batman #17 is a thrilling humdinger. Time is against the Dark Knight, as he tries to protect all those he holds dear while helping Gotham Girl. Despite his attempts to plan for every possibility and outcome, Bane is always one step ahead of him. It’s a refreshing change to the usual narrative where Batsy is the smartest person in the room – and also cements Bane as his most cerebral opponent. A high-pressure game of mental chess is taking place between hero and villain, with the latter coming out on top so far, and it’s riveting to behold. With so much at stake, however, you have to wonder how many casualties this storyline will claim.
Once again, King does a terrific job of keeping Bane out of the panels. You know he’s there and you sense his presence, but you only see the hulking menace at the end. While it’s a common technique associated with psychological horror films, it’s highly effective in the comic world as well. You’ll see Bane’s destruction and mind games, but his grand entrance is reserved for the big showdown with the Bat.
A couple of reviewers criticized David Finch’s artwork in the last issue – particularly how you couldn’t tell the difference between Dick and Jason’s faces. Thinking back, I see the legitimacy of the concern; without the dialogue, it’s difficult to identify individuals. Fortunately, this issue relies more on masked heroes, so we don’t have to guess who’s who in the book. In fact, the art team – especially colorist Jordie Bellaire – deserves credit for capturing the brooding danger of Gotham so powerfully. At times it feels like we’re reading something out of Christopher Nolan’s playbook, with the silhouettes and shadows telling us another subplot altogether.
The most confusing aspect of the story is the status of Dick, Jason and Damian. In the last page of Batman #16, we see the three (or three of Bane’s henchman) hanging in the Batcave. Batman takes them in chambers to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, saying they took on Bane once but won’t survive the next time. Does that mean it was actually them hanging in the Batcave after all, then? If so, what happened to them? I get the whole ‘show, don’t tell’ thing, but there’s critical information missing here. Hopefully, it’s addressed in the forthcoming issues.
All in all, Batman #17 builds on the good work of the first part of “I Am Bane.” There are no Batburgers, Robin banter or awkward Bat-Cat chit-chats; this is a pure thriller. It’s tonally consistent and as dark as David Fincher’s Seven, which bodes extremely well for fans of the gloomier Caped Crusader. Let the rest of the Rebirth universe be shiny and Smurfy, while Batman broods and fights for Gotham’s soul.
Cerebral and darker than the blackest coffee, Batman #17 could've been straight from the mind of David Fincher.