I've had this percolating in my head for a while now, as evidenced by the fact that Batman #32 is already out. But it's yet another interlude issue in an event that has no steam and never will. Besides, #29 isn't just another bad issue, it nicely encapsulates what's been wrong with Tom King's run from the start.
The issue opens with Bruce Wayne hosting a dinner for the Riddler, the Joker, and their respective supporters. His goal is to broker some kind of peace to end the war raging throughout Gotham. The dinner is something his mother used to talk about.
It is, of course, ridiculous to think that any of the villains pictured here would join up with either the Joker or the Riddler. How does dinner even come about? Why would either side agree to it? Why would Bruce Wayne even think it would be a good idea?
At one point the Joker asks the Riddler about having to cut off someone's head while the person is still alive, to which the Riddler admits he's had to do. Then the Joker throws a knife at The Riddler, but he catches it between his palms, ninja style.
As with every other villain in the Bat universe since the Snyder/Tynion/King group took over, the Riddler has been reduced to just another psychopath. He's cutting people's heads off now? And since when does he have ninja skills? What the fuck is going on here?
What's going on is that King had an idea, a really good idea, if you think about it, but one which has little to do with Batman. And that's been the case for this entire series. It is filled with some really great ideas that are forced into a Batman shaped box. Nothing about the run has been organic.
The framing sequence in this issue is a solid idea. Using each course of this fancy pants meal to connect these moments is interesting. But it's the kind of thing that would work when the involved parties are trying to outwit each other. It's the kind of thing you'd expect to see Lex Luthor do with a couple of rivals. It makes no sense with these characters.
And that's the issue.
Look at the initial arc. The big idea: give Gotham Superman-level heroes. Okay, fine. But there's no reason to believe that would impact Batman at all. He's used to interacting with characters with powers like that. So what's the issue for him? That one of them dies and the other one is driven insane? We've just met these characters, so why are we upset by any of that? And, again, what does it have to do with Batman, aside from giving him a Supergirl he can call whenever he wants. Is that it? To make him look like he's using yet another person?
"I Am Suicide" isn't any better. This is clearly the "Batman's Suicide Squad" bit, which is fine, but his entire plan involving that Suicide Squad attacking Bane makes no goddamn sense.
First, it's dependent upon Bane not killing him. It's then dependent upon him un-breaking his own back, apparently. Then it's dependent upon Bane being stupid enough to trust Catwoman, which he does because...? Then the Ventriloquist is necessary to capture the Psycho Pirate by knocking him unconscious, something anyone could do just by sneaking up on him or throwing something at him, but it's not like anyone on the team is sneaky or anything.
The next big arc is the "I Am Bane" story. The idea here is pretty simple: Bane vs Batman. More specifically, the idea is that an overwhelming force is coming to Gotham and Batman has to prepare for it. This is the darkest hour, the biggest fight of Batman's life, or at least it's supposed to be. So naturally he tells his former Robins to leave town.
Aside from that point being debatable, Batman is awfully selective in who he protects and who he doesn't. He wants to protect his sidekicks, but what about his other allies? What about the people who helped him? Why, for example, is Gordon left out to dry?
And just what the hell is up with the end of Batman #16? Red Hood, Red Robin, and Nightwing are all hanging from nooses with blood running down their bodies. Even if you accept that they are actually still alive, why would they be? In the very next issue Batman says that they went after Bane. Why would he leave them alive?
This arc also introduces one of King's favorite Batman devices, the framing sequence. Here it's juxtaposing Bane's life with Bruce Wayne's. It's somehow supposed to convey that these two characters are similar or perhaps victims of circumstance, I'm not sure. It doesn't make their big fight any more compelling. What it does is go to the dead parents well yet again, something I'll address more in a bit.
After that Bane fights all of Batman's villains because Batman has freed them and armed them (Alfred's words) and for some reason they've all decided to just stay there and fight Bane as opposed to, say, escaping, because Batman told them he'd get them more conjugal visits or something.
We get another framing sequence when Bruce talks to his dead mother as he's facing off with Bane. Again, I'll get to this in a moment.
But first, let's talk about Kite Man.
It's not unusual for new writers of corporately owned superhero characters to dig up an obscure character to rework. It's something of a tradition, really, and I'm all for it. Kite Man's first real moment to shine comes in Batman #23, but he gets the spotlight in Batman #27, perhaps the most infuriating issue in an already infuriating run.
The "War of Jokes and Riddles" (ugh) is underway and Batman decides to force Charles Brown to be a spy for him. Brown used to work for the Joker, so Batman forces him to set up a meeting that, in theory, he can crash. But the Riddler captures Brown and forces him to reveal the location of the meeting. Then Batman shows up again and Brown tells him that the Riddler knows. And then the meeting happens and everyone shows up and there's a big fight and the Joker escapes with Brown. Brown eventually comes clean to the Joker.
The Joker then wires Brown with what Brown believes to be bombs and sends him to meet Batman. They are not really bombs, but Brown only discovers that after trying to set them off.
How does all of this end? Well, the Riddler poisons Brown's son to get back at him. His son dies. He dies because BATMAN FORCED HIS FATHER TO BE HIS SPY. Batman swears he'll bring the Riddler to justice, but that's it. There's no mention of what he did. The little boy is dead because of Batman. Period.
Batman's complete disregard for his role in the child's death is made worse by the fact that he was supposed to be protecting the boy while making the boy's father help him. Really, Batman? You couldn't find anyone else who'd ever worked for the Joker to help you? Maybe someone without a young son that would be vulnerable to attack?
Yet again, we have a Batman with a horrible, stupid plan. It's just made all the worse this time around because it results in the death of an innocent, yet Batman doesn't seem to care.
Yes, maybe this is the "very bad thing" that Batman did that Riddler attempts to hold over his head later, but it would still be a very bad thing even if Batman showed some remorse. And it's still a god awful plan.
Edit: It is NOT the "very bad thing" as #31 tells us. So there goes that.
Young boys do not fare well in this series, be it Brown's son, the emotionally young Gotham, Batman's many sidekicks, young Bane, or Batman himself. I understand why this would be a source of emotional turmoil for a parent; it's something I can't even bring myself to write about now that I have a son. The problem is that there's little emotional resonance, with either these stories about bad things befalling young boys or anyone else in this series.
This is because the stories aren't organic to the character. But in an effort to make them organic, to form some kind of emotional connective tissue, King regularly goes to the dead parents well. At one point I counted it up and the Waynes had been mentioned in over half of this Batman run so far. I understand that his parents' deaths were the pivotal moment in Bruce's life, but not every story is about them, nor should they be. But what's the easiest, clearest way to make a story that seems to have little to do with Batman, a Batman story? Bring in his dead parents.
There are some great stories being told in this Batman run, the problem is that none of them are about Batman and, worse, don't fit Batman's world. It's jarring to read, in part because you can tell there's something good here, yet it's not working. And it's not working because these are stories that should be told elsewhere.
King is one of my favorite current writers. I honestly can't believe Marvel hasn't collected The Vision into a single, hardcover collection, just as I can't believe that DC hasn't collected Omega Men into a single, hardcover collection. And that Grayson omnibus almost makes me reconsider my hatred of the omnibus format. Almost.
But the current Batman book is not good.
Perhaps, though, it's necessary. As long as King is making money on a big IP, he can afford to write books like the aforementioned Vision and Omega Men or the Babylon books.
It's probably a fair trade.