By Tom King, David Finch & Jordie Bellaire
As with many of DC’s Rebirth one-shots, Batman Rebirth was a bit of an odd combo. Credited to both departing writer Scott Snyder and his replacement Tom King, it felt much more like a postscript to Snyder’s time on the title than a glimpse of the future. Nothing technically wrong with any of it, yet, nothing really fresh about it either. Fans wanting a sense of where King would be taking the series were left wanting. They did not, however, need to wait long. On Wednesday, DC unveiled Batman #1 the first issue with King as solo writer. If the goal of Rebirth is bringing in new readers, this is the issue for them and longtime fans alike: a fast-paced story full of good character beats.
After a brief opening page on a plane flying into Gotham, the narrative plunges into the meat of the story. Commissioner Gordon and Batman are having one of their usual chats on the roof of police headquarters. Gordon is explaining how his officers were able to recover two out of three surface to air missiles stolen from the army. The third remains at large. Then, as if on cue, it strikes, hitting that before mentioned airplane as it is cruising over the city. Immediately Gordon snaps to action, only to find that The Caped Crusader already gone (i.e. is at least two steps ahead of him).
From this moment forward the story hurtles forward at an accelerated speed. Batman tries calling in the Justice League but, in one of King’s great light-humor touches, only receives back automated responses saying they are unavailable. Still he is the Batman and he will protect his city. Thus, he does what he always does, which is defy the odds, as well as the limits of physical stamina in order to save as many lives as possible. He barely blinks when he realizes that his very own life may be at stake. He merely pauses a moment to ask Alfred if his parents would have been proud of him. Then the twist arrives, laying the groundwork for King’s larger narrative.
While the idea of Batman wrangling a downed jet might sound elaborate, it is employed by King as a very archetypical story, which works in the issue’s favor. King has spoken of his conception of Batman as a hard-fighting hero, who is on the side of good against the bullies of the world. That comes through here in his presentation of The Dark Knight as a determined man of action. King also demonstrates a good knack for the other characters in Batman’s orbit. Gordon’s sometimes frustration with his ally adds a sprinkling of humor to the story (“I love this whole roof thing we got. But . . . I wish you’d just give me your damned phone number”). Alfred is not quite as prickly as he is sometimes depicted, instead devotedly guiding Master Bruce each step of the way. No matter what complaints he may have made in the past, this is an Alfred who fully believes in the Batman’s mission. Even Duke, the newest addition to Batman’s family, makes an impression in his brief appearance. When Batman first asks for assistance, Duke is thrilled volunteering to don his costume even though his training is not complete—oh wait, Batman just needs him to run some numbers for him on the computer. Duke allows a hint of disappointed to slip out, before doing just what Batman asks of him. As a result, he does play a vital role in saving the lives of many.
Art for the issue is provided by David Finch. The story plays to Finch’s strengths in depicting rapid action. There is a dynamic full page image of Batman diving off a roof, followed by his gradually slowing landing. Finch keeps the action moving. He is less apt at the more character based scenes; his faces can be a bit too sketchy at times. For her part, Jordie Bellaire fills the comic with dark tones of night, highlighted by the flaming orange of the plane’s burning engine. The new purple lining to Batman’s cape is still a little off-putting, though, that design detail is hardly Bellaire’s fault.
All in all, this was an excellent introductory issue to King’s run. King is one of the strongest new voices to emerge in the past year, as demonstrated in outstanding series such as Omega Men, Sheriff of Babylon and The Vision. Batman #1 represents a big new step in his career and the initial chapter indicates that he is more than ready for it.