Is Batman #48 Tom King’s darkest comic?
Coming off the DC Nation Issue #0, the Joker’s nihilistically perverse will-he-or-won’t-he killing of a poor random man in his home. Coming off the painfully deconstructionist, worst case scenario Booster Gold The Gift arc on the main batman book. A book that is already so filled with suicide and death (the whole I Am Suicide arc just… it’s right there in the name).
You would think MAYBE he’d lighten things up. There’s a wedding coming up!
The Cat and Bat back and forth has been one of the little contrasting joys. Check out the Annual #2 where they live long and happy together, surrounded at their end by the people they love and raised together.
(Also the Rooftops mini arc is waiting for you if you want to get caught up on/relive the decades of in canon romance)
That this happy ending story plays out in the Annual does not bode well for the canon events that are to come. It seems, the worst has already started in #48.
There are a couple moments that break the comic a little bit. The Joker talking about Augustine??? But they can be forgiven, Tom is talking to us in some ways through the comic and doing all that writely stuff that writers do. Giving us just a little bit more, something new and something stranger than what’s come before though definitely, definitely as dark.
King’s Joker made more sense in his previous defining boundary push, The War of Jokes and Riddles. The Joker abstains, he’s restrained, he’s not laughing and not killing and it’s like a candle has gone out. The Riddler we learn is trying to relight that candle. What’s the joke that makes this guy laugh, what’s his character germ, what will get him going again. There’s a lot of horror in that little run, a lot of terrible stuff that echo Tom King’s other work with the topic of War.
In those final issues, Riddler fails to feed his devil but the devil finally laughs. It’s not the Kite man thing that makes Joker laugh, it’s not the lengths that the Riddler goes to that moves him. The Joker is wilder, worse and even those surreptitious events aren’t quite as random as his chaotic soul.
It’s that Riddler’s quest itself, the perversity of it makes Batman understand that in war someone does deserve to die and it’s 100% Riddler who poisoned a kid to make his big Kite Man joke work. Batman breaks his rule, tries to kill Riddler and the worst man in the world stops him. That their roles, however momentarily are reversed and some semblance of equality is attained. That even within the worst there is this potential for a single “good” restraining act and in the best most self controlled, the potential to lose control (although for a right/just reason).
This is all very interesting and I picked up on what King was trying to do with Joker. He’s random! He kills indiscriminately! He’s the devil or worse because he cannot be predicted!
But reiterating it seems a bit much. At least now with #48 and DC Nation #0, I have the clearest textual examples of this randomness and malice punctuated by moments of nonsense and weird moral clarity. The moral clarity bit is something I understand intellectually, if something is truly random, a broken clock may eventually tell the right time or whatever. It’s just not exactly satisfying and like I said earlier risks breaking the character.
#49 and however long this arc goes promises to at least resolve something with the Joker. All I can ask for at this point is for these no-win situations to end. The least interesting thing to me in the world is watching Batman show up late to a massacre AGAIN which has happened multiple times at this point and like I’ve said, more interestingly in Jokes and Riddles.
It doesn’t help that the massacre in #48 is in a church and the victims are black, giving it a timeliness that is more unsettling than King’s use of 9/11 imagery which he has more of a personal history with. I can definitely see how this could be seen as exploitative. Where the 9/11 pull all the way back in his first issue shows that Batman’s world is actually better in a way than ours because Batman sacrifices himself to stop that possible Gotham 9/11, this just feels… wrong. It feels wrong to do the bad thing we have actually seen in our actual human lives again on the page. I get what he’s saying with this issue and I get the character but the question becomes… how much of this do we really need?