A new storm is brewing in Gotham.
It’s become abundantly clear that we’ve arrived at the stage of Tom King’s Batman run where things will just keep getting worse for the Dark Knight month after month. We’ve already seen his fleeting chance at happiness with Catwoman crumble into dust and Batman almost condemn Mister Freeze to a wrongful death. You might think Nightwing’s lingering presence in the series would bring a dose of light into Batman’s murky world, but that’s clearly not the case as King and Tony Daniel begin their next collaboration.
This new issue is very much about the clash between light and dark. On one hand, you have Nightwing enjoying a little one-sided banter with his old chum as he pulls out all the stops to lift Bruce out of his perpetual funk. On the other, the return of KGBeast brings with it a newfound foreboding quality to the book. This issue is very effective in its efforts to play these two parallel storylines against one another. Even as Nightwing’s playful jousting recalls a more innocent time for the Bat-franchise, KGBeast’s actions leave the reader questioning what new disaster is about to unfold in Gotham. King made his name at DC writing Grayson, and it’s been a treat to see him reconnect with the character in classic Nightwing mode on this book.
Tony Daniel has been an almost constant presence in the Batman franchise over the past decade, but his work proves especially appealing here. Daniel always seems to be at his best when paired with more cerebral Bat-writers like King or Grant Morrison. That’s a little strange considering how sleek and flashy Daniel’s style tends to be. It mostly comes down to page design. King’s script seems to push Daniel to be his best and most clear as a storyteller. This issue is marked by the constant interplay between the Batman/Nightwing scenes, which focus on large splash images, and the KGBeast scenes, which revert to the traditional nine-panel grid of which King is so fond. That back-and-forth creates a unique energy that propels the book along. There are some annoying cases where Daniel’s odd, distorted facial work weighs down certain panels, but for the most part this is a well-executed story.
It’s also worth noting how much this issue takes advantage of the return to Batman’s Hush-era costume. One page even features a direct homage to an iconic Jim Lee page from the Hush storyline. This book really does read like a return to early-2000’s DC Comics in more ways than one.
My main concern with this issue has less to do with the book itself than its ramifications for the larger Batman line. The major twist in Batman #55 arguably ranks as the most significant development in King’s run to date. And while it’s easy to see what purpose it serves in the context of Kings 100-issue saga, I’m less convinced it’s a great move as far as the rest of the franchise is concerned. It’ll be up to other creators to make the most of this latest plot twist and justify the latest big shake-up in Gotham City.