The cracks are showing in DC’s flagship Batman comic.
The current volume of Batman has been one of DC’s best monthly titles since it debuted back in spring 2016. Between writer Tom King’s deeply introspective approach to the Dark Knight and a rotating art team featuring some of the very best in the business, there’s a lot to love about the series. Unfortunately, it’s also a comic that can frustrate as often as enthrall readers, particularly those who follow it monthly rather than waiting for the trade paperback collections. The series’ current story arc, “Knightmares,” is proving to be an especially uncomfortable reminder of that fact.
Warning: spoilers for Batman ahead!
Currently, the series is exploring the fallout of Batman #50 and the revelation that Bane is quietly manipulating Bruce’s life from behind the scenes. In recent months, we’ve seen Bane orchestrate the collapse of Batman’s engagement to Catwoman, cause him to wrongfully target Mister Freeze for the murders of three women, nearly kill Nightwing and manipulate Batman into turning on Commissioner Gordon. Bane’s latest master stroke came at the end of Batman #60, where Bruce was confronted by a man who appears to be Thomas Wayne of the Flashpoint universe.
That’s a pretty huge cliffhanger. Weirdly, though, it’s now been three issues since Bruce came face-to-face with his father, and there’s been absolutely no resolution to that cliffhanger. Moving directly from Batman #60 to #61 is a jarring experience, to say the least. “Knightmares” has shifted the book’s focus in a new direction, delivering a series of standalone stories featuring guest stars like Professor Pyg and John Constantine. These stories have been perfectly decent on their own merits, but as a follow-up to one of the biggest plot twists in the book’s three-year lifespan, they’re serious momentum killers.
To be fair, Batman #63 offers some insight into how “Knightmares” ties back to that cliffhanger, suggesting that Batman is currently being subjected to Scarecrow’s fear gas and is suffering through one waking nightmare after another. But does that explanation justify the book’s current approach? Is it really necessary to spend eight full issues on what’s apparently a prolonged dream sequence? Making matters worse is that issues #64 and #65 will take yet another story detour so that writer Joshua Williamson can pen a Batman/Flash crossover tied to the events of Heroes in Crisis. At this point, “Knightmares” won’t be ending until April. That’s a long time to wait for the series to address a cliffhanger that happened at the beginning of December.
This situation is awkward and annoying for anyone who plunks down their $4 every two weeks expecting a purposeful, coherent story. And unfortunately, it speaks to a larger flaw with the book that’s become apparent over the past year. It’s easy to divide King’s Batman run into yearlong mega-arcs. The first year of the book focused on the meteoric rise and fall of Gotham Girl and the fallout of Batman’s efforts to save her. Year Two shifted focus to the renewed romance between Batman and Catwoman and the build-up to their wedding.
Batman’s third year doesn’t quite have that same sense of focus. While every recent storyline has in some way dealt with Bane’s psychological war on Batman, there hasn’t been nearly as much connective tissue as there was in the first 50 issues of the series. Characters and plot threads are picked up and then abandoned without warning. Dick Grayson was shot in the head and rendered an amnesiac in Batman #55, only for that story to be immediately shoved over to the pages of Nightwing’s solo series and all but forgotten.
There’s still a lot to like about Batman’s flagship comic. And the hope is that we’ll be able to look back on this period with more fondness once King’s story is complete and readers have the full context for what’s going on. Even so, there’s no denying that reading Batman isn’t quite as fulfilling an experience as it used to be.
Jesse is a mild-mannered writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter, or Kicksplode on MyIGN.