This bromance has turned sour.
Batman is rapidly becoming a series that rewards trade-waiters more than those following the book issue by issue. The current “Knightmares” storyline is already putting Batman readers in an awkward place, devoting no fewer than eight issues to a glorified hallucination sequence. And now that storyline is being drawn out even further as the series puts “Knightmares” on pause in favor of a new Batman/The Flash crossover. The timing is annoying, but at least writer Joshua Williamson is exploring a conflict that affects both heroes in meaningful ways.
Batman #64 is the first chapter in “The Price of Justice,” a story dovetailing from the events of Heroes in Crisis. Both Batman and The Flash are reeling from the death of Wally West. Because of that tragedy and Batman’s penchant for keeping secrets, the working relationship between the two isn’t quite as strong as it was during their last team-up in “The Button.” But they’ll be forced to bury the hatchet as they confront some unfinished business and reopen a cold case from the past.
There’s no denying that Batman #64 serves as a jarring transition for the series. It’s not just that this storyline picks up in the middle of another. There’s also the stark tonal difference. Joshua Williamson is a much different writer than Tom King. Where King’s work is moody and psychological, Williamson’s writing tends to have a more boisterous, Silver Age-inspired quality. Guest artist Guillem March is also a far different storyteller than the other artists who have worked on this book.
It’s enough to wonder if DC wouldn’t have been better off simply publishing The Price of Justice as a separate miniseries. Maybe that option was considered? The good news is that this story does forge a direct link to King’s Batman run by the end of this issue. Not only that, it picks up a loose thread that’s been left dangling for far too long. The timing is far from ideal, but this clearly isn’t a throwaway, space-filling crossover. I’d go so far as to say that Batman readers will be doing themselves a disservice if they skip over the crossover, tempting though it might be to save the $16.
Williamson succeeds where it matters most here, exploring the newly strained dynamic between the Dark Knight and the Scarlet Speedster. Batman is depicted as a weary, tortured soul, one suffering as much from his ordeals in this series as from his failures in Heroes in Crisis. In contrast, Barry is written as a calm, steadying presence, even as his rage over Wally’s death quietly seethes beneath the surface. Williamson further enhances that dynamic by flashing back to the heroes’ early days and a team-up adventure that also includes a younger Wally and Dick Grayson. DC Rebirth has made it abundantly clear just how much untapped potential there is in the Batman/Flash dynamic, and Williamson keeps that trend alive.
The strong characterization largely makes up for a fairly choppy narrative in this issue. For one thing, “The Price of Justice” awkwardly inserts itself into the middle of Heroes in Crisis. In Heroes in Crisis itself, the fallout of the Sanctuary massacre is depicted as an all-encompassing tragedy impacting all members of the superhero community. Here, there’s little sense of immediacy to that conflict. The various Justice League members are shown simply going about their business. For another, the transitions between scenes tend to be jarring, as Batman abruptly vanishes from a Justice League team-up and suddenly appears in Central City instead.
For as much as Guillem’s art is a major departure from what’s come before on this series, it does tend to suit the tone of Williamson’s script well. March’s work is equal parts superhero spectacle and brooding darkness. His characters are powerful and hulking almost to the point of cartoonishness. That can be a problem in certain scenes (such as with March’s bizarre depiction of a Wally West statue), but it also gives the book plenty of energy. March also taps into the somber, morose nature of this conflict,. His Batman is worn down and haggard, reflecting the weight of so many tragedies and failures. His Flash is sleek and confident, but with a subtle danger all his own.