The Knightmare grows deeper.
It’s easy to grow frustrated with some of the publishing and storytelling decisions on this series, whether it’s the callous way Nightwing was treated late last year or the fact that the already overlong “Knightmares” story arc was further delayed by last month’s Flash crossover. But when Batman fires on all cylinders, it’s easily among the best books on the stands. Issue #65 is one more welcome reminder of that fact.
Granted, Batman #65 does little to shake up the formula established by previous chapters of “Knightmares.” Batman is still trapped in a psychedelic nightmare world with little hope of escape. He continues to project his own thoughts and fears into constructs based on people close to him. In this case, Batman ruminates on his failed marriage to Catwoman by putting himself into the role of that great superhero investigator, The Question. The result being that this issue manages to be a story entirely about the psychology of Batman even as it only indirectly features the Dark Knight.
Despite the fact that she’s a figment of Batman’s Scarecrow-addled imagination, it’s great having Catwoman back at the forefront of the series. Writer Tom King has often said this entire series is meant to be an exploration of the Batman/Catwoman dynamic, and it’s easy to forget that fact when she vanishes from the spotlight for months at a time. This issue directly hearkens back to previous Bruce/Selina tales as it tackles that oft-recurring question, “Can Bruce Wayne be happy and still be Batman?”. Before, Bruce’s fear was always that the answer is no. But after months of psychological torment, he’s now forced to admit that being alone hasn’t made him stronger. Quite the opposite, in fact.
As he so often has in the past, King really nails the heartfelt yet tragically doomed nature of the Batman/Catwoman romance. This issue again celebrates the history of that romance and contrasts Bruce’s Golden Age-inspired memory of their first meeting with Selina’s Year One-style accounting of events. Even if this issue brings us no closer to a resolution of the current story, the prose is haunting and emotionally affecting.
This issue also proves to be a perfect match for guest artist Jorge Fornes. Fornes’ style is almost a dead-ringer for that of Year One artist David Mazzucchelli. That’s no simple feat, nor is it small praise. Fornes and colorist Dave Stewart bring a moody, noir-flavored spice to the series. The heavy blacks and stark lighting of the “flashback” scenes create a very striking effect. The “present day” scenes featuring Vic Sage interrogating Selina Kyle stand in direct contrast to that material. They have a bleached, sterile quality that places full emphasis on the two figures rather than their surroundings. The skewed angles and slightly off-kilter framing of their conversation subtly hint at a hero fighting to maintain his own loosening grip on sanity.
There is a part of me that wishes Vic Sage were more than a mouthpiece for Batman himself in this story. This is a character who hasn’t really appeared in his traditional form in quite a while, and it’s hard not to wonder what King and Fornes could do with a full-blown Question story. But in the context of the story the two are telling, the faceless Mr. Sage fulfills his purpose.