Batman lets his fists do the talking.
More than ever, Batman seems like a comic better read in collected form than on an issue-by-issue basis. The most recent story arc was a major slog, featuring chapter after chapter of slow-paced examinations of Batman’s personal nightmares. While some of those individual issues were fantastic, the cumulative effect of so many introspective, plot-light stories in a row was numbing. The hope was that the series might finally regain some of its lost momentum with the transition to this new arc, “The Fall and the Fallen.” Unfortunately, for all that this issue gets right, it’s still a very slow burn for Bat-fans.
Having spent the entire previous arc trapped in a torture device and subjected to Scarecrow’s fear toxin, Batman is finally free. But he’s still trapped inside Arkham Asylum along with nearly every villain he’s ever put away. This issue follows the Caped Crusader as he battles his way back to the outside world, one bad guy at a time.
That approach hardly gives the series the momentum boost it needs, but it succeeds in other areas. There’s a definite visceral satisfaction to this story. After seeing Batman suffer defeat after defeat for much of the past year, it’s a nice change to see him stop wallowing in misery and beat the stuffing out of Riddler, Two-Face and the rest. There’s an especially satisfying scene where Batman turns the tables on Scarecrow and reminds the good doctor who the true master of fear is. Writer Tom King draws clear parallels to the “I Am Bane” arc from 2017. In that case it was Bane plowing his way through Arkham prisoners in pursuit of Batman, but the theme is the same is both cases. No matter how much you knock down the Dark Knight, he never stops.
The other key difference is that there’s an intentionally hollow quality to Batman’s moment of triumph. As much as he boasts that Bane’s plot failed, it’s all too apparent that there’s far more psychological torment coming Batman’s way. He failed to see the scope of Bane’s plans before, and it’s a safe bet he’s still underestimating his opponent now. For all we know, Batman is still trapped within Bane’s machine and only believes himself to be free.
The artwork alone subtly raises this question. This issue is shared between series veterans Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes. Fornes briefly opens the issue as he delivers a montage of images from Batman’s nightmares, with the reins abruptly shifting to Janin as Batman emerges from his forced slumber. This is a case where having multiple artists actually enhances the flow of the story. Janin then follows Batman’s romp through Arkham with relentless intensity. His muscular figures convey the action well, even as his surreal storytelling and dramatic angles add their own psychedelic flair. The Scarecrow sequence makes particularly strong use of this combination.
Then, late in the issue, the art suddenly shifts back to Fornes. This initially seems like an unfortunate misstep for the issue. Fornes and Janin have very different styles, and the transition from one to the other is jarring without any narrative justification. But can we assume there is no justification? Did Janin simply run out of time and need assistance finishing this issue, or is Fornes’ return a sign that readers shouldn’t be taking Batman’s current predicament at face value? The Dark Knight may be no closer to escaping his nightmares now than he was in the previous arc. That thought is both intriguing and exhausting.