Batman is losing the war against Bane.
In their first major encounter, Bane’s mistake was to think Batman could be broken physically. As the Dark Knight has reminded his nemesis time and again, he’ll just keep getting back up. The entirety of Tom King’s Batman run has been about Bane’s attempt to break Batman psychologically instead. And thus far, he’s been doing a pretty thorough job of it. Issue #71’s great accomplishment is not just in sending Batman further into a spiral of despair, but in forcing readers to question his sanity just as his friends are.
This issue employs the same parallel narrative technique that has cropped up in many key chapters of the series. In the past, we see Batman regrouping after his escape from Arkham and attempting to rally his allies against Bane. In the present, we see a weary, defeated Batman preparing to meet with Bane and his own father inside Wayne Manor. What exactly transpired between those two points isn’t revealed until the end, but it’s another big step in Bane’s plot to break the Bat.
From start to finish, this issue’s clever structure is its greatest asset. The twin storylines steadily alternate pages, often mirroring each other as the two paths begin to converge. And never is the plot choppy and difficult to follow. If anything, seeing the two timelines unfold concurrently enhances the experiences. Even as we see Batman attempt to rally the troops and bounce back, we see concrete proof that his efforts will be for naught. It adds a sense of doom and gloom to the story.
Artists Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes are instrumental in maintaining that balance between the two stories. Each strikes a unique mood and tone. Janin captures the Bat-family at their most powerful and heroic, even as as they gather to confront an enemy that’s already outplayed them. Fornes’ style is much more grim and foreboding. He, by comparison, renders Batman at his most human and vulnerable. As much as Fornes has stood out because of his ability to replicate the look and feel of David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One art, this issue is a welcome reminder that he brings other strengths to bear. Seeing Batman fail carries that much more weight when Fornes is able to cut through the usual superhero spectacle and find the man beneath the costume.
It’s also interesting to note that previous issues employed Janin and Fornes in a different way, with Fornes rendering Batman’s nightmares and Janin handling the real-world sequences. That alone would be enough to call into question just how much of this story is actually taking place in the real DCU versus Batman’s own mind. But the plot of this issue raises further doubts about Bruce’s own sanity. Bane’s plan involves tormenting Batman with the knowledge that his enemy is right in front of him, even as no one in Batman’s circle believes him. This issue doubles down on that sense of turmoil by forcing even the reader to question if Batman can be believed.
Given how much the series has dealt with Bruce Wayne’s history of mental illness and inability to find happiness, is it possible that this entire Bane conflict is simply the result of Batman’s psychotic break? Probably not, but we can no longer be sure. And that’s the point. After all that Batman has weathered physically, his mind is becoming his own worst enemy.