Much has been said about the different takes on Batman we’ve seen over the years, not in the sense of alternate Universes and fractured timelines, but distinct personality quirks and common traits that can be grouped into different eras of DC Comics storytelling. The idea that Batman has lived several “lives” since his creation is one legendary writer Grant Morrison brought to its next logical step during his long tenure on the series, adding a darker, more modern flair to the bizarre themes common to Silver Age Batman stories. In short, there are several Batman stories that fit two molds: dark or campy.
What isn’t often talked about is the elements that make up a Batman story itself, beyond just tone. The character is known as both the World’s Greatest Detective and the Dark Knight, and how much of either identity a writer chooses to tap into directly dictates what kind of story can be told. Though great intelligence and skills of deduction are important to the character overall, it isn’t essential to call on these traits for every issue, and plenty of writers have managed to craft a beautiful Batman tale with nothing but dope fight scenes and relationship drama. Enter BATMAN #38: a one-and-done story which is surprisingly unengaging given the reputation of writer Tom King.
I’ll emphasize this: King is good at his job, having written the acclaimed OMEGA MEN series a few years back, and co-writing the monumentally successful GRAYSON, his ability to make a good story is hard to question, this just isn’t one of those stories. To start, the thing opens with a creepy kid, and I mean original 1976 Richard Donner-directed The Omen creepy, talking to Bruce Wayne about his problems. It’s clear from the start that this kid is obsessed with Wayne and King’s first attempt at misdirection doesn’t do much to dissuade the reader in thinking this kid wants to be Bruce. His parents are dead, he’s rich and he likes being called Master Bruce by his butler “as a joke.” The best mysteries give subtle clues, but this issue throws them in your face from the start.
From that point, Batman goes off to track a criminal who has been killing parents in Gotham. Dead parents have become such a common thing in Batman-friendly spaces on the Internet that I can only imagine King is poking fun at it for this issue, though that makes the misdirection vital to any good mystery harder to pull off given the first suspect we’re introduced to is already a fun house mirror version of a young Bruce Wayne. With a less obvious culprit, the conclusion may have come together a bit nicer, but the creepy kid turning out just as creepy as he seems at first causes the storytelling to fall flat.
On the flip side, the issue’s visual element, provided by Travis Moore, is everything the story fails to be: namely clean and well put together. Moore’s fluid anatomy and expressions that are both stylized and believable bring to mind the work of Brian Bolland, a good thing for any DC book. There’s a noticeable lack of variety to what Moore does with his panels, though it’s possible that’s due at least in part to King’s script. The emphasis on facial close-ups and repeated panels certainly seems indicative of a script with specific visual instructions, though it’s hard to know for sure.
If you’re following this book monthly, you can pick back up next month and not miss anything. As a single, isolated story, BATMAN #38 doesn’t stack up to King’s previous issues, or much else of the Batman stuff released recently. That isn’t any reason to shy away from an otherwise solid run thus far, and if you aren’t following the series already, it’s easy to recommend everything before this month as something to binge-read before the kids go back to school.
(W) Tom King (A) Travis Moore (CA) Tim Sale