HBO’s Watchmen, DC Comics’ Doomsday Clock, and even an entire Star Wars trilogy delivered their final installments this week. But there’s one more that needs to be added to the list, and it’s a more than fitting ending to one of the great sagas of modern comics.
Tom King, known as the author of Mister Miracle and The Vision, ended the three year run with the Batman # 85 this week. In addition to resolving Batman’s long-standing conflict with arch villains Bane and a Batman from another universe, the issue gave an insight into the future of the crusader in 2020. Since May 2016, Tom King and his fellow artists (including Mikel Janin, Mitch Gerads, Clay Mann, Joëlle Jones and others) created DC Comics’ flagship Batman title. With issue 85 they finally answer the question: Can Batman be happy and still be Batman?
(Ed. Note: This piece contains spoilers for Batman # 85.)
Tom King, MIkel Janín / DC Comics
The matter itself is embedded in a frame device that clearly takes place after Batman’s struggle with his father is resolved from another timeline. Bruce Wayne stopped in a pub in Gotham City to see the end of a soccer game in his hometown. There he talks to another soccer fan who happens to be Chuck Brown, also known as Kite-Man. The bar happens to be that of Porky, which won the Batman / Elmer Fudd Special in the King’s Eisner Award for the first time. It is a one-shot comic with noir.
This is the first of many recalls to earlier episodes of Kings Run, and they put a tongue to their cheeks as Bruce and Chuck discuss the game. The result is very close and Chuck is certain that the Knights will be defeated again.
“I’ll tell you,” he says, “with this guy at the top. It’s just pain and misery all the way.”
The line feels like a self-deprecating remark about King’s own preference for getting his characters through the emotional alarm clock, be it in Batman, Mister Miracle or Heroes in Crisis. But Bruce stays on the side of hope.
Since King and his artist collaborators continued Batman’s core comic book titles from the legendary duo of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo (who himself took an equally legendary twist in the book by Grant Morrison), he has realized what he wanted to achieve. He wanted to find a way for Batman to be happy – for the Caped Crusader to work beyond the trauma that shaped him and still choose to be Batman.
Batman # 85 emphasizes this point in the hero’s final confrontation with Thomas Wayne. The older, alternate universe Wayne became the Batman of his own timeline, and since learning about regular Batman, he has been obsessed with proving to Bruce that being a Batman is a curse; All in the name to show your son how to be happy.
“Life is not a trap you make when you are ten and injured,” Bruce says to his non-father in Batman # 85. “Life is a decision you make every day. Every damn day. I choose (Catwoman). I choose happiness. I choose family. And I choose Batman. ”
Tom King, Mikel Janin / DC Comics
Speaking of Catwoman, Batman # 85, also resolves the most controversial issue of Kings Run, Batman’s and Catwoman’s wedding – a much-vaunted comic event until the New York Times spoiled the whole phrase three days before its release. After a supervillain crept into her thoughts, Catwoman left Batman at the altar.
Since then Bruce and Selina have reunited in pairs and they have an upcoming mini series from King and his partner in Heroes in Crisis, Clay Mann. Batman # 85 puts a button in their relationship: they don’t have to formalize it, but they agree that they are together forever.
And there are other pointers to the future in comics. After the edition itself ends, we get three pages from writer James Tynion IV and artist Guillem March teasing their upcoming Batman run. Tynion and March seem to be taking a dusty old Chekov pistol from the mantelpiece. We bring back the idea that Snyder and Capullo introduced in their Batman that the Joker knows that Batman is Bruce Wayne.
This story will begin in January in Batman # 86, but # 85 is an example of King’s stronger work. As a critic and Batman fan, I found his run fascinating and entertaining in many places – bloated and overbearing in other places – but he always challenged me. Batman # 85 reminded me of the good times of the past and promised to do a little more in the future.