Review – Batman #23 (DC Comics)

Publisher: DC Comics
Story: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
Release Date: 17th May 2017

For a writer I named as my “Best of 2016”, Tom King’s Batman run has been a little inconsistent at times.  Every so often, however, King will crank out a Sheriff of Babylon or Vision-esque gem, gently reminding us that he’s unquestionably one of the sharpest writing minds in the business today.  And, this stand-alone issue, which sees him reunited with Sheriff of Babylon co-creator Mitch Gerads for a story brilliantly titled “The Brave and the Mold”, is most definitely one of those gems.

The story sees Swamp Thing travelling to Gotham City to assist Batman in solving a murder case that has a close personal significance to him, and features a refreshingly grounded approach to the storytelling by King.  This feels very much like an old-school Batman comic, with the ‘World’s Greatest Detective’ living up to that moniker as he shakes down leads and analyses clues with his finely honed intellect.  Rather than the punchy, gadget-enhanced ‘action hero’ he frequently becomes, this is a thoughtful, restrained Batman doing what he does better than anyone else in the DC Universe, and the fact that he’s doing it alongside Swamp Thing – perhaps my favourite comic character of all time – only serves to sweeten the deal.

It’s not all serious detective work, though.  There are moments of genuine humour here, from Jim Gordon’s shocked reaction to Swampy appearing from a lump of mould in a Gotham apartment to an indignant Alfred sweeping up leaves in Wayne Manor, but King never strays too far from the gravity of the situation as our two heroes’ investigation unfolds.  The action is kept to a minimum, with the narrative flow of the investigation and the interactions between Batman and Swamp Thing pushing the story forwards, leading us to our somewhat inevitable – yet still undeniably shocking – conclusion.

More than anything else though, this issue serves to highlight the stark difference between Batman and Swamp Thing as characters.  Yes, they’re both intelligent and principled, but – as the latter stages of the issue emphatically confirm – they have very, very different ways of dealing with grief and their subsequent desire for vengeance.  And while Swamp Thing’s shocking actions may initially seem a little out of character, his philosophical speech earlier in the issue about life and death all being rooted in a sense of change gives them a deeper context – a context that also plays into the struggle Batman currently is enduring following the events of “The Button”.

So yes, King’s writing is unquestionably back to its world-class level here, but it’s the artwork of Mitch Gerads that really makes this issue sing.  The sharp contrast between the hulking, fantastical Swamp Thing and the gritty realism of Gotham City works beautifully, and Gerads does a fantastic job of nailing the comedic beats mentioned above, whether it’s a deadpan non-reaction from Batman, or even the faintest of smiles on the face of the Dark Knight.  Gerads is clearly firing on all cylinders here, and you can practically feel his enthusiasm at being able to play in this particular toy box one more time.

The issue also features several ‘gradual progression’ sequences, where the same image is repeated, changing slightly from panel to panel, such as the moment where Swamp Thing emerges from the mold or the duo’s conversation in the Batcave.  Gerads handles these transitions masterfully, giving the issue a feeling of being almost animated at times, and lending some added impact to an already visually striking issue.

This is a story about fathers and sons, vengeance and justice, life and death, and it’s unquestionably one of the best single issues of a Batman comic I’ve read in a long, long time. This is the Batman I want to see, this is the Swamp Thing I want to see, and this is the creative partnership I want to see working together time and time again.  A fantastic issue from two creators who seem custom-made to collaborate with one another, and one deserving of my highest possible recommendation.

Rating: 5/5.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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