12 Angry (Bat)Men.
It’s satisfying knowing that writer Tom King is just beginning the second half of his already massive Batman run. There’s certainly plenty of ground to cover in the aftermath of Batman #50. Issue #51 starts relatively small, exploring Bruce Wayne’s current emotional state of mind and finally inducting another major Bat-rogue into the fold. The result is a low-key but appropriately moody story that sets the tone for the next phase of the series.
Warning: this review references the events of Batman #50!
Readers definitely need to keep their expectations in check where Mister Freeze is concerned, however. King and artist Lee Weeks clearly aren’t setting out to tell the next great Victor Fries story. The villain is more a means to an end here, finding himself a victim of Batman’s increasingly brutal war on crime and being put on trial for murders he may or may not have committed. The emphasis is very much on Bruce Wayne – quietly stewing over the sudden departure of Selina Kyle and now forced to serve on the very jury deciding Freeze’s fate.
Even for a Batman comic, the premise requires a certain extra suspension of disbelief. It’s hard to accept the idea that Bruce would even be allowed to serve on such a jury given his various public associations with Batman. You pretty much have to assume the events of Batman Inc. are no longer in-continuity, even though King has always made a Grant Morrison-esque point of acknowledging all of Batman’s complicated history. But ignoring that major plot hole, the setup works well. It allows King to explore Bruce’s quiet but mounting sense of rage and alienation. It also gives our hero a new challenge to contend with, as he can’t be sequestered in a courtroom and still patrol the streets of Gotham.
King’s script keeps the story humming along through the use of a nonlinear narrative. Courtroom scenes are juxtaposed to flashbacks to Batman and Freeze’s most recent encounter. Those scenes are further broken up with a look at Batman’s temporary replacement, which adds a slight touch of fun to an otherwise morose story. Little by little, the story peels back the layers and reveals why Batman, not Freeze, may be the true villain of this particular conflict. The result is a tightly paced and compelling look at a hero in pain and a city suffering as a result.
It’s great to see King reunited with Batman/Elmer Fudd artist Lee Weeks. The two continue to form a strong team, one further elevated by the moody colors of Bettie Breitweiser. Breitweiser is integral in maintaining an easy flow between past and present. Her courtroom scenes have a washed-out quality, while the Batman-centric scenes feature richer, more striking hues. Weeks himself recalls the work of Batman masters like David Mazzucchelli and Michael Lark. There’s a similar elegance to his figure work and an emphasis on the clash between light and shadow. Weeks and Breitweiser’s rendition of a rooftop meeting between Batman and Commissioner Gordon is particularly stunning.