Writer: Tom King
Artists: Tony S. Daniel, Danny Miki, Tomeu Morey
DC Comics, 2018
SOMETIMES I LOVE BATMAN. The artwork by Tony S. Daniel attracted me to this 2018 storyline in BATMAN #55-57 by writer Tom King, called “Beasts of Burden.” Wonderful spreads of the caped detective in action on the first page and panels of perfectly detailed faces lured me inside. Backgrounds pop into sharp perspectives like wearing 3-D glasses.
The elegant dimensionality in the art is matched in the story, with text bubbles in a cafe for example, imitating the experience of being surrounded by snatched sentences in the atmosphere, sitting hours at a table. This is where the out-of-town villain kills time before running off to kill someone.
Conversations in gray Gotham suck. The poverty and emptiness of people generally in public places in America is obvious in comparison to other national cultures where literacy and education, and services for social equity over generations worked, leading to a kind of intellectual density rare in America, and utterly absent in Gotham City, which of course, is why the grime fighter Batman has to exist.
When Batman first appears, running through a rain-pelted night with his cape arched behind him, and Robin tagging along on his wing, I had to wonder how creepy this version of him would be. Myriad renditions ride a jagged edge between noble characteristics and dark behavior. Who is he this time?
Pleasingly, this question turns out to be a sub-theme in the first issue, exactly the topic Robin chatters on about as the duo pop into panoramic action. Mostly it’s a one-sided conversation.
“Let’s switch,” the kid proposes between punches. Pow! “I’ll do sad grunts. You do puns.”
Batman firmly responds no, and grunts. He’s working. Insight into his taciturn character continues through the final thrilling scene in the third issue. He looms over the story as the emblem you really came to see.
Later, during what Batman calls a training exercise, jumping off a tall building to learn how to fall as close to the ground as possible before firing a rope, Robin unwittingly displays the classic impetuosity of youth, hyper alert to the test, but missing the larger picture in the moment Batman fires a rope first and swings away, responding to the bat-signal that suddenly lit-up in the sky. I instantly connected the message to stories of loggers in the woods in the Pacific Northwest, young and old standing side by side when a cable snaps or a log swings, and the young guy is usually the one killed: a pattern not quite statistically significant, after all the old die as well, but a definite pattern to watch, as at Waterloo, too, where Redcoat recruits eager for glory charged Napoleon’s cannons and were massacred, while a batch of older veterans stealthily crept up the hill, and prevailed.
We in the liberal tradition tend to prize innovation and progress, ever riding the foamy crest of the present, new is better and best, makes options easier; shake up authority, let the new guy have a chance, the valiant one, the rebel, the rascal. Brash leaders indeed often show extra efficiency for the task at hand as youth do so well, yet efficiency means ultimately enhancing human values, and youth in authority, or youthful authority as we so often permit leaves the larger picture of values in society to ambitious mavericks. Even good-hearted Robin fails.
Gratifying lessons for a hero embellish every scene with the Batman. Stay calm. Stay alert. Keep learning. Maybe like me, you wish you could be as cool as Batman, at least in excellent versions like this one, where he himself is the story.