New To You Comics #95: ‘Batman Vol 1: I Am Gotham’

by Brendan M. Allen

Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.

New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Every once in a while a title will land with both of them. Most of the time they can find some common ground, but even when they don’t, it’s fun to watch them go at it. Brendan fights dirty. Tony kicks like a mule.

This week, Brendan steps away from the weird indies for a second to bring Batman Volume 1: I Am Gotham, by Tom King and David Finch. Here’s what DC says about the book:

‘He is Gotham City’s hero, its Dark Knight, its greatest protector. He is Batman. And he is not alone.

There are two new heroes in town-a pair of masked metahumans with the powers of Superman and a devotion to preserving all that is good about this twisted city. Calling themselves Gotham and Gotham Girl, they’ve saved Batman’s life, fought by his side and learned from his example.

But what happens if Gotham’s new guardians go bad? What if they blame the Dark Knight for the darkness that threatens to drown their city?

When sinister forces are unleashed that can warp the minds of men and make heroes into monsters, the time will come for Batman and his allies to decide once and for all: Is Gotham a force for good…or an engine of evil?’

Brendan Allen: I know I’m straying a little from my lane here, but of all the superhero comics out there, the one I’ve always liked is Batman. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo had an amazing run with the character, which ended up being just about the only good thing to come out of New 52. Tom King and David Finch had massive shoes to fill. 

Tony Thorney: So I haven’t ever really been a Bat-guy. I talked about it in my essay last week about the last issue of James Tynion and Jorge Jimenez’s run on Batman. But long story short, a lot of it was that I felt Batman was too grimdark, but Snyder and King’s runs both started me down the path towards changing a lot of my opinions on the character.

Brendan: In I Am Gotham, Batman’s going about his usual business, saving Gotham and whatnot, when a couple of masked metahuman strangers show up out of nowhere. They levitate and fly in the manner of Superman, and they also have super strength and x-ray vision. The symbol they wear on their chests is even reminiscent of the shield of The House of El.

They’ve got all the tools, but they’re green as grass, and their lack of experience is a huge liability, to themselves and to the city. Batman is uncharacteristically trusting of the duo, and agrees to train them. That could either be taken at face value, or… the World’s Greatest Detective is drawing them in close for observation. 

Tony: I really enjoyed how human King makes Bruce. After the prelude/transition issue with Snyder (which I kinda don’t count as part of the run), the inciting incident of the entire run is Bruce facing his mortality and accepting to save the day this time, he’s going to have to die. I mean, when was the last time Batman ever acknowledged he was mortal?

Brendan: I’m glad you mentioned that. It’s a really a powerful statement. In that same sequence there’s also the mistaken identity and introduction of Gotham. 

Batman was ready and willing to step into the batter’s box and take one for the team, and then finds himself relieved that his old buddy Superman has arrived, because who else could catch a jetliner mid-fall? The absolute bewilderment on Batman’s face when Gotham and Gotham Girl introduce themselves is priceless.

Tony: Yeah, it was sort of the opening to a Superman/Batman arc, not a Batman solo story. When he flipped the script with Gotham and Gotham Girl, it lands. Bruce is knocked back on his heels, and that means he’s on a different footing than he normally is. He even begins to trust them to the point that he sees them just as much in his succession planning as he sees Nightwing.

Brendan: One of the things that every other New 52 series absolutely NEEDED was a ‘return to roots’ with Rebirth. Batman was the exception, but King still didn’t phone that bit in. Psycho Pirate, Doctor Strange and the Monster Men, these are storylines that have deep roots in Detective Comics lore. Doctor Strange and the Monster Men goes all the way back to Batman #1 (1940).

Tony: I love Hugo Strange. I was disappointed by how little he was in this story arc, and how little a presence in the entire run he had in general. That’s the one thing I think I would change if I was the one in charge here.

Brendan: King pays homage to DC’s history with several other clever nods and callbacks as well. 

The flashback scene in Batman the third chapter that showed a young Gotham walking obliviously with his parents into a mugging, then being saved from that horror by Batman was a reference to Batman’s own origin story. While the results of the two incidents were vastly different, both boys were inspired to the same goal in adulthood, saving Gotham City from itself.

There’s another scene where Gotham touches down on a ledge behind a jumper, which brings an instant comparison to an instantly recognizable All-Star Superman scene, and then proceeds to recite the speech Batman gave to young Gotham on the night of his and his parents’ mugging. Double whammy on the references.  

Tony: Yeah, King tries to set Gotham up as a counter-balance between Bruce and Clark. Using those parallels really makes the failures work. Gotham has the potential to be a Superman, but he’s still human.

Brendan: I really love the artwork, for a lot of reasons. David Finch reached deep into his bag of tricks and created some awesome visuals. Alfred wearing the Batsuit for a diversion, looking all rumpled on him because it’s four sizes too big. A high end sedan splitting in half to release the Batcycle and then clapping back together. Just loads of really slick imagery.

Tony: I’m not a huge fan of Finch in general, but I feel like he stepped it up for this run. He still has his distinctive Top Cow-inspired style, but he shifts it just a little to include some influence from DC’s house style, and a little bit of Capullo. It’s really the strongest work I’ve seen from him in a long time.

Plus you add Mikel Janin on the Rebirth one-shot and Ivan Reis in the epilogue issue, and you just get a murderer’s row on the line art. Put Jordie Bellaire Marcelo Maiolo’s colors into the mix… It’s one of the most visually distinct books DC put out at the time. Batman is consistently DC’s best seller, so it makes sense.

Brendan: One of the things I have to mention is that the first time I read and reviewed this book, I had the floppies. In reading this time, on Comixology’s Guided View, the absolute brilliance of the layouts is lost. The best reading experience for this one is physical books, but if you’re reading digitally, be sure to back out and look at the full pages or you’ll miss the spots where panels and gutters line up to form a bat symbol. Or the inset panels that ‘walk’ across a two page spread. Really cool stuff.

Tony: Yeah, I almost never read anything in guided view for exactly that reason.

Brendan: This is one of my favorite modern Batman arcs. I love getting back to basics with the character. There’s as much detective sleuthing in this one as there is action, and I think that’s a core component of Batman mythos that gets forgotten with some of the newer stuff. Where’d you ultimately land?

Tony: Though my reviews of the series were generally pretty positive, I soured on this run a bit near the end. I enjoyed revisiting this, because I was reminded of how much I enjoyed the opening. It’s a shame that some of the most interesting parts of this arc- such as the relationship between Bruce and Duke Thomas- fell by the wayside as the run went on.

Though I don’t think I’ll be as willing to recommend later story arcs, this is King’s run at its best. It’s sharp, exciting and adds a lot of interesting elements to the mythos. Highly recommended.

Brendan: Cool. What’s up next week?

Tony: We’re going to check out another DC book, one of my favorites- the opening arc of The Flash by Mark Waid & Mike Wieringo (collected in The Flash By Mark Waid Book Three). It’s the story arc that really made me a huge fan of The Flash as a concept and character.

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