After a brief respite from the theme of grief, Tom King returns to it in full force with his third volume in the revamped Batman series. In so doing, he analyzes the psyche of Batman as a still-grieving 10-year old boy (what comic writer hasn’t, after all), but also puts a magnifying glass on Bane in a similar light.
In the first volume of King’s take on the character, Bane told Batman that the two of them were alike. Batman denies it, given the villain’s penchant for violence, addiction to venom, and occupation as a mob boss and dictator, but the similarities are there all the same. In a story that mostly functions as Bane tracking down Batman to take revenge, and steal the Psycho Pirate back, King draws out parallels between the stories of the two characters, sometimes using parallel comic panels to tell their very similar stories. Both suffered the death of their parents, were comforted by a father figure, and used grief to propel them into positions of power. The difference, illustrated quite well in the book, is that Batman sought to war with criminals, and Bane sought to rule them.
That exercise in character development is interesting enough on its own terms. But King also adds another element with the impending death of Batman. It’s taken for granted that Bane is more than capable of killing Batman, having returned to his venom addiction after the Pyscho Pirate was taken away by Batman and his personal suicide squad. Adding to a strain of desperate measures in an effort to cure Gotham Girl, Batman aligns himself with many foes from his rogues gallery in an attempt to give himself enough time locked away in Arkham Asylum to heal Gotham Girl, with the (coerced) cooperation of Psycho Pirate. As Bane blows through each inmate that Batman has bribed for help, the tension of Batman facing his most powerful enemy grows, and questions about the intensity of Batman’s drive to save Gotham Girl grow more pointed. And it’s the answer to those questions that brings Batman’s struggle with grief more or less full circle.
As his motivations become more clear, and as his battle with Bane draws more desperate, the book becomes a story about the redemptive power of grief. While Bane’s grief turned him into an amoral monster, powerful but depraved, Batman’s grief drove him to greater virtue. I was reminded of the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 1, when he spoke of God as the one who “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Granted, it’s not a direct one-to-one translation, but the redemptive element nature of the tragedy of Batman’s story co-existing with his ongoing trauma is a fitting place for the story of Bruce Wayne.
While I remain to have occasional reservations about some story elements (the romance between Batman and Catwoman, which moves forward a bit here, still strikes me as pure fanservice), the themes that King is pursuing with his take on Batman continue to ring true. So long as these thematic explorations continue, I will continue to look forward to the story that King is telling.