Batman reaches the end of an era with an emphatic finale issue

Tom King, Mikel Janin/DC Comics

HBO’s Watchmen, DC Comics’ Doomsday Clock, and even an entire Star Wars trilogy delivered their final installments this week. But there’s one more to add to the list, and it’s a more than fitting end to one of the great sagas of modern comics.

Tom King, best known as the writer behind Mister Miracle and The Vision, closed a three-year run with this week’s Batman #85. On top of resolving Batman’s long-simmering conflict with arch-villains Bane and a Batman from another universe, the issue called back to the best writing in his series, and gave a glimpse of the Caped Crusader’s future in 2020. Since May of 2016, Tom King and his artist collaborators (including Mikel Janin, Mitch Gerads, Clay Mann, Joëlle Jones, and more) have crafted DC Comics’ flagship Batman title. With issue #85, they finally answer the question: Can Batman be happy and still be Batman?

Tom King, MIkel Janín/DC Comics

The issue itself is interlaid in a framing device that clearly takes place after the resolution of Batman’s battle with his father-from-another-timeline. Bruce Wayne has stopped into a Gotham City dive bar to catch the end of a hometown football game. There, he strikes up a conversation with a fellow football fan, who just happens to be Chuck Brown, aka Kite-Man. The bar just so happens to be Porky’s, first seen in King’s Eisner Award earning Batman/Elmer Fudd Special, a noir-tinged one-shot comic about ... well, you can guess.

These are the first of many callbacks to the earlier eras of King’s run, and they plant a tongue firmly in cheek as Bruce and Chuck discuss the game. The score is very close, and Chuck is certain that the Knights will be defeated once again.

“I’m telling you,” he says, “With this guy in the lead. It’s just pain and misery all the way down.”

The line feels like a bit of a self-deprecating note on King’s own fondness for putting his characters through the emotional ringer, whether in Batman, Mister Miracle, or Heroes in Crisis. But Bruce remains on the side of holding out hope.

Since King and his artist collaborators took on the job of continuing Batman’s core comic book title from the legendary duo of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo (who themselves took over from an equally legendary turn on the book from Grant Morrison) he’s been clear about what he wanted to achieve. He wanted to find a way for Batman to be happy — for the Caped Crusader to work past the trauma that formed him and still choose to be Batman.

Batman #85 emphatically makes that point in the hero’s final confrontation with Thomas Wayne. The elder, alternate universe Wayne became the Batman of his own timeline, and ever since he found out about regular Batman, he has been obsessed with the idea of proving to Bruce that being Batman is a curse; all in the name of showing his son how to be happy.

“Life is not a trap you make when you’re ten and you’re hurting,” Bruce tells his not-dad in Batman #85. “Life is a choice you make every day. Every damn day. I choose [Catwoman]. I choose happiness. I choose family. And I choose Batman.”

Tom King, Mikel Janin/DC Comics

Speaking of Catwoman, Batman #85 also resolves the most controversial point of King’s run, Batman and Catwoman’s almost wedding — a much hyped comics event until the New York Times spoiled the entire twist three days before its release. After a supervillain sneakily sowed doubts in her mind, Catwoman left Batman at the altar.

Bruce and Selina have since reunited as a couple, and they have an upcoming miniseries from King and his Heroes in Crisis partner, Clay Mann. Batman #85 puts a button in their relationship: They don’t need to make it formal, but they agree that they’re together forever.

And there are more hints at the future in the comic. After the issue itself ends, we get three pages from writer James Tynion IV and artist Guillem March, teasing their upcoming run on Batman. It seems as though Tynion and March will be taking a dusty old Chekov’s gun down off the mantelpiece; bringing back the idea, introduced by Snyder and Capullo in their Batman, that the Joker knows that Batman is Bruce Wayne.

That story will kick off in January’s Batman #86, but #85 stands as an example of King’s stronger work. As a critic and Batman fan, I found his run fascinating and fun at many parts — bloated and pretentious at others — but it always challenged me. Batman #85 reminded me of the good times past, with a promise of just a bit more in the future.

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