Batman has entered an interesting new era as Bruce Wayne must deal with a broken heart. This is something that Bruce has clearly never dealt with, much less expected to deal with. But after Selina Kyle left him at the altar and left Gotham City all together without talking Bruce has been shaken. Tom King showed that through the recent Mr. Freeze trial that made Bruce personally look into his methods as Batman, leading to a conclusion where he is putting behind the costume he has worn since right before DC Rebirth began. While not a major change it is a symbolic one and something we will now see what it means for Batman moving forward. Let’s find that out by checking out Batman #54.
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Matt Wagner
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Story Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: Some time ago the crowd freaks out over seeing the John and Mary Grayson fall to their deaths.
In the present Nightwing makes fun of Crazy Quilt for not knowing how to sew. Angered by this Crazy Quilt tries to hypnotize Nightwing. This does not work and Nightwing continues to make fun of Crazy Quilt and his “powers.”
Back in the past young Dick Grayson wakes up from a nightmare. Bruce Wayne rushes into his young ward’s room and assures Dick that he is safe as it was just a dream.
In the present, at Wayne Manor, Dick gives Bruce a hug. Dick asks Bruce if he feels better now. Bruce thanks Dick for serving as Batman while he was away as a jury member. Dick says he is staying to help Bruce but Bruce says he does not need him.
Alfred enters the room to give Bruce and Dick some cucumber sandwiches. Bruce walks away to go work on the Mr. Freeze case.
In the past Dick tells Bruce and Alfred he is not hungry and angrily says that cucumber sandwiches are gross. He then runs off calling everything in the mansion gross.
Back in the present, while in a grocery store Nightwing can’t stop laughing that he and Batman are now fighting someone named the Condiment King. Batman reveals that Condiment King robbed seven stores and killed three employees. When Nightwing is hit by some ketchup he decides to get serious.
Back in the past Bruce asks Dick what he was thinking swinging from the chandelier. Dick sadly says he is a Flying Grayson. Bruce says he knows what it is like to lose parents and is there to talk if Dick wants to. Dick angrily states he is not a toy.
In the present Dick calls out for Bruce to join him so they can watch a football game together. Bruce tells Dick that they not have time for games. Dick keeps talking about the football game and joking about the two villains they just fought. Bruce sits down to watch the game.
Back in the past, Dick sits around eating chips much to Alfred’s charging. Bruce asks Dick if there is anything else he likes. Dick states that he likes football so Bruce decides to watch a game with him. Dick wonders why Bruce is doing this. Bruce states that while he doesn’t like football he is committed to Dick.
Back in the present, at the Batcave, while Batman is working on a case Nightwing bets with Batman he can pull off a trick. Nightwing throws his escrima stick and makes it bounce of various surfaces 37 times even though Batman didn’t bet.
Nightwing says he will take the Big Penny as payment. Batman tries to be serious but can’t help but laugh at Nightwing’s joke. This causes Batman to finally break down and starts crying. Nightwing tells Batman that things will be okay and that he is there for Batman even if he doesn’t want to be fine.
Back in the past, Bruce shows Dick that he can do a handstand with one hand. Dick bets Bruce he can hold that position longer. As they talk about pennies as the bet Alfred mentions he has some cucumber sandwiches for lunch ready for them.
Back in the present while swinging through the city Nightwing asks Batman if he remembers what he told him in the past. Batman says it was that his father loved cucumber sandwiches and that Dick should not give up on trying them because it’ll be worth it. End of issue.
The Good: Batman #54 does an excellent job continuing the theme of exploring Bruce Wayne’s mentality after he was left at the altar by Selina Kyle. Bringing in Dick Grayson to push this story forward was a fantastic decision. Through Bruce and Dick’s brotherly relationship Tom King is able to have the former finally start to deal with the emotional pain he has been trying to repress.
One of the things that King brought up during the previous story arc, “Cold Days,” was how helpless Bruce felt as Selina leaving him was not something that Batman could save him from. Keeping that story going by having Bruce absorb himself in being Batman and continuing to investigate the Mr. Freeze case showed us how he is still closing himself off. There is a sense that the way Bruce is doing this is unhealthy. Even when he is being Batman there are subtle clues that King gives us that show how Bruce is holding himself back from being emotional.
What was especially effective about this is how King wrote Bruce’s dialogue when not being Batman. In these present day scenes we saw how anytime Dick Grayson tried to talk to him Bruce kept up his Batman voice as he just wanted to focus on being the Dark Knight and the Mr. Freeze case. Not shutting off that Batman voice made it even more obvious how much pain Bruce is hiding from everyone.
Presenting Bruce in this way made Dick Grayson’s involvement even better. While Bruce and Dick’s relationship started out as a father-son has evolved to being big brother-little brother. King shows this with all the flashback scenes showing how Bruce did his best to not only reach out to young Dick Grayson but also relate to him. It is not something that we have seen Bruce do often but there was a unique connection with his young ward as they share a similar origin with their parents dying in front of their eyes. That connection made Bruce was made even more special by how King used the cucumber sandwiches as one of those connecting points that go back to Bruce’s father.
Establishing that previous relationship made how Dick was the one to reach out to Bruce in his time of need. Throughout there scenes together in the present King showed how their relationship has evolved to be big brother-little brother. Like a good brother Dick never tried to get Bruce to talk about what happened with Selina. While Dick did imply by staying in Gotham City that he wanted Bruce to open up about this he never actually stated this. Instead Dick focused on keeping their interactions to how they would normally interact as Batman and Nightwing.
This speaks to how well Dick knows Bruce as he knew that trying to get Bruce to talk about things was the wrong way to go. Instead he knew that as long as he kept acting like he normally does with his humor during fights with villains and at the Batcave would get something out of Bruce. This made the regular scenes where Dick just gave Bruce a hug or had them watch football together be much more meaningful, especially with how it related to the flashback scenes.
All this build up made the moment when Bruce finally allowed himself laugh at one of Nightwing’s jokes be a great payoff. In finding himself in a spot where he couldn’t help but smile all the emotions he has been hiding deep inside came out. Seeing Bruce as Batman start crying felt like a true raw emotion. In this instance Dick did exactly what you Bruce needed as he simply reassured him that he is there for his mentor. This in turn further strengthened the brotherly bond that these two have and gave Batman #54 a strong way to wrap up its one shot story.
Using Crazy Quilt and Condiment King to the story added to how King decided to explore the Dynamic Duo reunion. With these two Z-list villains not being a major threat in terms of difficulty to defeat it gave Nightwing the chance to throw out the quips he used to as Robin. At the same time, King did remind the reader that there is a reason Batman would look to take Crazy Quilt and Condiment King down since they have committed crimes that he would normally take notice off.
With Batman #54 featuring both flashback and present-day scenes Matt Wagner did a good job balancing both scenes out. There was enough of a difference between the two different scenes with slight changes in how he drew Bruce and Alfred in these scenes. Wagner further helped with showing how in both flashback and present-day scenes Bruce and Dick were trying to get the other to open up in their time of need. He also did a good job with how he drew Batman and Nightwing’s fights with Crazy Quilt and Condiment King, nailing the ridiculousness of the two villains.
The Bad: Readers only familiar with the New 52 continuity and beyond may be confused about the timing of the flashback scenes. Since the New 52 began it has been established that Dick Grayson’s parents death, which lead to him becoming Bruce’s adopted son, did not happen until he was around 16 or 17. We have even seen this recently shown in flashbacks in other Rebirth comics like Batgirl and Titans. So seeing Dick Grayson deaged to being around 12 or 13 may confuse readers not familiar with the pre-Flashpoint continuity. This is no way took away from the effectiveness or quality of Batman #54’s story but is a question of what other unknown changes have been made since DC Rebirth started.
Overall: Batman #54 is an excellent issue that continued to explore the aftermath of the failed wedding between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Tom King does a fantastic job showing how much of an emotional toll that event took on Bruce. Bringing in Dick Grayson to help Bruce deal with his emotional and mental state showed how strong of a big brother-little brother relationship these two have. Seeing King delve into this key relationship makes Batman #54 a must read for every Batman fan.