Things got back on track with Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle finally getting back to Gotham City. They did not waste their time going to work as they took out Two-Face, Hush and Mad Hatter among other villains Bane has turned to his side. The question now is how much longer will Bruce and Selina go before they confront Bane and Flashpoint Thomas Wayne? That is a big question given how things have gone so far. Especially considering that Bane has given Flashpoint Thomas Wayne the order of killing Bruce’s son, Damian Wayne. Will Flashpoint Thomas Wayne kill his alternate universe grandson? Let’s find out with Batman #81.
Writer: Tom King
Artists: John Romita Jr. and Mitch Gerards
Inkers: Klaus Janson and Mitch Gerards
Colorists: Tomey Morey and Mitch Gerards
Story Rating: 2 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 4 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 3 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: While pointing a gun at Robin (Damian Wayne) head Flashpoint Batman admits he cannot kill his family. Robin says that Flashpoint Batman is not his family. Robin then frees himself while saying that Bruce Wayne is his family and so are “they.”
Suddenly Batwoman, Orphan (Cassandra Cain), Signal, Huntress, Batgirl and Red Robin join Robin in surrounding Flashpoint Batman.
Outside Arkham Asylum, while fighting Solomon Grundy, Batman reveals to Catwoman that the reason he hit Red Robin was to send a message to the entire Batman Family about his true plan. Batman goes on to elaborate that he taught everyone in the Batman Family a language during their training that they could communicate through blows.
Since he knew that Bane had Gotham Girl closely watching all their moves Batman punched Red Robin after the Batman Family assault on Arkham Asylum to communicate this fact to everyone. With that punch Batman was able to get across to the Batman Family that he was going to go down the road of letting Bane and Flashpoint Thomas Wayne perceive they broke him in every way possible.
Catwoman wonders why Batman would choose to retreat. Batman says that blindly charging because of overconfidence was the worst thing he and the others could do. Instead, he chose to turn his own weakness and turn it into a strength.
Back at the Batcave Robin, Batwoman, Orphan, Signal, Huntress, Batgirl and Red Robin gang up on Flashpoint Batman. Flashpoint Batman is easily overwhelmed by the Batman Family and ends ups collapsing while coughing up blood from the beating.
Back outside Arkham Asylum, after defeating Solomon Grundy, Batman tells Catwoman that not coming back to Gotham City after climbing out of the pit Flashpoint Thomas Wayne left him in was a painful choice. He made this to get the answers he required.
Batman goes on to reveal that he discovered that some time ago Gotham got a hold of a rare form of Venom from Bane to give himself and Gotham Girl their powers. He goes on to say that after defeating Bane the first time and sending Gotham Girl to receive training he spent a considerable amount of resources to destroy the rare Super-Venom. Batman then admits he kept one does of this Super-Venom hidden at the Memory of the Mountain with his old mentor.
Batman then says he knew Bane would stop at nothing to get this last dose of Super-Venom so that Gotham Girl can keep the Justice League out of Gotham City. Due to that Batman spent time securing a cure to the Super-Venom that is killing Gotham Girl.
Back in the Batcave the Batman Family argue if they should show Flashpoint Batman mercy after all that he has done with Bane. As they go back and forth the bloody Flashpoint Batman gets back up. Flashpoint Batman starts talking about how he can’t believe Bruce trained them all to fight for him. He wonders what is wrong with Bruce for doing this.
Huntress fires a bolt from her crossbow but Flashpoint Batman catches it. Flashpoint Batman uses the arrow to stab Red Robin in the chest.
Inside Arkham Asylum, Batman reveals to Catwoman that while he was away he set up a caretaker to report back to him. Batman and Catwoman come across Joker and Riddler. When they spot each other Joker knocks out Riddler. Batman then reveals that he employed Clayface to act as the Joker. Clayface shows this by regaining his normal form.
Back in the Batcave, Flashpoint Batman is able to land some brutal blows on each of the Batman Family members.
Back in Arkham Asylum, Batman tells Catwoman that Bane discovered his plan and had Magpie steal the last dose of Super-Venom he had hiding. He then admits that after going through the dreams, Bane defeating him in combat and Flashpoint Batman leaving him in the pit he was very weak. He goes on to say that thanks to Catwoman finding him he was able to find where Magpie was selling the Super-Venom and stop the supply.
After all that Batman set his other plan into motion because he knew Gotham Girl would grow weaker. From there he sent the signal to the Batman Family to move in and for Robin to become a hostage. Afterwards the Batman Family would take down Flashpoint Batman while he and Catwoman would defeat Bane.
In another part of Arkham Asylum, Bane is shown getting ready to fight Batman and Catwoman.
Back at Batcave, Flashpoint Batman finishes defeating the Batman Family by knocking out Robin and Bagirl. Flashpoint Batman then burst through the bookcase hiding the entrance to the Batcave in Wayne Manor.
Flashpoint Thomas Wayne takes off his mask and says he is almost proud of Bruce for being clever. He goes on to state that the one thing Bruce forgot was that Flashpoint Thomas is Batman.
Over at the Gotham Police Department Headquarters a naked Harvey Bullock is signing while smoking and dancing his way outside. Once he gets outside Harvey spots the Legion of Doom Signal shining over Gotham City. End of issue.
The Good: There are so many elements of Batman #81 that I want to love. Tom King was at the top of his game when it came to shifting between scenes. Unfortunately all the development that was in Batman #81 read more like King was making up for all the wasted time in previous issues than actually progressing “City of Bane” to the next level.
One thing that King gets right with Batman #81 is getting across how his entire run has been based around the chess match between Batman and Bane. Everything that Batman revealed to Catwoman showed that he has had to use every trick in the book to defeat Bane. That includes understanding that this chess match would mean going through several defeats at the hands of Bane.
What was most intriguing about how King wrote this revelation was that being defeated wasn’t something Batman let happen. Instead it was something that Batman knew was going to happen. Up until now, Batman has not been in a good position to be able to overcome everything that Bane has thrown his way. Understanding that Bane was in the position of power spoke to how Batman explained that he needed to turn this weakness into a strength. That means he had to take all the beatings while fighting normally in order to get to the place he and the Batman Family can have a chance to win.
Speaking of the Batman Family, King does a very good job in explaining everything that Robin, Batwoman, Orphan, Signal, Huntress, Batgirl and Red Robin have done is based on the training Bruce put them through. With how much they’ve all been through it makes sense that Bruce would train everyone to have different ways to communicate their plans without speaking. This all gives more meaning to each action the members of the Batman Family take as just about anything could be a signal for a plan. It also further highlights how the Batman Family have worked hard to be a united team no matter the situation they are in.
The Bad: It’s frustrating reading an issue like Batman #81. All the elements for a great story to be progressed forward are here. Unfortunately Batman #81 is done in by the choices made for this chapter of “City of Bane.” Everything that King develops here, from Batman’s true plan to take down Bane to Flashpoint Thomas Wayne defeating the entire Batman Family, lacks the impact it should have.
The biggest problem with Batman #81 is that all of the exposition given read like King playing catching up for all the time he wasted in previous chapters of “City of Bane.” For one, why does King wait until the seventh chapter of “City of Bane” to reveal talk about Super-Venom? That is the type of revelation that should’ve been developed during the first two chapters of “City of Bane” during the scenes with Bruce and Selina in Paris or during their interlude story.
Bringing up the information about the Super-Venom this late in the game does not make up for how poor the plotline around Bruce and Selina hunt for Magpie was. It instead read like King wanted to retroactively give the interlude story in “City of Bane” a reason to be important. The problem with this approach is that the whole story with Magpie is over now. We know Bruce and Selina took down Magpie easily. There was no difficulty in that mission.
This is so head scratching because before storming ahead with the “City of Bane” storyline that started with the “Knightmares” arc King was on absolute roll. King’s Batman run has been so tightly plotted that Super-Venom plotline should’ve been developed much earlier on. Rather than being this big mission Batman and Catwoman had to come out on top or else Bane wins, the Super-Venom supply stoppage came across as an afterthought to this story.
It’s incredibly unfortunate because the Super-Venom plotline is so closely tied to Gotham Girl’s character arc. Gotham Girl is a character that has been so back and forth with great to poor character development over the course of King’s Batman run. The Super-Venom angle should’ve been brought before “City of Bane” started. Just mentions of it would’ve create a sense of urgency to not only Gotham Girl’s arc but also Bruce and Selina’s getaway interlude story.
Also bringing up the Super-Venom being a key part of Bruce’s exposition spotlighted how Gotham Girl wasn’t even in Batman #81. This is the type of small choice that King misses out on making to improve the Super-Venom plot. Having a panel or two that showed her current state at Wayne Manor would’ve added to Gotham Girl’s importance to the “City of Bane” narrative. But since her appearance was relegated to Batman’s heavy exposition dump of information she becomes an afterthought in “City of Bane.”
Which all goes to highlight how Batman #81 biggest purpose was to be an information dump by King. King just throws things out left and right that there is no time to process its importance. After a few pages, the relentlessness of the exposition starts to read like as King is speaking directly to the reader through Bruce’s dialogue.
Reaching the seventh chapter of such a big endgame-type story like “City of Bane” was crafted to be this is just unacceptable. King had 80 issues to develop the information that Batman dumps on Catwoman and the reader. But getting all of this information at once does not leave the reader impressed with how Bruce was able to understand what Bane would do.
It instead made Bruce come across as someone that did not know when to shut up. Eventually it becomes clear Bruce was so full of himself that his plan has gone the way he thought it would. It’s so uncharacteristic that it almost feels like the Bruce Wayne that crawled out of the pit is not the same one King or any other Batman writer has written up to this point.
This poor exposition heavy approach had a trickle down effect as it does negatively impact on the rest of Batman #81. The reveal that Clayface has been acting as Joker for Bruce in Gotham City while he was away is a strong example of that. Rather than it being a cool surprise that King telegraphed reveal the entire time. Getting so much exposition in the lead up took away the shock value of the reveal. If the scene did not have exposition until after Clayface as Joker punched Riddler than the reveal would have some impact. The lack of patience in showing Bruce’s cleverness reeked all over this scene.
Probably the greatest victim of King’s approach in Batman #81 was Bane. It is truly upsetting how much of an afterthought Bane has been in a story named after him. Bane’s appearances in “City of Bane” can be counted on one hand, that’s how little he has appeared. Because of that, even though I’ve been a fan of King’s Batman run up to now and have looked forward to Batman and Bane throwing down for real, the hype for the fight between them has lessened.
Flashpoint Thomas Wayne’s development in Batman #81 was also very questionable. The way the entire fight with the Batman Family goes down at no point does Flashpoint Thomas Wayne look like he could defeat them. King has never developed the character in that way outside of the win in the pit with Bruce. And even then King went out of his way to explain in this issue that being defeated by Flashpoint Thomas Wayne was part of Bruce’s plans to turn a perceived weakness into a strength.
With that in mind there is no way after suffering the beating that Flashpoint Thomas Wayne should’ve defeated the Batman Family. As fans we’ve all come to understand how formattable every character in the Batman Family is. The same can’t be said for Flashpoint Thomas Wayne, who is a late game addition to King’s Batman vs Bane narrative. With the Batman Family together it does not make sense that Flashpoint Thomas Wayne could win in the state he was in when the second round of the fight began.
The addition of the Legion of Doom signal shining over Gotham City was also very confusing. Given the timing it does not make sense it would shine during the events of “City of Bane” storyline. Especially considering that the signal was shown over Villa Hermosa during Catwoman’s current storyline that is happening at a different time than “City of Bane.” The whole timeline issue with this Year of the Villain storyline just creates more questions about the current DC Universe continuity that is unnecessary.
Though John Romita Jr. is usually reliable for delivering solid artwork his work on Batman #81 was some of the weakest I’ve seen from him. There were a lot of inconsistencies with how he drew different characters. Specifically Catwoman, she looked off the entire time. More often than not it seemed Romita was rushed because he is also working on Superman: Year One at the same time.
This further hurts the overall “City of Bane” story because Romita’s artwork does not mesh well with Mikel Janin and Clayton Mann’s styles. With such a big storyline like “City of Bane” having this big shift in art styles can hurt the momentum when reading every chapter together. Its a type of editorial decision that makes “City of Bane” feel less like the endgame for King’s Batman run.
Overall: Batman #81 is such a massive disappointment. Rather than being cool character development, the heavy exposition from Bruce Wayne is just exhausting. By the midway you start counting how many more pages are left in Batman #81. This issue is just a complete failure in building anticipation from what will happen next in “City of Bane.”
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