SYNOPSIS: From the sewers under Gotham to the roiling waters of the harbor, Batman’s march toward Blackgate Prison is nearing its end…but far from being a passive prisoner, E.M.P. has his own mission to fulfill-and there’s no way he’s letting the Dark Knight stop him from carrying it out!
Fresh off his much-deserved Eisner win at SDCC 2022, Jock is closing out his Black Label opus in style!
With Gotham drenched in darkness, there’s not a lot to see as this final installment opens, just scratches of blue offering no illumination. Combined with the onomatopoeia of “SKRITCH” repeating over and over, it evoked memories of Morrison and McKean’s Arkham Asylum, which is fine company to be in.
It’s more than just the opening though. Although not painted, one could compare the art to Arkham Asylum, as well. There is a surreal, dreamlike quality as Batman fights the denizens of the sewers, in order for them to curry favor with Killer Croc. Croc himself is the giant monster that somehow fits under your bed, ready to pummel and scratch for his own pleasure. Batman feels at his most abstract here, bleeding, costume shredded, but fueled solely by inhuman levels of determination.
Above ground, Jock juxtaposes the criminals banding together, putting aside their tribal differences to achieve their common goal, with the GCPD, who are split by their corruption. This is most in evidence with Vasquez, having kidnapped E.M.P.’s son, Brody, to exact revenge. Turns out, she is not alone in this plot, with several officers on her side. Seeing them twist their oath to serve and protect, even when it comes to their own, is far more terrifying than Croc dominating the sewers. Jock often hides the eyes of Vasquez behind the glare of her glasses, detaching her from the horrors she is committing to mete out her vengeance. She winds up being more of an inhuman monster than E.M.P. in the story.
The ticking clock aspect of the issue serves the story well, enhancing the suspense and driving the narrative forward with each minute that slips by. E.M.P. is that metaphorical time bomb, but he feels far more like a victim, his concern only for his son and whomever he might hurt if he is not defused. Jock gives ample reason for why Batman would fight so hard to help not just E.M.P., but all Gotham.
There are a few single-page splash pages and they are definitely effective in their impact. However, they pale in comparison to me to the magnificence of the two-page splash image, depicting all of the gangs of Gotham opposing The Dark Knight — his back to the literal end of the road. This is The Batman at his best — facing a horde of criminals, unwilling to surrender, despite overwhelming odds. The impact in this oversized format sells how colossal this moment is.
As breathtaking as this all looks, Jock doesn’t quite stick the landing. While everything looks epic in scope, things do resolve rather quickly and conveniently tidy. Certain moments really land and others feel undercooked, particularly around the real antagonist. Perhaps I’m being too harsh. If there is one point that Jock gets across in the conclusion it is that the Dark Knight’s crusade against crime is an unending one. Just because this one dark night is over, the fight rages on.
Despite any misgivings I may have about how things wrapped up, Jock’s tour de force is impressive, a visual treat that I can’t wait to devour in one sitting now that the story is complete. Rarely has Gotham felt so vast and yet so confined, its guardian so valiant. Jock gets the most he can out of the expanded page size, channeling various influences to give us a Batman defiant, one definitely worthy of a spot in your Bat-Library! – Javier E. Trujillo