SYNOPSIS: “The Fall and the Fallen” concludes with a father-and-son showdown. Flashpoint Batman reveals his fiendish reasoning for dragging Batman into the desert, and who is in the coffin they’ve been dragging along with them. But is this a step too far? It’s Bruce Wayne versus Thomas Wayne for the right to wear the cowl, and all of Gotham City hangs in the balance!
BATMAN #74 is a bare-knuckle, barrel-chested Bat-Brawl between a father and son who both wear the cowl of the Batman…and in the end, there can be only one.
Writer Tom King and artist Mikel Janín drop us into the action immediately, as Thomas and Bruce Wayne fight to the death with The Death, Ra’s al Ghul’s personal soldiers who eat standard-issue League of Assassins chaps for breakfast. Well, Bruce isn’t fighting to the death. Thomas, on the other hand, doesn’t go as easy on his enemies. But he doesn’t kill his most dangerous foe. Not quite. Not yet.
As they ride through the desert toward the Nain Pit, “the Demon’s proudest secret,” Thomas just can’t stop talking…
About the violent thing he did to Ra’s al Ghul’s family in his own world that led to his discovery of this pit in the first place.
About how Bruce was not the child he’d expected.
About how Bruce still needs to be his own man.
About his annoyance with Bruce’s childhood obsession with “The Animals and the Pit,” the bleak and bloodthirsty Russian folktale around which BATMAN #57 was built.
About why Bruce needed to be severed from his duties as Batman by a good, old-fashioned breaking.
And, finally, about the body in the coffin that travels with them.
The writing is some of the best of King’s run. Thomas Wayne is deranged, but his heart beats truly, deeply, and strongly for the family he aches to reunite. There’s a very sincere reason why he needs to finish his godless mission, and it’s legitimately fatherly.
But Bruce Wayne has had enough of being broken, and when the fisticuffs promised by the cover begin to unfold, King recounts the old folktale once more. Janín’s action is savage, and the emotions he renders on the combatants’ faces make it as personal as it is powerful. Thomas wears his full Bat-suit under a heavy coat belted at the waist by his utility belt; Bruce dons the iconic look of his classic tussle with Ra’s al Ghul: cowl, pants, and a bare, hairy chest. It’s a look that’s equally elemental and virile, and Janín draws the hell out of it.
As always, the book’s secret sauce is Jordie Bellaire’s color palette. The black and red bodies of the fallen Death litter gold and orange sands beneath a sun-baked sky. Nighttime feels ominous and cold, and the pit seems bottomless and black until it opens up into a red-tinted subterranean hell that makes us feel as if we’re looking through the crimson lenses of Thomas’s cowl.
There’s been a theme throughout King’s run that’s echoed again in these pages: “I’m still here.” The bad guys can do their worst, and have. But when the dust settles, there’s only one Batman. Thomas Wayne thinks it should be him. We know better. And for anyone who’s been doubting it lately, rest assured that Tom King knows it, too. – John Bierly