How Tom King's Batman run has built up to 'City of Bane'
Writer Tom King's run on DC's flagship Batman comic was initially one of the main highlights from the publisher's DC Rebirth initiative when it launched back in 2016. Three years later, it has become one of the longest-lasting of the initial Rebirth creative teams, and one of the most celebrated — but it all comes to a head this week with the beginning of the "City of Bane" arc.
As the title suggests, this week's Batman #75 finds Gotham City overrun by Bane. King's run has gone a long way towards catapulting Bane into the top-tier of Batman's rogues gallery (in case Tom Hardy's Dark Knight Rises portrayal wasn't enough). Though he first appeared early in the run, Bane was only getting started.
EW spoke with King recently in a long-running conversation about his run and what it's been building towards. Some of it was about the epic Batman-Catwoman reunion that will take place during "City of Bane" (after the characters' failed wedding back in issue #50), but we also discussed how the new story builds on seeds that King has been planting for years.
The very first arc of King's Batman was called "I Am Gotham," and found the Dark Knight confronting a very unusual situation for him: The arrival of two superheroes with actual superpowers in Gotham City. The brother and sister duo called themselves Gotham and Gotham Girl. Though at first, they seemed like a welcome presence in Batman's life, the dark truth was soon revealed. Their magnificent powers were slowly killing them and driving them insane. Gotham did not survive that first story, while Batman went to great lengths over subsequent issues to save Gotham Girl's life.
Flash forward to the present, where Gotham Girl is allied with Bane now. Not only that – she's one of the main reasons he's able to control Gotham City at all.
"What's awesome about Batman is I've been planting these seeds forever and now I'm just watching them grow," King tells EW. "So going all the way back to issue 5, which is way far back, we showed that Gotham Girl has the power to take down the entire Justice League in about 30 seconds. So, when we talk about a city controlled by Bane, you might ask, why doesn't Superman just come down and end it? Why doesn't the Justice League take it over? Because they've got an atom bomb. Bane's not working with someone who can shove a staff in your face, he's working with someone who can punch Green Lantern into the next galaxy. But of course, the catch to that is, every time she uses her power she dies a little. By using her that way, he's killing her."
I Am Suicide
"I Am Gotham" was followed by an arc titled "I Am Suicide," in which Batman went toe-to-toe with the Suicide Squad in order to secure Psycho Pirate's therapeutic powers for the benefit of Gotham Girl. That wasn't the only meaning of the title, however. As Batman fought his way through Bane's South American stronghold – since the villain had been using Psycho Pirate for his own ends, to cure himself of addiction to the drug Venom – he revealed via internal narration that he had once attempted suicide.
This was a shocking revelation for some readers, but King thinks it's all part of who Batman is.
"I don't think I added to the myth; I think it sort of discovered stuff that was already in the myth, if that makes sense," he says. "The idea is that when Batman got on his knees and made that vow, in some ways he was killing his old self. He was saying, 'I have no more use for Bruce Wayne. I'm now this other thing. I'm the man who wars on criminals.' I think that was always there, I just made it a little more, maybe, explicit."
King adds, "There's a reason I'm not Batman, and you're not Batman, and even the Delta Force guys aren't Batman. They care about something other than being Batman, but Batman only cares about that. You and I don't go out every night and punch people in the face because we care about things like our family and not getting punched, but Batman only cares about that."
Only future issues will be able to tell whether that singular determination is enough to overcome Bane.
A few years before DC Rebirth, the publisher reinvented its entire line. Previous continuity was erased, and every comic series started off from a new issue #1. This initiative was called "the New 52," and it was accomplished through an event series titled Flashpoint in which the Flash went back in time to try to save his mother's life; in doing so, he created massive changes to the time-space continuum. Before things settled down into the New 52 status quo, readers glimpsed an alternate what-if universe with radically changed DC heroes. The most interesting element of that Flashpoint world was that the Batman mantle was worn not by Bruce Wayne, but his father Thomas. In that world, it was Bruce who was killed that fateful night in Crime Alley, while his father took a vow of revenge and declared a war on crime.
In May 2017, King's Batman briefly crossed over with The Flash for a story called "The Button," in which Bruce finally came face-to-face with the version of his father from this alternate dimension. Thomas, who in this incarnation has lived his own lifetime as Batman, declared that he did not want his son doing the same.
"I'm a writer — I'm fairly successful at it — but if my son was to come to me and say, 'Dad, I want to be a writer. In order to do that, I'm going to throw away my entire life. I'm gonna be totally obsessed with it. I'm gonna risk my well-being every single day. I'm just gonna be in love with being a writer and only care about writing for the rest of my life,' I'd be like, 'no, no, no don't do that. That's an absolutely horrible idea. You need balance in your life,'" King says. "Then it becomes an idea of addiction. The way his father sees it is, 'My son is addicted to something. He made this suicidal choice and now he can't quit.' So Thomas Wayne, and this becomes explicit in issue 74, is like, 'I can't break your addiction by being the nice dad, I'm going to break your addiction by bringing you to your lowest point.'"
Thomas wasn't kidding. He's willing to go to any lengths to save his son from the torment of being Batman…even if it means teaming up with Bane to take over Gotham. Thomas becomes Bane's top lieutenant – "the Darth Vader to his Emperor," in King's words.
One of the most fascinating recurring characters in King's Batman has been the villain known as Kite Man. Despite Batman's long and storied list of villains, Kite Man is probably not a name you've heard much before. Though he was originally created by Batman co-creator Bill Finger himself back in 1960, Kite Man has gotten new life thanks to King, who seized on the villain's name being Charles Brown and turned him into a tragic everyman figure, a villain who just can't get anything to work for him. Kite Man played an integral role in King's epic "War of Jokes and Riddles" arc, and will also feature prominently in "City of Bane."
"He does have an outsize role," King says. "I was basically saying to ['City of Bane' artist] Tony S. Daniel, who can draw beautiful stuff, 'you could draw any villain in the world here… but we're gonna focus on Kite Man.' He's got a big role because the city is controlled by villains, and he's a villain. When it comes to what working for Bane is like, and what fears go with that, our man on the ground is Kite Man. As usual, Lucy always takes the football and he always falls on his back. Poor fellow."
It all comes back to Catwoman. The romance between "Bat" and "Cat" has been a major part of King's Batman so far, and will strongly influence his endgame. One of the standout issues from the run was issue #49, the one just before the attempted wedding, in which Catwoman found herself in an hours-long stand-off with the Joker. As they both laid on the ground clutching their bleeding wounds, the two reminisced about the old days in between threatening to kill each other. It was a beautiful mess of divergent tones that also made perfect sense.
"Comic books are fundamentally absurd," King says. "They make no sense if you read them, especially if you read them under the presumption that all of this happened to one person. It's completely nonsensical. The thing that mitigates that is that life itself is fairly nonsensical. So the absurdity of comics can become a metaphor for the absurdities we go through every single day — which is good because a lot of movies give you these straight-ahead plots where there's a first act, a second act, and a third act, and it all resolves. That's not life. Life is like a comic book. Life is ongoing and, at least to you, never-ending. So, that's what I do. I take that absurdity seriously because when we look around everyday, we take absurdity seriously."
King continues, "That's just like one day in your job, where you're talking about some stupid TV show. Then you go home that night you have to talk about your father dying of cancer, and then later that day you have to talk about the groceries. Your brain has to process it all. And then you turn on the news and everything's falling apart. All of these things have to exist in you at once and that's what comics can be."
In that issue, the Joker strongly implied that if Catwoman married Batman and made him happy, then he wouldn't be Batman anymore. And in that case, who would be around to stop the Joker from killing everyone? That's a question Catwoman has struggled with. But another important reminder from that encounter is that she knows Batman's villains almost as well as he does. Together, the two of them might be Gotham City's only shot at salvation.
"For the past 25 issues, I've been torturing both myself and the audience, sort of tearing Batman apart get him to his lowest point," King says. "I'm super proud of those issues, but I knew looking at my outline this was going to be tough to write and tough for the audience. It's gonna be just tough for everyone. And we're finally turning that corner. We're at that low point — Wolverine at the bottom of Hellfire Club being like, 'Now it's my turn.' Or John Wick seeing his puppy die and being like, 'Alright it's on.' We're there. To me, it feels like it's a good place to take a breath before we start our last leg. You're running that 400 dash and your best runner just got the baton."
Batman #75 is available now.