Saturday, August 18, 2018

Batman #53 by Tom King and Lee Weeks -- A Review

With the third chapter of their third Batman story together, Tom King and Lee Weeks have unequivocally established themselves as one of the greatest Batman creative teams.  Top 10, Top 20, Top 40?  It doesn't matter what their rank is, because that would be debatable; the fact remains that the achievement has been reached (if it hadn't been already with just the Elmer Fudd story).  I will layout my case to support this bold claim below (after the break) in my SPOILER-FILLED Review: 

"Cold Days" is a three-part masterpiece akin to the three-part "Angels Unaware" Daredevil story (also by Lee Weeks) that came out five years ago.  My review of the first part of that magnificent story can be found here.  However, this time I'm concentrating on the last part of the story-arc.  For one reason, it was the issue that moved me the most.  For another, there is no way I'm going to find the other two issues in the dark while my wife is still sleeping in on a Saturday morning!  The drawback is that any thoughts I have on the first two parts (Batman #51 & 52) are relying on faulty memories. Please forgive any inaccuracies in that regard.

Batman #50 was to be the much anticipated wedding of Batman and Catwoman (aka Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle).  While I recognized how well-crafted that particular issue was with the mirroring panel layouts, I HATED the outcome.  Basically, Selina thought that if she married her love, he wouldn't be as effective as Batman, whom the world desperately needed.  To make things worse, she sent him a "Dear Bruce" letter!  After all that build up, all that hype, they didn't get married!  What a disappointment. And even though I got the first two issues of the new Catwoman series, I haven't read them yet, because I'm still upset with her.  Although, I have a theory that they will get married for real before its all said and done.  After all, the DC universe is due for another Rebirth someday and you can always push the envelope before the end. 

"Cold Days" is the direct fallout from that event.  Mister Freeze is on trial for murdering three women and Bruce Wayne is in the jury box!  We learn via courtroom testimony what is alleged to have happened (#51).  Freeze confessed after Batman put a massive beat-down on him. The evidence strongly suggests that he did commit the crime, evidence discovered not by the police, but by Batman himself, the "World's Greatest Detective".  The second part (#52) details the jury deliberations.  After the discussion someone asks if anyone thinks Freeze is not guilty.  Only a single hand goes up --Bruce Wayne's!  Now, in this issue (#53), Bruce tries to convince the jury that Batman made a mistake.  Sounds like a pretty cool story, doesn't it?  And it certainly is, but what elevates this story to an even higher level is the argument Bruce uses to make his point and it centers on God and Christianity.  Yeah, I never saw that coming either, but boy was it awesome.  Dang, I just realized that this has all been a stretched out preamble up to this point.  At this rate, I'm never going to get back to bed...

Bruce directs a question to one of his fellow jurors, asking her if she is wearing a cross (that is not readily visible only suggested by her clothing and a glimpse of a chain).  She is.  She professes her belief in God and asks him if he believes too.  "I used to." is his response.  Bruce states:

"My father was a Christian.  He held hallow the immortal soul, Heaven, the Father and the Son.  Giving your will to your Lord, trusting Him with that will.  He wanted me to believe, too.  But he wanted me to come to it on my own.  We went to church.  He told me all the stories.  Talked a lot about what we can control, what we can't"

We're on page three now, and the text above was laid out over two panels.  The first one shows a long shot of Bruce and his father going to church, holding hands.  The second panel zooms in on their hands.  The third panel maintains the focus, but the scene is shifted to the same set of hands in a different circumstance.  The black suits are now illuminated in a blood red color.  "Later."  Panel four zooms out mid-way and we see Bruce leaning over his father and mother's bullet-ridden bodies on Crime Alley.  "After..." 

I'm verklempt again and my eyes are getting moist.  For two reasons I think, the scene itself of a boy dealing with the death of his father something I'm familiar with and reading an accurate description of Christianity in a comic book.  I get really excited about the life changing Gospel message and anytime it's making a possible inroads into other's lives via a non-traditional medium is astounding.

On page 4, Bruce continues his personal story.  For the jurors, they hear from a man who abandoned his belief in God, because God didn't save his parents.  So he went to search for other answers.  For the reader we see images of Bruce being comforted by Alfred, training in a gym, and climbing a mountain in the Far East, before finally returning home.

Page 5: "...And I waited for something to find me."  Full-page splash of Batman swinging through Gotham.

Pages 6 and 7 each have three column panels depicting Batman defeating (mostly off panel except for the occasional fist or kick) a different villain: Joker, Penguin, Scarecrow, Riddler, Two-Face, and finally Mister Freeze.  The last image is pulled-back so we finally see more of Batman, reminding us of the story focus. The captions detail how Batman "beats back the bullies...[and] keeps [the citizens of Gotham] safe."

Page 8 -- "Bruce...Your argument for why Batman might have made mistakes with that you think he's God?" Zooming in on her cross now in the last panel, Bruce responds, "I thought he was God."

Page 9 shows Bruce asking the jurors if they'd be dead without Batman.  They all raise their hands.

Page 10 shows Mister Freeze being led to his cell with text that reinforces Bruce's assertion that the jurors also think of Batman as God in that they don't question him.  "Our lives are his.  We Worship.  We do not inspect."

Page 11, a great line. "God is above us.  And he wears a cape."

Page 12, six wonderful equally-sized panels in two rows of three showing Bruce drinking a cup of water.  I especially liked the fourth one where Bruce looks at his cup introspectively and the last, where he looks directly at the reader, quoting God from the book of Job: "And who are you?"

Page 13, Bruce tells the jurors about Job.  The last panel, a full length column depicting clouds with Crepuscular rays emphasizes the majesty of God's response to Job, when He was questioned.  "Who are you?"  Now Job can be a tough book to understand, especially since he's got three "friends" that say all sorts of things about God and life that are wrong. But if you were a lazy reader you might take things out of context and claim the Bible is saying something it's not.  King's script gets to the heart of the Bible's first book of Wisdom.

[I'm just hitting the staples!]

Page 14, Bruce is getting verklempt himself.  Hand holding his head. The woman wearing the cross asks if he's okay.  He can't respond right away, but then he explains that he got hurt recently.

The next two pages (15 & 16) are full-page splashes.  The first is Batman looking up. "I was happy."  The second shows that he was watching Catwoman up on a fire escape. "And then it all fell..."  We never got to see Bruce's reaction after the wedding issue.  We only delved directly into this Mister Freeze murder trial.  But now we read how distraught he was and how he went to Batman [his God] for help, meaning he went bad-guy bashing with a vengeance.

Page 17 has us back in the jury room and Bruce gets to the crux of his argument:

"He's not God.  He's not.  He tries...  He does... I know.  And he fails, and he tries again.  But he can't...  He does not provide solace from pain.  He cannot give you hope for the eternal.  He cannot comfort you for the love you lost.  God blesses your soul with grace.  Batman punches people in the face."

His argument continues on the next three pages:  Page 18 speaks to the sacred duty of the jury and reiterates that Batman is "not perfect.  He's just like us.  But in a leather bat suit."  Page 19 is broken up in twelve panels, each focusing on a different juror, ending with Bruce.  "However good he is, we can be just as good. However flawed we are, he can be just as flawed."  Page 20, reveals the real reason for it all, showing Batman's brutality in his rage and anguish over Catwoman's abandonment, Bruce pleads not just for Freeze but for Batman.  If Freeze is condemned, then Batman is condemned too for making a mistake.  "Save him."

Page 21, the jury gets up and leaves the room.  The text is a conversation between Bruce and Alfred afterwards.  We discover that Bruce bribed his way unto the jury. Alfred remarks that it was "not exactly the purest way to achieve a [Not Guilty] verdict."  Bruce tells him to get the original suit ready, he doesn't want to wear the most recent one when he was happy with Catwoman.  "Alfred.  I was...  I'm lost."

Page 22 -- full-page splash of Batman in his first costume.  "I need to remember who I am."  And finally, a quote from Job 1: 20-21:

"Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head. He fell down upon the ground, and worshiped.  He said, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return.  Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Brilliant. King (script), Weeks (art), Breitweiser (color), and Cowles (letters) have produced a gem of a story.  They deftly handle the philosophical themes without losing sight of telling just a great "in continuity" Batman tale.  It's a perfect example of How Comics Work and most of all a reason to still support and enjoy NEW comics!  It's wonderful and a must-read!

I don't know where Tom King is spiritually, but I do know Lee Weeks is a born-again Christian.  We spoke at length at the Baltimore Comic-Con a few years ago.  I had to find out after reading that Daredevil story he wrote and drew.  I may just get to ask Tom myself at the convention this year.  He and Lee (YES!) are both going to be there.  I can't wait, or rather, I will likely wait in a very long line, but I think it might be worth it.

I'm finally done posting for my week, see you all next month...


  1. Ha ha as soon as I read this issue I knew why you loved it. It was a very good story but I'm saw it is more of King using the religious themes to make a point about Bruce and what he is going through. Regardless I believe Tom King is in the same class of Batman runs as O'Neil/Adams and Grant Morrison. Tom king is a brilliant story teller and Lee Weeks is a great artist.

  2. I definitely agree that they're in the O'Neil/Adams, Englehart/Rogers class. Certainly he was making a point, but I loved how honest and accurate he was in doing so. If he didn't know on his own, then Lee would have helped him get it straight. I would buy some original art from this issue (like the water cooler page). I was ready to dump this title like Selina dumped Bruce, but now I think I need to stick with it (or just get the Weeks issues.)