Written by Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin, Hugo Petrus, June Chung
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: November 16, 2016
Batman and his version of the Suicide Squad infiltrate Santa Prisca in an attempt to retrieve the Psycho Pirate… and somebody will die!
The Suicide Squad is having a moment right now, between the movie, the current comic, and the upcoming Justice League v. Suicide Squad crossover event. But one of the best Suicide Squad stories being published at the moment isn’t about the Squad at all, it’s in Tom King’s Batman. This issue continues the story of Batman’s ersatz Suicide Squad as the team’s infiltration mission gets into full swing, then goes pear-shaped.
King’s writing does a flawless job of evoking everything that made Ostrander’s Squad great, without ever feeling hackneyed or clichéd. He keeps the story personal and the characters front-and-center, so that it’s still a Batman story through-and-through even as it perfectly mimics the elements of a well-told Suicide Squad mission. That means an intricate plan with a lot of moving pieces, a team whose overlapping and conflicting self-interests are always kept at the forefront, betrayals, and, as the solicit text for this issue has already spoiled, deaths.
This issue is also about the Batman/Catwoman relationship, and it’s a great example of something Tom King does better than anyone else writing at the Big Two today: it takes a shopworn comic book conflict and really pulls at it, stretching it to the breaking point to see what happens. This arc has been focused on the conflict at the core of Bat/Cat: “He’s a hero! She’s a villain! How can they ever make it work?” Most creators who’ve tackled this heretofore have settled on a mushy compromise: She’s not really that much of a villain, more of a Robin Hood rob-from-the-rich-to-give-to-the-poor type, whose only real crime is occasionally keeping some for herself. Batman’s half of the compromise is to make the tiniest of exceptions to the seamless garment of his ethical code: he won’t turn in just this one villain, an easy concession to make since Catwoman was generally written as a hero who uses slightly outrémethods.
A recurring theme in King’s comic book writing is rejecting pat and easy compromises. What if there isn’t an easy middle ground? What if letting Catwoman go was genuinely a hard decision for Batman to make? So he pushes the conflict to the breaking point: As revealed in the last few issues, Catwoman is a mass murderer, guilty of personally murdering every member of a terrorist organization. Her motives make sense (to me, at least, and I’ve been a fan of Catwoman for years, though I’d understand if some object to this point), so the question becomes, what will Batman do when forced to really decide between his love and his ideals?
We don’t find out the answer to that question in this issue. But we do find out what Catwoman thinks the answer will be.
Mikel Janin’s art is crisp and dynamic. His layouts are always interesting and engaging, and he draws emotion in faces like noone else. Catwoman spends most of the issue with her mask on, but there’s so much soul injected in the few panels where she takes it off that it’s all you can remember afterwards. June Chung’s colors are soft and subtle, from the pink in Catwoman’s cheeks to the gray in Wesker’s. The orange lighting throughout the prison is particularly effective, most notably in the final scene of the issue.
King and Janin deliver an amazing issue of Batman, and a fantastic Suicide Squad story, to boot. King delivers long-form storytelling while still infusing every individual issue with meaning. This is a fantastic comic.
The Verdict: 10/10