Written by Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin, Hugo Petrus, June Chung, & Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: December 7, 2016
Well, that was a lot. Forewarning for discussions of suicide, trauma, and self-harm.
Bruce is looking for Selina, punching henchmen through Bane’s compound. Underneath the bloody fists, Bruce is exploring himself in relation to Selina and in the context of a world that sees the absurdity of a man dressed as a bat.
Difficult stories are important, and holy wow — is Batman #12 difficult. Comics should tell stories that push us into the dark spaces of our mind, but only if the creators are willing to do so with deliberation.
This story reveals that Bruce’s crusade is one borne out of emptiness, one which he feels he must undertake because life to him lost much of his meaning in that dark alley when he was ten. Even though he rushes headlong toward death, he also sees a bastion in Selina, whom he feels understands him and his impetus for donning the cape and cowl. Bruce is tragically the island and when he is with Selina he doesn’t feel so alone.
I have my own contention with the character, but when he’s vulnerable, whether literally or figuratively down on his knees, that’s when he’s best because he loses the gruff sheen that scares criminals and set him at odds with other heroes. When Bruce is like he is in this issue, that’s when we get to see him shine, although it is unfortunate that such a reality comes out of lifelong trauma and tragedy that he may never fully escape.
Tom King has put a new spin on the iconic image of Bruce kneeling at his bedside, vowing to fight crime. Such a foray into the emotional pain Bruce felt from the loss of his parents was jarring to say the least. Batman #12 is one of my favorite kinds of Bat stories, the kind which explores him in an emotional depth that examines the shape of his darkness.
I appreciate King’s imagining of that scene, made all the more powerful because it’s not visually represented, and the fact that it doesn’t betray the reality of pain and grief or the measures we go through to assuage them. The thought of suicide is not always about wanting to die; more often, it reflects a finality of our struggles and challenges. The thought of death is a handy cognitive representation of wanting relief, and suicide attempts can be the physical manifestation of that.
King took a topic that many of us fear for varied and valid reasons, then brought it to life as a representation of Bruce’s desire to live a life free from pain, but also his willingness to fight crime in order to push him closer to that delicate precipice.
King also changes the dynamic in Bruce’s relationship with Selina. Instead of him being drawn to her, and vice-versa, or being the contrived story of star-crossed love between a hero and villain, he reaches out to her because she gets him. She’s gone to the places that are Bruce actively fights, yet their motivations are starkly similar.
As someone who fights crime because he is ‘suicide,’ Bruce is — just as he said — still that ten year-old boy struggling to make sense of a trauma he didn’t deserve. The fact that he finds a home in anyone is remarkable, and his reality is reflected in many others who have to constantly face their own darkness or experiences on a day to day basis. Things are much better when you aren’t alone, and it sounds like Bruce wants someone next to him who sees his crusade for what it is and sticks around regardless.
This issue is introspective and text-heavy, to the point that it takes up a lot of a reader’s attention, yet the art team contributed stellar imagery to Bruce baring his soul without getting lost in the narrative or its meaning. Mikel Janin captures nearly each and every one of Bruce’s movements, guiding your eyes through each takedown and attack. This framelike style can represent Bruce’s own adventure into the machinations of his psyche, with each of his images representing the permeation of his trauma through everything he does.
Janin works with Hugo Petrus on inks, adding a gently leaden depth to each image. The inking isn’t too heavy, allowing the lines to mingle with the ironic softness of many of the images. June Chung’s colors fit in all the right ways. The darker scenes, which take up much of the issue, are perfect for matching the darkness within the story.
The brief moment when Bruce scales the wall, only to plunge back into the ocean, is startlingly clear, competing with his reemergence into Bane’s lair, facing the darkness of his enemy and himself. Chung’s colors follow the developments expressed through Bruce’s thoughts, ending with pages that are a haunting and vivid orange, mirroring the heartbreaking revelation at the end of the issue.
Batman #12 will give you a lot of things to process and may open doors for you that hide the same shadows Bruce tries his damnedest to keep at bay. To that end, I understand how this can be a difficult read for many people. In that same vein, I think this issue is immensely powerful because it questions not only Bruce’s motivations for his crusade against crime, but also why we do the things we do and what we hope to get out of them. There is a grand discussion to have about the content of this issue which I hope prompts people to think about their own trauma and how it manifests now. Kudos to the team for creating this brilliant piece of work, from word to image, and for doing so with a delicacy befitting its nature.
The Verdict: 10/10