Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: May 17, 2017
“The strangest team-up in history!” Truer words have never been spoken because this issue of Batman continues the themes that have been weaved throughout King’s run and allows for Gerads art to go places you wouldn’t expect. King and Gerads take this simple team-up to an entirely different direction you visually and plot-wise won’t guess where it’s going. Simply put, Batman #23 is not what you think.
From the start, Batman #23 sets itself apart with the old cue cards signifying each chapter name. The events begin with a nursery rhyme, murder, and two shots as a normal investigation in Gotham quickly turns into anything but, as Swamp Thing marks this specific murder as a personal matter.
Gerads is no entry level artist when it comes to environments and giving them clues in and of themselves (see: The Sheriff of Babylon). The grimy and poorly managed room alight with the dingy scattered papers and other items tell the story of the poor man that was killed. With each panel, we focus more and more on a insignificant amount of dirt that reveals itself as a gateway for Swamp Thing — with his color, frame, and stature slick into the background with nine panels to detail his rise to full form. Orange speech balloons and all, he gives the Commissioner a good scare and only gets acknowledgement from Batman (who doesn’t even turn around to welcome his presence).
We move to Wayne Manor where one of the more intricate and lighter moments take place between Bruce and Alec. It’s the small, step-by-step motions Gerads takes in fulfilling the scenes that make the book something special. Showing Alfred getting cleaning supplies for their visiting Green King is hilarious in its own right. Sprinkling in King’s dialogue could be letting us know and understand more about Swamp Thing’s state than he’s letting on at face value.
At every corner, Gerads owns this book, his Swamp Thing containing all manner of foliage sprouting from his back side and soaking in the sunlight as he sits with Bruce. The detail of showing how he operates even the most minimal of tasks like making tea from himself and Alfred cleaning up after him with a fine toothbrush helps the quieter moments between the two heroes with parental problems.
Never without death-defying stunts in a Batman book, we zero in on the King mainstay that is Kite Man. Batman makes for an unconventional interrogator and quickly gets answers from the crying Kite Man who speaks so fast his words are jammed together. It’s here we pick up speed as the two narrow the search for the killer and we get two “intermission” chapters that poke fun at both Swamp Thing and Batman. The pair are by far one of the weirdest pairs to investigate a crime. gGiven that Swamp Thing talks to grass thousands of miles away to get information and Batman sky falls with his villains to get answers, they share some similarities that make this adventure worthwhile.
The two finally catch the killer at the museum and a lot happens here, and it echoes what King has been stressing in his run on Batman since #1. Batman is more personal than he’s ever been and it goes back to the trauma of Bruce’s parents and his mission that honors them. King has given us a Batman that’s emotional, more Bruce than Bat. We’ve seen him handle himself and explore his relationship with his parents in the I Am Bane storyline that sees a weakened Batman explain to his mom WHY he does what he does, WHY he helped Gotham Girl get over her trauma of losing her brother and moving on from it.
This resonates in the closing moments of #23 with King lowering Swamp Thing to not the Warrior of The Green but back to Alec Holland. He’s a man filled with rage that his father was unjustly murdered and he acts on these emotions and has the power to do what he wants with those powers. He kills his father’s killer, letting the roots and vines of his body irrecoverably turn his body into a plant. This triggers something inside Batman. Previously in the issue, Swamp Thing reassures there’s something beyond just dying and that being the extent of your life. Bruce takes this to heart by the end because it comes into question with Swamp Thing’s revelation that destroys the peaceful comfort of what happens after we die.
Everything Batman and Swamp Thing united to do comes undone as the truth comes out about why Swamp Thing helped Batman in the first place. Death and letting go has been a key part in comics and that goes double for King and Batman. Characters under his pen have grappled with real human pain throughout these three arcs and this issue highlights how even after decades…there’s still room for Batman to stop being a mythological figure for the city and be a man doing his best to hold up the walls of his pain that drives him to put on the cowl everyday.
Batman #23 is a landmark issue and another victorious collaboration between King and Gerads. It’s surprisingly both heartfelt and a gut punch to your emotions for two characters that are shown as larger than life entities. Just like the “Rooftops” arc by the pair, “The Brave and the Mold” takes Batman to an emotional plateau we don’t usually see and with Gerads art we’re given plenty to look over on multiple reads. This issue is a winner across the board.
The Verdict: 10/10