There was only one way for this story arc to end. After last issue shows us a driven world’s greatest detective, Batman #57 was clearly going to show us the Dark Knight. I was shocked to see exactly how it was done.
In this issue the regular team of Tom King, Tony Daniel, Tomeu Morey and Clayton Cowles are joined unexpectedly by Mark Buckingham and Andrew Pepoy. It was a welcome surprise, especially for a longtime Fables fan like myself. I was not prepared for what I’d find in the issue though.
Batman finds himself face to face with the KGBeast. Entwined with their brutal fight is a Russian folk tale about five animals who end up in a dire situation together. As Batman and the Beast brutally beat and maim each other, the animals each meet a grisly fate. Then, as it seems Batman is beaten, he fires his grapple into the Beast’s face, breaking his neck.
Then the issue ends in haunting parallel. The last surviving animal’s fate is left ambiguous. And Batman leaves the severely injured Beast in the snow, rejecting a bargain by declaring, “I’m the world’s greatest detective, and I will find who hired you myself and break them as I did you.”
King’s massive Batman super-arc has been starting to peel back its layers since the seminal Batman #50. This arc was a clear step forward in leading Batman towards the presence trying to tear his life apart. It was shocking and brutal as well. However, as a friend rightfully pointed out, in the past King has swerved from the expected path and here he didn’t, leaving the issue slightly disappointing in that regard.
Daniel’s art on the main story goes beyond a simple superhero dust-up. He plays with engaging shots and perspectives. This keeps the action moving and engaging. It shows Daniel’s skill, and why he’s one of the top tier artists working today.
Buckingham and Pepoy’s pages are just simply gorgeous. It felt like I was picking up an issue of Fables again. Their slightly cartoony style make the shocking violence of the story stand out more as well, and heightened the impact of the folktale, as well as the story’s last page.
I have to think a fight in the snow is the hardest possible task for a color artist. Morey colors it in deep earthy shades, making the shocks of bright red blood stand out more. His work on the folktale is a shift, but he uses an ethereal style that makes it even more haunting.
Cowles does great work in this issue. The dialogue is sparse, and he uses slightly undersized font to make the dialogue land harder. His captions in the folktale also help with the dreamy, fairytale quality of the story.
This continues to be my favorite Batman run, even with a few warts. If you gave up on the book after the aborted wedding, you really need to get back into the series.
Batman #57 is available now from DC Comics.