Normally I can tell whether a comic is good or not after a couple readings, even if it’s not in my taste or it’s about one of my favourite characters. That said, sometimes I really like something the first couple of times, but then it quickly fades out of my mind. This happened with the Star Wars Prequels. Before I properly developed taste in fiction, I actually enjoyed The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones (even if something inside told me that AOTC wasn’t all that good). Years later I can still enjoy them a little bit due to nostalgia, but I know they’re bad movies. Attack of the Clones’ second act in particular is a chore to sit through. Sometimes that still happens today, where I enjoy a movie the first time I read it, or even a comic story arc the first time I read it. The first Civil War event from Marvel is a good example. I enjoyed it at first, but that’s partly because I didn’t know how out of character Iron Man and Captain America both were. I haven’t touched it for years now. Why am I saying all of this? Because that’s kind of how I’m feeling about this Batman run right now.
Written by Tom King, Batman 20 finishes off the I Am Bane story arc. I started reading this series from the beginning, and I liked the new direction and where the series seemed to be going. I’ll still defend the first story arc, involving Gotham and Gotham Girl. Their sudden appearance on the hero scene, and their subsequent fall to the twisted nature of Gotham City, is a compelling story. That said, the I Am Suicide follow up isn’t really that good, even if I enjoyed it the first time round. I Am Bane started off with some great intense build-up, but it went downhill as time went on.
Batman 20 is entirely made up of the fight between Batman and Bane, and it’s a particularly brutal one. In the meantime, there are flashbacks and internal narrations for Tom King’s entire run as a whole, told through Batman’s perspective. This narration is fine enough, but it also tells the story of three relatively simple story arcs, the first of which started less than a year ago. It doesn’t really feel necessary. And when I said the fight is particularly brutal, I mean to a ridiculous degree. That’s mostly told through the art, but let’s talk a bit about it here anyway. Blood is flying out of both their mouths, so much so that it’s hard to imagine their facial bones aren’t being shattered. When Bane is punching clean through concrete floors, it’s hard to imagine how Batman can even survive a punch straight to his exposed jaw. There’s one particular moment where Bane stomps on Batman’s back with shoes that are spiked on the bottom, with blood splashing all over the place both times. And yet somehow, Batman still wins this fight with a single head-butt. It’s hard to take this fight seriously. The very last page shows Bruce having an imaginary conversation with his mother, and it’s a nice moment, but it’s the only remotely memorable part of this comic.
The art by David Finch is mostly good in terms of quality, but it also emphasizes how over the top the fight scene is. Facial expressions do a good job at conveying the equal rage that both characters feel, with a touch of fatigue and clear pain. The moment where Bane punches through the concrete floor is complete with chunks of concrete flying all over the place, and there’s more debris when they start tossing each other around the hallway. Half of Bane’s face showing through his torn mask the entire time is also a nice touch. That said, this is mostly just the two of them fighting each other, and it’s not all that dynamic of a fight. It’s mostly punches, with neither of them seeming to attempt at blocking or dodging, and there are a couple throws here and there. I’m not sure whether the flashback pages are images from the earlier comics or not (they all look very familiar), so I won’t touch on them here. The colouring by Jordie Bellaire is also good- nothing much to comment on there.
When this series first started, I really enjoyed it. Now, I’m ready to drop it. It’s weird that two Bane story arcs in a row feel so underwhelming, save for some brilliant build-up on both parts and the over the top fight scene in this issue. I Am Bane just doesn’t live up to its potential and I wouldn’t recommend it.