The hype was reaching a fever pitch by the time Batman #21 hit the shelves: the whole foundation of the Rebirth relaunch was finally going to be examined. Tom King AND Josh Williamson were sharing writing duties. Jason Fabok was on art. Motherhumping LENTICULAR covers!
And yet this book soared on all notes, giving that hype some legitimacy.
First off, back in the day, we talked to Tom King about layouts in his comics, about how he chooses certain grid formations to convey emotions and give a nice symmetry to his books. In this, the pacing he chooses through nine-panel grids evokes some serious anxiety, especially against the backdrop of a ticking clock.
Fabok knocks it out of the park adhering to the pacing King establishes: one would never think multiple panels featuring Batman getting his face pulped by Reverse Flash would be so compelling, but every panel’s action was delivered with brutal clarity by Fabok, who inked his own work. EVERY PANEL – especially the ones where Thawne is giving a soliloquy towards Flashpoint Batman, which in and of itself led to an act so heartbreaking that I had trouble digesting the rest of the story: it was triggering my anxiety HARD.
And that’s the rub - King excels at putting his characters in positions of complete helplessness when facing the story’s progress. The Omega Men needed to lose battles to win the war and Virginia needed to keep making fatal mistakes, and here Batman needed to be at the whim of a psychotic speedster.
The color work here by Brad Anderson is perfect. The stark brightness of Thawne’s costume against the darkness of the cave makes for a powerful dynamic, and he more than meets the challenge of the nine-panel grids. His Batman is soaked in blood, and when Thawne eventually partially disintegrates it’s a terrible, wonderful image that is hard to forget as the vibrant blues are haunting.
And then there’s arguably my favorite part of the book: the call back to issue number 9. In that issue we’re shown a woman who could be Saturn Girl locked away in Arkham Asylum, unable to defeat the visions that plague her. She’s brought back in this issue with foresight into the oncoming dangers, triggered by a simple hockey fight that the Flash will be unable to help. It’s a series of dominoes that gets toppled and a subplot that I’m beside myself with excitement to get into.
By the way, the lenticular covers also lived up to the hype: these things are gorgeous fun, a throwback to 90’s Bat-books without seeming to overdo it.
This is as good an issue of Batman as we’ve seen in a while: Jason Fabok crams hyperkinetic energy and anxiety in nearly every panel. Brad Anderson renders the scenes beatifically. Tom King uses every trick he can to make a short narrative seem like an agonizingly long time. And there’s still more story to go!