As one of DC's flagship titles and characters, Batman will always garner immense scrutiny. Over the years, these stories -- as good as they've been -- have just never felt like anything groundbreaking enough to truly place the Dark Knight in a spotlight of his own.
Until 2018, when Tom King, Mikel Janin and company took the emotional stakes up a notch by deconstructing the man under the cowl like never before. In doing so, the bar has been raised so high for Batman that it'll be interesting to see how other creatives teams (even the current one) try to top this year's work.
Now, that's not to say we didn't enjoy the emotionally-driven stories from previous writers, because we can point to Grant Morrison's killing of Bruce Wayne and taking him on a trip through time and Scott Snyder's assault on the entire Bat-family at the hands of Joker as tales that shook us to the core. But in terms of really redefining the Dark Knight, 2018 feels like the first year this has happened since the "Knightfall" saga in the '90s. And that's because it wasn't about Batman having contingency plans left, right and center, or being unbeatable. It was all about him failing and his humanity slipping away.
The BatCat wedding, for instance, got mainstream press like never before, as the world wanted to see Bruce and Catwoman finally tie the knot. It didn't happen, which ticked off a large portion of fans, but it showed the unpredictable nature of love and got so many people invested. And the way some of the haters even jumped back on the title after Selina left him at the altar made it clear King's decision wasn't for gimmicky shock value -- it was substance over style. He's already said they'll end up together at some point, but right now it's about deconstructing a psyche we previously thought invulnerable.
Bruce's psychological breakdown in the wake of this has been remarkable because so many watershed moments have emerged as a result. No longer is he invincible mentally and physically, which has had a ripple effect throughout the entire Bat-family. The depressed hero lost his grip on understudies like Batwoman and Red Hood, and he isn't even sure if he can groom the next generation of vigilantes (ergo why he's recruited Black Lightning to lead the Outsiders). Damian's also started torturing criminals, and Bruce even redeveloped trust issues with his Justice League colleagues.
This all stems from the way King has taken away Bruce's belief in the future, not to mention seeing Dick Grayson take a bullet to the head, which is the ideal way to send Batman off his rocker. In fact, just a couple issues later, the Dark Knight punched Jim Gordon out and became an enemy of the city, making it clear that 2019 will be about finding that light once more inside.
It won't be easy, as we've even seen the genius Bane outdo the Joker and rise up as the architect of all Bruce's suffering via a meticulous plan involving multiple allies; something no other villain has ever come close to achieving. The point is, we've never seen Bruce's universe crumble like this, and it all feels natural. It's as if King took breaking points from the last decade to create one huge seismic shift. And putting him through these tests like never before makes the book appeal on a deeper level, rather than being just another superhero book.
No other DC book was able to pack with such aplomb the hooks, twists, romances, horror, comedy (yes, we're looking at you Kite Man), violence towards criminals (like KGBeast and Mr. Freeze) and threat of the final boss lurking like Batman in 2018. The scary thing is it's merely the beginning for yet another tumultuous chapter in Bruce's life. By finely needling down into the very concept of family and love, King made the book not just a fight for the very soul of Bruce, but for the the soul of Gotham, which, for the first time, feels like a losing battle.