Having extricated The Psycho Pirate from Bane's base of operations in Santa Prisca at the end of his "I Am Suicide" arc, Tom King and returning artist David Finch kick off "I Am Bane" in "Batman" #16, where Bane makes a play to get him back. Bane also makes a move against specific members of the Bat-family, but not before King explores the dynamic between the men behind the masks, not as a Bat-family, but an actual one. King's exploration of the relationship between Bruce and the boys he helped raise is a rare look at how a special family interacts in a surprisingly normal and light-hearted way, highlighting another tremendously structured and executed issue in King's impressive run.
There has been no shortage of stories over the years featuring Batman in action alongside Dick Grayson / Jason Todd / Damian Wayne, and even a few featuring these characters teaming together in various combinations, but relatively few where they gather as father / sons / brothers, instead of superhero and sidekicks. Rather than put them in front of the fireplace or on the Wayne Manor tennis courts, though, King instead puts them in the comedic setting of a Bat-themed fast-food restaurant, serving as the impetus for another rarely-seen element in Batman's world: humor. The backdrop enables King to show the kind of antics any normal family might engage in: talking, then bickering, and almost a food fight – a refreshing change from battling super-villains.
The banter is the kind of chitchat that one would expect overhearing from the next table while stopping for lunch, at least until the talk turns to the inevitable Bat-stuff, and shows a side of these characters generally not seen, and is all too believable as executed by King. The dynamic is further expanded with the addition of Duke, who sees Bruce a little differently than his eye-rolling "sons," a moment that actually advances the story, giving the sequence some genuine importance beyond the needed downtime. The scene begs for more exploration like this in future issues; that is, should all members of the Bat-family survive the storyline.
The issue's mood switches from serious to light and back again, and both King and Finch manage the transitions with disparate methods that work equally well. After Batman and an unexpected ally undertake a mission at Arkham Asylum, both creators flip the switch from dark to daffy with the turn of a page – King and Finch upend the dark demeanor of Batman's presence in Gotham with the deliciously hilarious idea of deprecating the franchise with the corporate "McBatman" treatment. King's Bat-puns are groan-worthy enough to be amusing, while Finch's interpretation of them are nothing short of sidesplitting.
When it's time to switch back from mirthful to meaningful, the transition is more gradual, eventually transforming from serious to downright grim, with a deadly and ominous shocker on the final page. The varied techniques used by King and Finch evoke everything from laughs to empathy to surprise, giving the entirety of the issue a well-rounded feel and making the first part of the new storyline feel like something whole in and of itself. Jordie Bellaire's colors play no small part in the various moods, jumping from dark and shadowy, to bright and garish, to downright frightening. And John Workman's lettering is always welcomed.
"Batman" #16 is the latest triumph in King's masterful run, and Finch's return to the title cements his place in the roster of impressive artists that have contributed thus far. Like past storylines, "I Am Bane" starts off remarkably, and readers can continue to be thankful that they only have to endure a two-week wait between issues.