For sixty issues, Tom King has been throwing Dark Knight fans curve balls again and again. Once we think we have things figured out and have been lulled into a place of familiarity, King winds up a wild pitch we never saw coming. Sometimes it comes in the form Bruce Wayne getting stood up on his wedding day, or the slow revelation that the seeds planted dozens of issues prior have grown into a network of weeds choking the city of Gotham, all while we’ve been busy focusing on something else entirely. It’s a comic book magic show in the best sort of way. With regard to the new illusion Tom King and artist Travis Moore are weaving in the pages of Batman #61, we have no idea how the prestige of their trick will play out, but it's certain to catch us off guard.
More often than not, the best Batman stories approach the world's greatest detective from an unorthodox angle. This can mean driving narration through an ancillary character, or keeping the the focus on the world in which Bruce Wayne lives instead of on the hero himself. Batman #61 does this on both accounts, creating a new story line, appropriately titled "Knightmare," with great dialogue and slow burn reveals translated through smart visual cues.
So we don't get too far deep into spoiler territory, the issue begins with the all too common image of young Bruce Wayne kneeling over his slain parents. It's a scene which still has some impact despite being ingrained in our cultural consciousness to the point of numbness. Yes, we've seen this in just about every iteration of the Dark Knight in comics, film, video games and television, but the horror of the situation still speaks to people on a primal level. There is a feeling of hopelessness that permeates our worst fears on a basic level. It's a awful moment in a young boy's life, something we wouldn't wish on anyone.
King and Moore present Batman's well-tread iconography with a sudden twist which may leave some readers scratching their heads and wondering just what in the world is going on. As the issue continues, we begin to get the gist of what is really happening (again, we apologize for being vague), and once the truth is out, we see yet again another string King has suddenly pulled taut. And just like that, the horror we once knew oh, so well evolves into something most cerebral and somehow even more terrifying. There is a darkness in the pages of Batman #61 which does not rely on gothic imagery or classic horror tropes (for the most part). The gears quickly shift from David Lynch's brand of ethereal nightmare logic into Thomas Harris-style corruption of humanity.
When it comes to writing Batman comics these days, Tom King is...well, king. His work has been celebrated by fans and critics in equal measure, and his place as one of the greatest Batman scribes of all time is pretty much guaranteed. And while not all of his work is stellar in terms of broad impact, every choice he makes is leading toward something bigger. Even if you aren't keen on where those choices lead to, it's nigh impossible to disregard them. Batman #61 feels like a single pane of a stain glass image. You can appreciate the craftsmanship on a micro level, feel the weight of the glass in your palm, but once it is put into place among the other colorful cuts, there will most likely be an image that will stay with you forever.
Travis Moore's artwork plays with the story beats wonderfully, rendering a lot of the familiar mirror panels that have become hallmarks of this title with finesse. His line work is blunt and clean. His panel layout is simple, yet impactful in their sudden visual reveals. Moore understands comic books are a visual medium and that it's his job to convey the story as much as it is the writer's. Thankfully, he does his job wonderfully just as he has in previous contributions to the series.
Batman #61 is yet another fantastic issue in a series which has remained consistently solid. If you've been with the book this long, there's no reason to run from it now. It's issues like this that make Batman feel closer akin to titles like Batman: Shadow of the Bat or Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, only with a larger scope of vision, which is nothing short of legendary.