Batman 's “Knightmares” story arc has been somewhat divisive among fans, as Tom King and a rotating roster of artists bring to life one of the Dark Knight's hellish scenarios after another. Each issue has been lauded as being deeply poetic and introspective, but some readers have viewed the series of one-shot phantasmagorias as self-indulgent and stagnant in terms of moving the larger narrative along. These opinions vacillate wildly from issue to issue depending on who you ask, but even if “Knightmares” doesn’t quite work for you, it’s a fascinating experiment, at the very least. Now, Batman #69 delivers the final installment of these loose-knit stories and forces Bruce Wayne to stare lovingly into the eyes of his greatest fear. And, frankly, it’s beautiful.
For the last few years, King has colored outside the lines with his scripts. The stories he often tells are only tangentially connected to the larger DC Universe, which is pretty bold for a flagship title. The final chapter of “Knighmares” might be the best example of the devil may care attitude the series tends to exude in both its artwork and storytelling. The technical jargon used to explain why Batman has been reliving versions of various moments in his career and personal life is all well and good, but it’s not what really sings. Instead, its the marriage of pictures and words and how they dance across the pages, sometimes literally, that breathe life into this issue mores than normal.
Exploring the psychology of Bruce Wayne is like traversing a landmine field of mental baggage. So much of his own personality is hidden away from those who care for him, but when his defenses are lowered, the little boy who lost his parents in that dark ally all those years ago reveals himself like an exposed nerve. Seeing such a stoic, dark, figure be so vulnerable is both endearing and heartbreaking. Tom King and artist Yanick Paquette explore the human size of Batman by giving readers a look at a fear many of us can relate to and ask if a man who has dedicated his life to a crusade can truly find love and happiness in a world filled with oppressive dark forces which leave little room for lowering one's defenses.
King often tackles superheroes from unorthodox angles; his knack for digging deep into the pathos of flamboyant characters is almost unmatched. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, let's just say Batman #69 explores one of the biggest emotional tragedies in Bruce Wayne's life and toys with the idea that loss isn't relegated to the death of a loved one. Sometimes, loss is circumstantial. Personal goals and prior commitments can push those we love out of our lives, and trying to reach beyond these margins can be a fruitless endeavor.
Yanick Paquette's art is nothing short of breathtaking. The story of heartbreak and regret is presented in sprawling double-pages spreads, with panels that transcend time and location, as if Batman and the love of his life are dancing through their storied history. What might have come off as a bit saccharine is too well executed to disregard. Paquette's work in this issue echoes similar visual techniques used by artists like J. H. Williams III and Andrea Sorrentino, shrugging off the confines of the classic nine panel grid for something more experimental and visually captivating.
Batman #69 may not change your mind about the overall quality of the "Knightmares" story arc if you weren't already on board, but if previous chapters left you a bit out of sorts, this one may very well make up for it. King's writing is as strong as ever and Paquette's artwork is simply awe-inspiring. As satisfying as a conclusion as this issue may have been, it's even more exciting to look toward the future. Batman's emotional laundry has been aired out, his vulnerability exposed. Now, how does he shore up those defenses? Even if no one else can see the cracks in his armor, he's knows they're there and has admitted as much to himself.