Writer Tom King wraps up his third major arc as "I Am Bane" concludes in "Batman" #20, featuring the Dark Knight's latest showdown with his arguably deadliest adversary within the fortified confines of Arkham Asylum.
King and artist David Finch's finale also serves as a conclusion of sorts to King's run thus far, which also comprises the arrival of Gotham and Gotham Girl in "I Am Gotham" (also illustrated by Finch) and Batman's journey to Santa Prisca to retrieve the Psycho Pirate in "I Am Suicide" (illustrated by Mikel Janin). The satisfying albeit abrupt ending comes across as more the end of the latest act than a genuine conclusion, though, with loose ends remaining regarding the futures of certain characters. Indeed, King's main story will pause momentarily for the upcoming "The Button" crossover with "The Flash," which promises to explore the puzzling connection established between DC Comics "Rebirth" reality and "Watchmen."
King's finale is a surprisingly welcoming issue, even to readers unfamiliar with his ongoing storyline – a rare case where the final chapter of an arc makes a decent jumping-on point. Even as the story's narrative harkens back to events from to King's first issue, this chapter proves to be an accessible recap of the events that have led to the present moment, tying together the entirety of King's run to date. The summation of King's story also reflects on Batman's motives for taking on Bane, which fold into what motivates him to do what he does overall on a nightly basis. The issue hammers home the definition of Batman's role, both reiterated and expanded throughout the run, and is done largely through an internal dialogue Bruce has with a perhaps surprising individual who has played a key role in Bruce's life.
The acknowledgment of past events also brings back to mind the diverse wealth of storytelling styles and associated emotions King has brought to the series. From the high-octane adventure of King's first issue where Batman rides atop a passenger jet in an attempt to save Gotham (and the like-named character in turn saving him) to the emotional intensity of Bane's psychological and physical torment of the Bat-family, King has demonstrated an array of emotion rarely pulled off so convincingly.
Other unmentioned moments, like the lighthearted brotherly interaction between the present and former Robins while attempting to enjoy a round of Batburgers, also come to mind when pausing to recollect the diverse story threads and developments that have built a strong foundation for King's run. With much of Batman's recent history ranging from grim and driven to merely dark and serious, King's eclectic show of emotion, from the expected seriousness to sadness to humor, has brought an assortment of emotions to the title not commonly associated with it, but ones that prove to work well and in fact are actually refreshing.
While working nicely as a well-placed marker summing up the considerable merits of the run thus far, though, the issue comes up a little short in its more short-term capacity as a conclusion for the current arc, at least on a relative basis. While King's finale perfectly services his story, its simple and straightforward nature belies the expect-the-unexpected dynamic the writer has established throughout his run. There are no twists, no surprises, and no revelations – just an outright brawl that ends with one final, definitive blow. While there's a shallow kind of satisfaction to the outcome, the uncomplicated and abrupt method of it can't help but evoke a little bit of disappointment, not unlike an historically straight-A student pulling a B+ on their final assignment.
The relative lack of an epilog compounds the arc's abrupt ending, and leaves a few subplots hanging that have been nicely prepared but not wrapped up – Claire's (Gotham Girl) well-being remains unknown, at least for now, and those looking for Alfred potentially having to put himself between an unstoppable Bane and the villain who serves as Claire's only hope for recovery will be disappointed.
In all fairness, though, King's run isn't over, and for that matter, neither is Bane's, potentially. Like he successfully did for "Night of the Monster Men," King again finds himself in a position of having to hit pause on his own storyline so that he can facilitate another, with nothing standing in the way of this current uber-arc's resumption later.
Despite the loose ends, King has freed up Batman long enough to explore the mystery of the familiar blood-spattered smiley-face button he had found in the Batcave in "DC Universe: Rebirth" #1. Part one of "The Button" begins in "Batman" #21, on sale April 19.