The rumors that writer Tom King is departing Batman after Issue #85 are true. DC Comics confirmed the news before announcing that King and artist Clay Mann would launch the Batman/Catwoman 12-issue series in January 2020.
It's disappointing to see King's run cut short before the promised Issue #100 mark, even if Batman/Catwoman is supposed to spin out of the events of Batman. For others, though, it'll be welcome news, as his Dark Knight stories have been divisive from the get-go.
The outrage hit its peak when he swerved fans with the Batman-Catwoman wedding in Batman #50. Fans took to social media to voice their displeasure about all the build-up for no payoff, with many swearing off the title until his departure.
It hasn't stopped there, though, as King drew the ire of readers when Nightwing was shot by KGBeast in Batman #55 and the Caped Crusader lashed out at Tim Drake in Issue #71. As a result, the writer has become one of the most talked about comic book figures in recent years, with many questioning what he was doing with Gotham's favorite son and his legacy.
The thing is, if you've read King's other work (especially Mister Miracle and The Vision), you'll understand that there's always a plan. It might not seem clear in the beginning, but it all ties together by the final issue with an "aha moment."
In fact, King is one of the greatest comic book writers of our generation. From a storytelling perspective, he knows how to toy with our emotions and make us feel, whether it be love or hate, and that's the sign of a good storyteller.
In his Batman run, which has been beautifully illustrated by artists such as Mann and Mikel Janin, he has put his protagonist through the wringer. Both Bruce Wayne and the Dark Knight have dealt with a world of pain and sorrow. Now, in more recent issues, he's started to unravel and lash out at those closest to him. He's not in a good place, mentally nor physically, and the psychological cracks are showing.
This is about as realistic as it gets and establishes a new status quo for Batman villains. Of course, the rogue pulling the strings here is Bane. And it's this overarching storyline that solidifies him as a true master of mind games and manipulation, as he's realized he can't break the Bat's back again, but he can break his spirit. It's his greatest achievement since Knightfall.
Chatting with The Hollywood Reporter, King promised that there's a point to it all. "If you've been reading Batman all this time, God bless you, but I've been torturing you for the last six months to a year," he said. "We’ve reached the low point, now it's time for Batman to come back and show you why he's Batman. Maybe that won't be in the traditional way, but it'll show you why Batman matters."
Perhaps the fan's divided response towards King is due to his reluctance to make it all about fan service and escapism. He's shone the spotlight on Batman as a man; someone who's just as likely to experience heartache, psychological trauma and failure as anyone else. He's demystified the legend and made it more real.
Defying expectation is something that King does well. He never settles for comfortable storytelling, as he'll pull out the rug from under you when you least expected it, much like George R. R. Martin has done with the A Song of Ice and Fire series. He chooses originality over convention, and that's the one thing many fans claim to desire but detest when it's executed. In fact, you could argue that his weakest point in Batman was the initial storyline "I Am Gotham," where he tried to tick all the boxes before realizing he needed to do what he does best: write without boundaries.
Sadly, King's departure from Batman isn't good news. When readers lose someone who's developed some of the most original storylines in years, it's a loss. There's a need for creatives who challenge expectations and shape the future of characters. King said that he wanted to change the Dark Knight "for a generation," but right now, we don't know if we'll ever see his true plans. And that's a dirty, rotten shame.