Batman #51 // Review
Batman comics are often at their best when exploring the disconnect between vigilante justice and civil rights, between law and order. Frank Miller famously had Batman say, in The Dark Knight Returns, “we’ve always been criminals,” a line so nice that Zack Snyder reappropriated it for Batman vs. Superman: The Dawn of Justice. It’s why characters like Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Renee Montoya, and even Harvey Dent are such great foils for the Caped Crusader: because Batman flaunts the law even as he keeps his city safe.
It’s surprising, then, that writer Tom King is still able to find new territory for that exploration in the first chapter of his new arc, “Cold Days,” in Batman #51, which finds Bruce Wayne called for jury duty...in the trial of Victor Fries, aka Mr. Freeze. The issue, with gorgeous pencils and inks by Lee Weeks, colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser, and letters by Clayton Cowles, alternates back and forth between moments from Fries’ trial and flashbacks to his particularly brutal apprehension at Batman’s hands, a violent and extralegal action that proves to be his defense attorney’s strongest argument in his favor.
As the first issue of King’s run after the much-publicized (and publicly spoiled) wedding to Selina Kyle, it’s smart and a little subversive of him to avoid any direct mention of the wedding. This issue is low-key, subdued, and, most surprisingly, new-reader friendly. Readers in the know, however, will find that the extra weight of the last 26 issues (Bruce proposed in issue #24) is palpable throughout the issue, particularly in a one-page interlude featuring Bruce and an ill-fated urinal in a courthouse men’s room.
Lee Weeks continues to turn in some of the best Batman art of the 21st century, rivaling his work in his last two collaborations with King, last year’s Batman Annual #2 and Batman/Elmer Fudd (keep your eye out for an easter-egg shout-out to the Elmer Fudd issue, by the way). His depiction of Batman’s interrogation of Mister Freeze is chilling (pardon the pun), and a brief interaction between Jim Gordon and Dick Grayson as they discuss their friend’s well-being is exquisitely expressive despite the minimal dialogue. Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colors are effective as well, creating a stark contrast between the shadowy Gotham that we’re used to and the bright tones of the city during the work day. The jaunty salmon of Bruce’s dress shirt is a particularly nice touch.
After 26 issues of Superman, Lois Lane, Wonder Woman, Booster Gold, time travel, alternate universes, magical battles, the whole Batman rogues’ gallery, Poison Ivy’s world conquest, two proposals, and Catwoman shopping for a wedding dress, the wedding in issue #50 couldn’t help but seem anticlimactic. It’s a relief, then, to see this team taking Batman back to his roots busting heads in the streets, in a simple but novel story.