With Batman #13, the “I Am Suicide” arc comes to its ambitious, inconsistent and ultimately unsatisfying conclusion. Tom King is a writer I greatly admire, and I actually can appreciate a lot of what he tried to do with this arc, but he ends up with a story that has so much on its plate that there’s a problem giving each element enough space to effectively mesh into a cohesive whole. With this final issue, we’re left with a few major successes but ultimately a feeling of missed opportunities.
The issue centres around the culmination of Batman’s mission to abduct the Psycho Pirate from the protection of Bane in his Santa Prison stronghold. Armed with only his plan and a team of enemies recruited from Arkham, Batman has to defeat one his most imposing foes by relying on allies he’d be crazy to trust.
That’s been the set-up for this arc since the first instalment, and issues since then have varied wildly in quality and cohesion. King and artist Mikel Janin definitely bring a lot to the story in terms of material; aside from the central suicide mission plot, there’s also an examination of Batman and Catwoman’s relationship, as well as an overarching thematic question about Batman’s mission against crime possibly being some form of long-form suicide, a way to leave the world in a way that means something. With three goals like that, it’d be quite the juggling act to make sure each element is presented in a satisfying way that ties into the story cohesively.
And while I respect and appreciate King and Janin’s ambitions in this regard, I don’t think they succeed. The arc as a whole has had issues that drop the momentum of the mission narrative for introspection into the characters, rendering the plot devoid of growing complexity. The suicide aspect was really effectively introduced and examined in a previous issue, but the Catwoman/Batman relationship stuff is just sort of there, and never coalesces into anything beyond forbidden fruit or regret. And seeing as how it looks like we’re going into more Bat/Cat stuff in subsequent issues, I’m not sure why the team felt we needed so much of it in an earlier issue in terms of focus. This arc might have been better without Catwoman’s presence, especially if it looks like a lot of her mysteries and her relationship with Batman is going to be explored later.
As a result, the climax of the mission that is supposed to be the whole point of the arc comes off as anti-climatic and tacked on here. The Santa Prison stronghold, and Bane himself, had been initially built up to be indestructible and deadly. But the story here shows that Batman was in control of everything the whole time. Now, I’m all for these kinds of puzzle-box heist/caper movies where you think everything’s going to hell but it turns out have been going to plan. But for that to work, you need to convince your audience that the protagonists are in real jeopardy and that they’re on the brink of disaster, even if they’re just conning the mark. But neither Batman or his team ever really appeared to be concerned. Batman, as a character, just doesn’t admit defeat or look weak. He’s been grimly determined throughout the whole arc, so revealing that he had a master plan covering every eventuality isn’t much of a surprise. The plan itself, aside from a couple of elements, isn’t even that intricate.
And if you’re going to build a mission/caper/heist plot, then it needs to be more tightly focused on the plot than usual. Frankly, it needs to be a puzzle-box of moving parts with a structure that keeps making things seemingly worse and more complicated. It needs to be surprising. It needs to zig and zag. After Batman gets captured and his team gets inserted into the fortress, there aren’t a lot of reversals that happen. Batman keeps telling Bane he’s going to win, and we have no reason to ever believe otherwise. I mean, there’s a character who literally stands around in the corner doing nothing until his part of the plan arrives.
Thankfully, as has been the case for the arc as a whole, Batman #13 features gorgeous art from the art team. The art is moody and atmospheric, lending Bane’s fortress a hellish tone that makes the whole setting feeling like a descent into some kind of underworld. The colors are superb, and the action across multiple characters and components are executed with precision and pace. The series remains a stunningly good-looking one.
Look, though this book is flawed and I think unsatisfying as whole, it’s this way because King and company are trying to pack as much into Batman #13 (and the arc as a whole) as they possibly can. A mistake of ambition and innovation in storytelling is absolutely my favorite kind of mistake. Do I think that this issue, and the arc as a whole, would have been more effective if it had been a little less ambitious, a little more focused on simply delivering a compelling and twisty adventure? Sure. Do I love some of what they put into this arc, though? You betcha, especially the recurring exploration of “suicide” and how it relates to both Bruce and Bane. This is an issue (and arc overall) that needed another round of tightening, but I am still excited to see the Dark Knight’s adventures being overseen by such a bold and creative team. 6.5/10