I miss “The Brave and the Bold.” It was a team-up book, and back in the day, when I was a kid, team-up books were very special. They usually had a star, and in this case it was Batman, and then each issue you would see the star team up with another DC Comics character, often one that couldn’t support their own title, or did support one that was pretty different from the adventures of the Caped Crusader. Writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads are clearly trying to evoke any nostalgia fans may have for that team-up book of old. But what makes Batman #23 such a triumph is the way the creative team uses the team-up format to illustrate so much about each character, what motivates them and how their shared adventure throws into sharp relief their differences and similarities. This is a masterful story, one that brilliantly shows how a single-issue story can sometimes upend expectations and deliver a gut punch of a read you won’t soon forget.
An unremarkable man who dwells in Gotham’s fringes is murdered, and the manner and oddness of his death attracts the attention of the Dark Knight. However, Batman isn’t the only interested party. A personal connection to the victim brings Alec Holland, the Swamp Thing, to the city. soon enough, Batman and Swamp Thing are united in their mission to find the killer.
Swamp Thing team-ups always have a special something to them. Ever since Alan Moore completely redefined the character, Swamp Thing’s radically different point of view and ability to embrace large and weird concepts had made him an interesting counter-point to the hyper-rational world super-heroes usually operate in. And no hero is more opposite to Swampy’s point of view than the thoroughly urban, mostly binary and reactionary Batman. King’s script takes full advantage of this, accentuating the differences in their philosophies as they hunt a killer.
But the brilliance of the issue comes with the final reveal and resolution of the story, which I won’t spoil here. Suffice to say, the differences between Batman and Holland take on a radically different, and genuinely affecting, tone with the conclusion of the tale. The issue masterfully takes both characters on a journey, and the result is an affecting tale that distills substantial differences between each of them. And because it’s such a well-constructed story with a definite and powerful arc, Batman #23 once again proves that the skillfully executed and affecting done-in-one comic book tale is really a delicate and rare art.
Mitch Gerads delivers some exceptional art for the issue. It’s a Batman issue, so the tone and style is definitely more in that character’s wheelhouse than Swamp Thing’s, but the issue still never feels like it couldn’t be an issue of Swampy’s title either. The noir elements are more front and center than the surreal horror of a Swamp thing tale, Gerads doesn’t shy away from the more organic and weird elements of that character. Additionally, when the issue requires emotion and power, Gerads delivers equally well, giving us a powerful ending to the issue.
Batman #23 is just a fantastic, emotional and inspired issue, and once again shows you don’t need four or six issues to tell a story that will be completely satisfying. 9.5/10