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Hey everybody you should be reading Tom King’s Batman Rebirth (even if you’re not a fan of superhero comics)

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If you’re any kind of a superhero comics fan and you’re not reading Tom King‘s Batman Rebirth, then you are missing out.

Poison Ivy illustration from Everybody Loves Ivy by Mikal Janin.

Comics review – Batman Rebirth Deluxe Edition Vol. 3

King is a former CIA operative who has written a number of titles for Marvel, DC, and Vertigo. These include a 12-issue Vision series, a recent 12-issue Mister Miracle run, and The Sheriff of Babylon, an off-and-on series. He is also the author of a 2012 superhero novel, A Once Crowded Sky.

In June of 2016, the first issue of the King-scripted Batman Rebirth appeared. (“Rebirth” here simply refers to DC’s decision to start new series featuring major characters. I think.) King intends to go 100 issues on the series, which is published bi-monthly. He’s already reached a milestone 50th issue, which covers the nuptials of Batman and Catwoman.

Batman Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 3 is the third collection of King’s current Batman run. It includes Batman Rebirth issues #33-44 and Annual #2, with art by a variety of artists. These include Joelle Jones (currently writing and drawing Catwoman), Mikel Janin, Lee Weeks and Clay Mann (inking with his brother Seth).

Catwoman steals the Batmobile. Because, why not?

The overall arc of the stories is leading up to the proposal and wedding; one issue (#44, in fact) is devoted entirely to Catwoman (aka Selina Kyle) selecting a wedding dress. I was about to write that she does so “in a typical Catwoman style,” but that would be selling King short. His takes on these iconic characters reveals them in new ways.

For one thing, King assumes a base knowledge. There is no back-story and no explanations of powers, and exposition is kept to a bare minimum (and used in dialogue when used at all). At every turn, King is more interested in the chemistry and relationships between characters; the super-powers are window-dressing.

For example, in Batman Rebirth Annual #2 (drawn by Lee Weeks) Catwoman is shown repeatedly breaking into the Batcave (once, to steal the Batmobile for a joy-ride!) and Wayne Manor (to steal a pearl). Each time, the scenes are about the cool of the character, and how she outsmarts Bruce Wayne (and Alfred) at every turn. How does she break into the ultra-secure Batcave and Wayne Manor? A lesser writer might explain. But it doesn’t matter; it’s the doing, and the interaction, that’s the thing.

Poison Ivy takes over the world

King is terrific at looking at all the angles of the powers of these beings. There is a three-issue story involving long-established villain Poison Ivy, here a misguided young woman who wants to make the world a better place. (She’s also been seduced and abandoned by the Riddler, but that was another story.) To this end, she’s taken over the consciousness of every living being on Earth—including all the other DC superheroes.

Through some formula of Batman’s devising, only he and Catwoman have managed to stay free. So Poison Ivy is using Superman to spy on the two. There’s an eerie sequence in which we can see Superman hovering in the sky over Wayne Manor, then the Batmobile, and then the two walking.  Batman leans in to whisper something to Catwoman, then suddenly lets out an ear-piercing whistle—a whistle that is especially ear-piercing if you happen to be listening in with super-hearing.

Another masterful issue is all about a double-date with Bruce, Selina, Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

I could go on; there are so many wonderful moments in these stories. The only other things I wanted to mention are King’s style and the art.

Tom King’s writing style

King is a dialogue writer. There is exposition only when absolutely necessary; the rest of the time he lets the readers fill in the blanks. These are artfully minimalist stories that convey more about the characters and plot in a page than many comics do in their entire length.

Mikal Janin’s clean-line, delicate art on the Poison Ivy stories is my favourite in this book; I also love Weeks’ noir-ish work on the annual (which, by the way, has a heart-breaking, remarkable coda that transcends the genre; it’s no longer reading a superhero comic but a story about real, flawed, aging humans). Clay Mann also offers superb work. Jones’ is a little more stylish and superhero-y, but that could be because she’s been given the most action-packed stories.

If you haven’t been reading Batman Rebirth, and you’re at all a fan of superhero comics (or movies, for that matter), I urge you to pick up a current issue. If you like that, this volume (and the previous two) make a handsome addition to anyone’s graphic novel shelf.

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