Written by Tom King
Art by Matt Wagner
Colors by Tomeu Morey
Covers by Matt Wagner, Tim Sale and Brennan Wagner
Issue #54 is a one-shot story titled The Better Man that focuses on the father-son relationship of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. It’s very much a walk down memory lane that highlights the tension that existed between the two of them when Bruce first brought Dick to live with him at the manor after he had lost his parents and how they eventually got through that tough period.
Tom King elects to illustrate a few parables of father-son dynamics through the re-telling of past events dovetailed with Dick’s present day attempts to break through the walls Bruce has started to put back up because Selina left him at the rooftop altar. By and large, King does this quite well with some moments really hitting the mark but with a couple of other moments where it does feel a little rushed and forced.
Without digressing too much about issue #50 it is worth mentioning that since Selina flew off to her own title King has had no choice but to reinstate Bruce Wayne as the central figure of the title, and it has done wonders for the storytelling. For any of the current readership that have been disillusioned with King’s creative direction throughout Rebirth but have stuck around to see how Bruce will pick up the pieces of his shattered personal life, there will be reward for your patience.
Gone now are the issues where Bruce/Batman says 50 words or less, and in its place we have our central character back as the focus of the story where events are unfolding primarily from Bruce’s perspective.
The recently concluded 3-issue arc Cold Days that featured Mr. Freeze was meant as a self examination of Batman’s actions and decision making. It demanded that Bruce recognize and acknowledge the repercussions of Bruce’s Wayne vigilantism in Gotham City and what it spawns. This sentiment is getting quite redundant in the modern era, to be frank, but by the end of that arc what we did get was a Bruce Wayne who proclaimed to Alfred that he is lost and that he needs to remember who he is, so he puts back on his old suit allowing the reader to glean that Bruce is now going to focus on getting back to being himself again.
What you will get from issue #54 is familiarity and recognition of why Bruce does what he does: what it meant and still does mean for him to have Dick Grayson in his life. Dick keeps Bruce grounded by bringing levity and light to situations where Bruce only sees gloom and darkness. Bruce didn’t get a chance to grow up completely with a traditional father and neither did Dick, but thanks to Alfred he got to experience those fatherly moments, and Dick became his chance to pay it forward. Bruce’s reward was that he got to vicariously live a childhood and adolescence through Dick, and that helped him to then let go of some of the pain and anger he held onto.
With Dick moving on to various Titans squads and Bludhaven in later years, it would be hard for Bruce to let go of new anger and pain but given the scale of what Bruce was on the cusp of with Selina and how it all unfolded Dick takes it upon himself to venture back into Bruce’s life until he is willing to pull the veil down and accept what he is now feeling. King’s story and how it concludes hits the mark. It’s not a bullseye, but it is a marked improvement on the repetitive dialogue and regurgitated panels that have become synonymous with his run on Batman.
The art in this issue will be an acquired taste for those who have become accustomed to the work of Mann, Jones and Daniel on this title. It is quite the departure from sharp modern detail to silver age pulp and quasi noir. Matt Wagner’s artwork in this issue elicits such a wonderful nostalgic feeling while you leaf through it. It’s hard to put it into exact words but it is comparable to going through your old family photo album and seeing all the various hues, shades and form factors that are present due to the different cameras and photo labs that your family would have used over the years. You’ll try to attach a chronological history to it all even though these are new memories that King has created, but that doesn’t stop them from feeling surreal.
The color in the entire issue was meant to be done by Matt Wagner’s son Brennan, who actually did the color for the both covers of this issue, but a late DC editorial decision was made to use regular colorist Tomeu Morey because Brennan Wagner’s color style was too much of a style change from what Batman readers were used to, according to Matt Wagner.
Morey’s color work in this issue fits the art well enough and does its job of transporting you back in time. But from the outside looking in it does seem like a missed opportunity to have had a father-son art team work on a father-son story and to see Brennan’s bold color choices in concert with his father’s throwback style, just as King has intended when he tapped them for the issue.
This was a warm and comforting issue that will possibly give you something akin to the secure feeling of finding a childhood blanket you’ve misplaced many years ago and thought was lost forever. It’s a nice experience, but is it enough to charm back some lost readers? Nonetheless it’s a small triumph.
8.5 out of 10
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