Batman #23

by Kalem Lalonde on May 17, 2017

Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads

The famed team behind the incredible Vertigo series “The Sheriff of Babylon” and the great Batman story “Rooftops” reunite in Batman #23 to bring us a crossover between two unlikely allies: Batman and Swamp Thing. I, like many people, have been anticipating Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ love letter to the works of Alan Moore and Bernie Wrightson since it was pushed back to May from January. Though anticipation was high, the title “The Brave and the Mold” signaled a fun crossover that would serve as a playful break from King’s ongoing Batman storyline. I don’t think many people were expecting Batman #23 to be one of the best cross-character studies accomplished this year. This creative team has earned the right to never be underestimated again.

Batman #23 starts with the murder of Alec Holland’s father in a Gotham apartment on the 84 floor. Batman and Jim Gordon get to the scene and discuss the case when Alec Holland grows himself a body in the apartment. Swamp Thing explains that his father’s death isn’t all that tragic because death is a changing point in existence, it is not the end. “You fall back into the green,” he explains.
This idea of death being just another step in one’s existence is at the core of this brilliant one-shot. On one hand, you have Batman who has been crusading against crime since his first experience with death. On the other, you have a man who just lost his father and has a very restraint reaction because he does not perceive death as the robbing of one’s life.

There is an important jealousy that is established in this issue between a character who dedicated his life to avenging the premature loss of his parents and another who seemingly just wants to find out what happened to his father. Swamp Thing’s presence, and his emotional stoicism, actually represent a rare moment of peace in Batman’s history. Beneath the surface, Batman’s pain is healing. If you have dedicated your entire life to avenging the loss of life and you are told death is a continuation of one’s existence rather than an unjust end to it, an ease of suffering will follow. The idea that Batman’s brief time with Swamp Thing is one of the only moments he is not consumed by rage powers this entire issue to a heart-wrenching finale that only King and Gerads could so masterfully execute.

What has always been the strength of Gerads and King’s team-up is how King’s ability to tell an entire story with a single sentence is perfectly completed by Gerad’s gift to strengthen that same story with facial expressions and body language. Neither fall into the fatal trap of laying out the character’s struggle by holding your hand through every step of the way. The reality of life is that barely anyone is going to lay out their emotional evolution to another person. King has always been a special writer because he is able to translate that reality to his pages while making the drama perfectly clear if you are willing to investigate.

Mitch Gerads’ genius art serves as the perfect complement to King’s work because, much like a good score in a film, amplifies the emotion to a degree with few artists can. Of course, he draws a magnificent looking Swamp Thing and it is an absolute joy to see him pay homage to the late great Bernie Wrightson.

Batman #23 is a triumphant one-shot from one of the greatest comic-duos in the industry. All the strengths of Tom King’s thoughtful character study and Mitch Gerads’ emotional storytelling merge into what is likely to be a contender for issue of the year. It does not matter if you have never heard of either creator. It does not matter if you have not read a single Batman comic. Go to a store and buy this.

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