Batman #135 (#900)
It’s Batman versus Red Mask in a brutal Gotham that’s never known hope! Can the Dark Knight overcome the terrifying infection that Red Mask has unleashed? Only one thing is certain: he won’t be able to do it alone. The conclusion to the bestselling “The Bat-Man of Gotham” is so big it could only be contained in an oversize #900 anniversary issue featuring the return of fan-favorite artist Jorge Jiménez and a wild collection of guest stars! Full of wild revelations and a new path for Batman, this is one issue you won’t want to miss!
Batman, at this point, feels less like a comic character and more like a canvas. The broad spectrum of the character contains more than some shared universe, thanks in part to the sheer publishing history, but the relatively blank slate that artists and writers can project on the concept. Whether it be playing with pulp noir elements of the character, the foundation of swashbuckling, or even the mystical nature of Gotham, Batman is a prism that allows creatives to showcase different styles or tones in a way that almost no other superhero can.
Batman #135 (aka #900 thanks to legacy numbering) comes from writer Chip Zdarsky, penciler Mike Hawthorne & inker Adriano Di Benedetto, artists Jorge Jiménez and Mikel Janín, colorists Tomeu Morey and Romulo Fajardo Jr., and letterer Clayton Cowles. The issue picks up right after Batman and a venom-powered Ghostmaker as the caped crusader bandages his missing hand and sets out to stop the Red Mask. In the streets of Gotham, Selina Kyle, Jewel, and Firefly band together to fight the Man-Bats as Scarecrow’s fear toxin pumps through the streets.
Red Mask uses these distractions to enact his plan, where he tries to make himself into the Joker by connecting to the villain’s mind throughout the multiverse. This fails, and he realizes he makes Jokers but is never fated to become one himself. The realization sends Red Mask into a panic spiral, and before Batman can stop him, the villain launches into the multiverse. After offering Alfred the opportunity to come to the main DC Universe (where the butler has been dead for years now), Batman prepares to track Mask down in the multiverse but is pushed into the machine by Selina.
The path starts with a Michael Keaton Batman universe before shifting to the Red Rain universe, the animated Batman Beyond universe, and more. This results in a Quantum Leap situation where Batman has to jump through various worlds, following the trail of disruption that Red Mask leaves. It’s a cascade of Batmen and aesthetics that range from Alex Ross to Frank Miller and beyond, leading to the prime Batman getting a robot hand, a Dark Knight Returns costume, and a utility belt from Adam West’s Batman.
The result of the multiversal traversing is Bruce and Red Mask ending up in an empty universe that Mask can manipulate, creating a macabre, dying Gotham. A giant Jokerized shark works to eat the floating city as the duo faces off for the last time, with Batman defeating Mask with little resistance. After the fight, Bruce is prepared to sacrifice himself to send Mask back to his reality and end his days in this empty reality. Instead, Tim Drake’s Robin appears from the dark and provides a lifeline to the central universe, saving Batman from the night yet again.
Thematically and on a scene-by-scene basis, this issue is a beautiful celebration of Batman, both visually and narrative. The moments of Batman interacting with his various counterparts oscillate between cheeky and sincere, molding into what the prime Batman needs to hear to stop Red Mask. The two most powerful moments of the issue sandwich the multiverse travel, with the scene between Bruce and Alfred and then Batman and Robin, selling the underlying emotion of this arc.
Bruce attempts to connect with the alt Alfred and allow the other to fill the voids left by their counterparts’ deaths. Instead, Alfred imparts one last lesson to Bruce, reminding the hero to let others help him. Alfred takes the lesson to heart and promises to help restore this world’s Gotham, move past Bruce’s death and rejoin the larger world. The two share a hug and set to work, and it’s a moment that showcases one of Zdarsky’s strengths as a writer. He understands and bends continuity to serve the emotional beats of a story, a real making lemonade out of lemons in terms of a character’s status quo.
While the first was a deconstruction of Batman, this follow-up has been a rebuilding through the lens of restoring the Batman and Robin dynamic that has been missing for some time in the main Bat title. The moment colors the story’s ending when Robin parts the endless void of a dead universe and bathes Batman in a beam of light. Ultimately, Batman accepts Robin’s help and embraces the sidekick, letting him guide the Dark Knight to the right path. Zdarsky’s monologue for Batman has a wistfulness in this scene, and the final caption from Bruce feels like a perfect encapsulation of the arc. The line reads, “I guess if Batman is slipping… he needs to be lifted by his Robin,” underscoring the one-two punch of this arc and Failsafe.
While it’s fun to bridge these emotional moments with the parade of Batmen from across the multiverse, it’s clear that the decision is Zdarsky allowing Jiménez to stretch his Bat-muscles and swing for the fences. Each universe is not just a compilation of references but sees Jiménez attempt to blend his unique style with the artistic sensibilities of each one. The intended effect ranges, with the Batman Beyond/Timm-verse and the Frank Miller universes being the strongest, while the live-action ones, ’66 and ’89, are the most jarring. The latter feels like Jiménez’s typical style working to recreate the costumes of the universe but not reaching the stylings of the TV show or world created by Burton.
The best work Jiménez puts to the page in this issue is the end fight and the embrace with Robin, as he shifts back into his typical style while still getting to reference the various Batmen in the form of Bruce’s current costume. Even then, the work is so interesting to see and feels personal in how Jiménez pays attention to detail that those moments of discomfort quickly pass. The Dark Knight Returns suit, and shark repellant makes for a fun combination that feels like an artistic and narrative encapsulation of the character. Jiménez’s art, like Batman as a character at his best, can range in tone and genre while never forgetting the character’s fun yet compelling pulp roots.
While Jiménez’s is the headline of the issue, delivering some of his best work to date, the other art in the case can’t hold up. In a previous review of the title, the combination of Hawthorne and Di Benedetto helped elevate the book’s quality, bringing a heavy ink style that worked well with the extended fight sequences. Janín is no slouch either, delivering vital work that blends a painterly quality with exciting use of perspective in the Alfred moments.
It’d be unfair for most artists to try and compete with this version of Jiménez, who’s putting heart and soul into every line and working to create what feels like a final sequence for the wide-ranging approach to Batman. But they both suffer when set against the back half of the book with Jiménez’s style. The action sequences appear stiff and mundane for both Hawthorne and Janín, while the emotional beats lack the vibrant energy that Jiménez’s pencils radiate.
The coloring on this issue, both in the Batman-less universe and the various worlds of the multiverse, helps to create a consistency in tone and quality that never feels too at odds with itself. The blacks, grays, and blues of Batman are an ever-present pattern that helps establish each world’s look, even as the main Bruce accumulates various elements until reaching the end. Even as Jiménez shifts styles from Gotham to Gotham, the coloring molds itself to the world’s expectations while never alienating itself from the established palette of the comic.
The moment where coloring sets itself apart is in the end sequence, with Robin arriving in an aura of golden light. The coloring choice cuts through the darkness of Batman and the book, establishing on the page the realization that Bruce has come to. Even if you took away Zdarsky’s captions, the message comes across clearly in this moment because of that radiant gold that illuminates Batman’s perspective. When it pairs with the dark caption boxes, the understanding reaches Bruce, and he’s open to what it represents in that beat.
Batman #135 is an issue that takes the best parts of this arc and connects them into a satisfying at worst, thrilling at the best conclusion. It feels like an issue that works towards true closure when it comes to the death of Alfred, the sidelining of Tim Drake, and the suffocating darkness of an isolated and doubtful Batman. Zdarsky gets to work in the quieter moments, which is where his scripting sings, letting Jiménez deliver on the bombastic through the exploration of Batman and various styling through the multiverse. This issue sets up an excellent emotional status quo for the Dark Knight and cements Jiménez as one of the greats when it comes to illustrating the hero.
Batman #135 (#900): Let's Get Nuts
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Art - 9/109/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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