Nightwing’s attempt at rehabilitating Batman's broken heart is interrupted when a one-armed assassin comes creeping into Gotham. He's carrying plans and an excellent gun. It's the anniversary of The War of Jokes and Riddles and something wicked this way comes...
Tom King’s scripts are always careful and magnificent, using the shape of the page, the shape of the panels, to create deliberate psychological effects in the minds of the readers and this issue is no exception. The pages focusing on the unnamed, one-armed assassin are laid out in a series of even nine-panel blocks which slow down the eye and generate a sense of deliberate care on the part of the bad guy. Here is a man who is meticulous in his planning and willing to wait for events to occupy their proper time. These nine-panel pages also serve to heighten a sense of anxiety in the reader. Reading these pages, we know that something terrible is coming. We know that it is implacable — but it is coming slowly enough to set the reader’s teeth on edge.
This format is interrupted by more free-flowing scenes of Batman interacting with Nightwing. They fight mummies raised by a one-note villain (the cover of this issue was a red-herring) who exists only to be pummeled in such a way that gives the heroes a chance to banter and reaffirm their father-son bond.
The dialogue on these pages reflects the structure — both are joyous (well. As joyous as Batman is capable of being) and free. Batman and Nightwing converse and compete their way across Gotham over the span of several full-page spreads that reflect (in their construction) a sense of mythic timelessness and the dialogue contributes to this effect, echoing and recontextualizing Golden Age goofiness of words like ‘friend’ and ‘chum’.
The panels with the one-armed man measure out life in coffee spoons. Time passes, irrevocably. Once it’s gone, once the breath has been (slowly) squeezed from the throat, it can never be reclaimed. And in the end, the mythic, unchanging freedom of The Caped Crusader and his ‘chum’ must give way to the teeth of the clock.
When death comes, it is as irrevocable as a bullet that’s fled the mouth of a gun.
Tom King’s run of Batman is something magnificent. The meticulous skill of Tony S. Daniel’s pencil and ink raises it to an even higher level.
King and Daniel construct a comic book that is as intricate as the inner workings of a clock while still packing the pages with plenty of spirit, heart, and fun. It's everything you want in a Batman book.
Batman #55: The Teeth of the Clock
Writing - 8.5/108.5/10
Storyline - 8.5/108.5/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 8/108/10
Cover Art - 7.5/107.5/10
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