By Zack Quaintance — This is it, everyone, the six-part largely separate Knightmares story arc has now come to an end. This has been an audacious set of stories, each illustrated by a different artist and designed to explore a different part of Batman’s psyche, revealing as they did that our hero was suffering some form of torture. Remember those old campy and elaborate death traps Batman always got stuck in back in Batman ‘66? Well, this arc has been like that, but the booby trap is Batman’s own brain and whoever’s doing the torturing is not giving him ample time to escape.
It’s high concept, and interesting, albeit likely uncomfortable for some fans. Batman is traditionally somewhat...well, traditional. This is, after all, the most popular superhero in the world (apologies to Superman and Spider-Man), and his most ardent fans tend to prefer his stories to be as Glen Weldon put it in his excellent 2017 book The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture...badass. While there has (for better or worse) been a strong masculine bend to basically all five stories of this arc, Batman has been vulnerable throughout. Not quite badass.
This final chapter, however, is a bit softer. It’s got the psychological analysis of the previous bits, but it also delves directly into the romance story driving Tom King’s Batman run. At WonderCon last month, King said his pitch for this entire run was a simple one: Batman loves Catwoman. Bane is mad. This issue gets right to the heart of that. Indeed, there are almost two storylines unfolding within it. In one Yanick Paquette draws a stunning dance scene in a grandiose ballroom, made all the more vivid by Nathan Fairbairn’s colors. This one explores the Batman loves Catwoman part. In the other, a nude and imposing Bane spars with Thomas Wayne from an alternate universe, and ho boy is Bane mad.
It all coheres quite nicely, though. Indeed, Batman #69 really worked for me, so much so that I thought it elevated all the other chapters in this ethereal and uncomfortable arc. This issue brought into focus what Knightmares has been all about, which is blending Batman’s somewhat fan-mandated badass exterior with the central personage of Bruce Wayne, himself a man with a singular mission who deeply wants to find a workable way to incorporate love. The very structure of the issue—alternating between dancing and sparring—emphasizes that dual idea via contrast and abrupt shifts. My favorite is the first shift, which jumps from a gorgeous depiction of Selina Kyle granting Bruce a waltz, to a sparring Bane bloodied in his face. That speaks to how this is just a wonderfully-constructed comic.
The artwork, it can’t be said enough, is absolutely superb here. It waltzes (heh) through so many different eras of Batman, capturing different looks for both Batman and Catwoman. Paquette and Fairbairn are a top-tier art team by any metric, and this issue features a number of two-page spreads clearly designed to accentuate their talents. The result is a classic Bat-Cat issue, with a narrative pulled along by scenes of intense and uncomfortable physical fighting with added philosophical debate about how best to crush Batman and why. It’s an interesting thematic juggling act, to be sure, and the book pulls it off excellently.
Overall: The high point of the Knightmares arc, this issue is an excellent encapsulation of the duality of Tom King’s Batman run, alternating between both bittersweet feelings and violent posturing. 9.2/10
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Yanick Paquette
Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: DC Comics
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.