Have you ever imagined Bruce Wayne as a child? I don’t mean the TV version from Gotham, interesting as that portrayal is, but Bruce of modern comics in all his neurotic extravagance. How, exactly, would one manage Christmas and birthdays with such an exotic boy? Tom King gives a brief insight into how the Wayne-Pennyworth approached such challenges. Specifically, that the young Bruce wanted a katana for his tenth birthday and Alfred, in what passes for moderation at Wayne Manor, decides that something smaller would be more appropriate for so young a boy, and presents Master Bruce with wakizashi, setting the stage for years of snark and complaints. Yes, Damian is the acorn that didn’t fall far from the tree.
Alfred’s voice, both in the wakizashi story related to Duke Thomas and an extended sarcastic exchange with Bruce, reveals new Batman writer Tom King at his most comfortable and confident. Generally, however, King seems hesitant and cautious, his writing and dialogue somewhat stiff. The story begins with Batman and the city’s two new superbeings (it remains to be seen if they are heroes) battling Solomon Grundy in the shadow of Gotham’s Statue of Justice, an Amazon-looking version of Lady Liberty. The fight unfolds awkwardly, paced to Grundy reciting the poem from which he takes his name, “Solomon Grundy, born on Monday.” Yes, Grundy is a zombie, but that seems rather obtuse and obsessive, even for him.
The story then transitions to Wayne Manor and the successful interactions among Alfred, Bruce, and Duke. King continues the theme, begun last issue, of Bruce brooding over his own mortality and inevitable death. That is dangerous territory, and it could easily come off as gruesome or silly, but King manages to hit the right balance between Bruce’s grim musing and his butler’s exasperated sarcasm. King takes advantage of this sequence to give a subtle salute to his predecessors. Bruce’s worry about his own death echoes, and possibly continues, Scott Snyder’s vision of Gotham’s future as revealed in the New 52 era, particularly Detective Comics #27, while Bruce is shown demonstrating his tango skills in, appropriately enough, the Morrison Room of the manor.
The rest of the comic reads as a rushed attempt to set up coming issues. The Rebirth initiative at DC has emphasized a return to a shared universe and more complex continuity, and King heartily supports that attempt. Commissioner Gordon receives a visitor who babbles about the coming of the monster men before plunging a knife into his own throat. Those who follow solicitations know that several of the Gotham books will enter a crossover dealing with that threat in September and October. That, however, is nothing next to the final reveal that ties this version of Batman firmly into the DCU. It appears that the U.S. government is involved in the background of events in Gotham, and its emissaries are none other the Amanda Waller and General Sam Lane, along with their own mad scientist, the inimitable Dr. Hugo Strange.
Tom King has been something of a disappointment so far. His two REBIRTH issues show skill and knowledge, but have failed to excite. The dark fascination of OMEGA MEN is absent, as is the quirky fun of GRAYSON. The complexities of plotting and links to a greater universe are more than welcome, as are an emphasis on Batman's humanity and social relationships. But in the future, King would do well to let Alfred, and especially the butler's confident voice, be his guide.