After a lengthy run by writer Tom King, Batman rotates creative teams this week with writer James Tynion IV accompanied by artist Tony S. Daniel, and it marks a big shift not just for the title, but for Batman himself. At the end of King's "City of Bane" arc, Batman was left with a very different reality. He'd defeated Bane and finally reunited with Catwoman, but all of this came at a high cost: the death of Alfred Pennyworth. It's a foundation primed for a new chapter, a new story, and new challenges for the titular hero, but despite having such a promising premise, Batman #86 fails to deliver at nearly every turn.
Batman #86 centers around the idea of a "plan" for Gotham. Batman himself has a plan for the city, one that sees Gotham's protector aim to literally rebuild the trouble-ridden landscape as a better version of itself. Batman isn't the only one with a plan for Gotham, though, and an impressive roster of super villains assemble with their own designs right away—including Deathstroke. The concept itself is perfectly fine, interesting even. Unfortunately, a premise is only as good as everything that is atop of it and this is where Batman #86 collapses under its own weight.
That weight comes from the virtual wall of words taking up real estate on nearly every page of the issue. One could argue that, coming straight off of King's more sparse storytelling style, any version of "tell, not show" would feel like a lot. It's a fair assessment, but Tynion goes further than that, practically oversharing with the sheer amount of dialogue, narration, and other words that fill each page. It is as if Tynion thought he was writing a novel instead of a comic book at times, although it wouldn't even be a good novel. The dialogue is stilted and if it weren't for the images telling you who is supposed to be speaking, it's indistinguishable enough to be interchangeable. The sole, notable exception to that problem is how Selina is written, but that's not a positive thing either. Tynion has said he took inspiration from Michelle Pfeiffer's iconic big-screen turn as Catwoman in his approach to the character, however there's a fine line between inspiration and a poor carbon copy with Tynion's take being the latter.
There is one positive thing that can be said about the heavy use of text in the issue, though, and that is it helps distract from the atrocious art. Daniel's Batman is every bit as looming and intimidating as you'd expect. He draws the character well. It's everyone else in Gotham that he can't seem to manage. Nothing is done in proportion. Merlyn looks even more like a Dollar Tree rip-off of Wolverine than usual and there is one page featuring Selina speaking with dinner guests in which the proportions of her head to her body are disturbing (don't get me started on the rest of her body). In addition to that it's worth noting no character's eyes are looking in the same direction either. It would be creepy if it weren't so bad.
It's that "...if it weren't so bad" that unfortunately permeates the whole issue. It would be an interesting story... if it weren't so bad. This panel or that panel would be epic... if the art weren't so bad. Yet, everything is so bad; it's unrelenting. The end result is that Batman #86 feels a lot like Tynion (and to a lesser extent, Daniel) trying really hard to imitate the work of others who came before but not managing to come close, which is disheartening because the one good thing rising from the mess that litters each page is a sense for Tynion's genuine love of the character. Here's to hoping that that love is enough to improve the series as Batman continues.
Published by DC Comics
On January 8, 2020
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Tony S. Daniel
Colors by Tomeu Morey
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Tony S. Daniel