Batman #139: Mind Bomb Part 1, by Zdarsky, Jimenez, Morey, and Cowles, is something that I am afraid of putting my stock into, but it truly is so good that I just might. So good, that, like the titular story itself, it is like a ‘mind bomb’ for me, given how surprised I was at how much I enjoyed it.
In truth, this run so far has been a mixed bag for me. I loved “Failsafe”, I thought it was fantastic and a great return to form for the main title. “The Bat-Man of Gotham” was a mixed bag for me: I liked it, but it felt undercooked. “Gotham War” was a disappointment (review coming soon), the kind that made the book fall from an A-tier title to a C-tier title in my eyes, but if “Mind Bomb” lives up to the promise it sets up here, it might just bring it back to where it was.
Batman #139 is a callback to many story beats that Zdarsky had set up, not even since his start on the title, but since Batman: The Knight, which is another phenomenal book. It takes beats from there, beats from #125 (the first issue of this run), beats from ‘I Am A Gun’ (the second backup), and pulls it all together through the character arc of Bruce slowly being corrupted by Zur-Enn-Arrh, in order to build up a Batman and Joker conflict that has me excited for it in a way I haven’t been excited for a Batman and Joker showdown since… Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Endgame”.
So much of this has to do with the framing of it all. “Joker War” is a fine story, but I was more interested in Bruce connecting with his family again than I was in the conflict of it all. Here, I’m actually invested, because it’s a new spin on it. The entire “Three Jokers” concept was explored in the canon (is it canon? Who knows with DC anymore), in the “Three Jokers” miniseries, but the less said about that and the more forgotten it is, the better (except the art, because the art is so pretty, it’s a shame it’s tied to writing like that). When Zdarsky teased that beat in the opening pages of his Batman run, it was met with concern, from myself included, but also curiosity because I really do think it’s an interesting idea if done in certain ways.
Introduce that in contrast to a Batman who is slowly being corrupted – slowly eliminating the human element, the “Bruce Wayne” of it all – and turning into purely “Batman”, purely the symbol – and there’s a fascinating dichotomy here that is ripe for exploration, especially after the brilliant “I Am A Gun” backup that does similarly juxtapose them. Not just an exploration for “plot” either, but also thematically a meta-exploration of the character, in the same way the aforementioned backup did.
The art is phenomenal, as usual, too. Jimenez and Morey kill it, but then again, when do they not? When I read it and got to the big title splash page, I physically did the meme where the guy stops leaning back into the chair and leans forward towards the screen instead. It’s so cool. Couple that with the rest of the book (there’s a panel of Bruce working under a lamp that is still on my mind), and wow, what a stunner. Cowles is fantastic on lettering, as per usual. I love how he places in the dialogue for both Bruce and Zur, to make it seem continuous, to really sell that corruption factor, and it’s one of those little things that reminds you that it’s one of those things that you can only do within this medium.
The backup is good, too. Zdarsky, Corona, Plascencia, and Cowles build on the Vandal Savage story that’s been set up by the end of “Gotham War”. I can’t say that I’m still into it, but I like the ideas that they’re playing with here, and looking forward to what we get out of it. Corona and Plascencia’s art is also gorgeous, stylistically different from Jimenez and Morey, but just as cool. Corona’s art was the best part of the recent Batgirls run, and I’m glad he gets a chance to shine through this backup.
Overall, Batman #139 is, for my money, the best since #130, and in general, the best the book has been since then. If you fell off, this is the one to get back with, because it absolutely rules, and I can’t wait to see what the team is cooking for us here.