Batman #23 Review - King and Gerads reunite for The Brave And The Mold
To start off, this issue was dedicated in the memory of Swamp Thing co-creator Bernie Wrightson who sadly passed away in March after a battle with brain cancer, and it’s an issue fitting of a dedication as it is an exploration of the Swamp Thing character as much as it is a Batman one.
The issue opens with a man singing a song, My Wild Irish Rose, and is killed by an unseen assailant. We later see Batman at the scene of the crime with James Gordon, going over the details of the crime, when Swamp Thing appears in the room, growing out of a piece of mold sitting in the apartment. Jim is taken back but then he realises just who he is standing with and quickly gathers himself. A funny moment that reminds you that no matter how much weird shit you see in Gotham, there’s always more to see.
Talking to Batman, Alec Holland the Swamp Thing says that the dead man in the apartment is in fact his father. He left his family when he was only 5 years old and his mother later remarried, with Alec taking his surname. He would later reconnect with his father after he became Swamp Thing and his father would often send him letters.
Alec later meets Bruce at Wayne Manor to discuss the case but something is off about Swamp Thing, he struggles with his human emotions and doesn’t quite know how to process them, so he turns to Bruce to help him understand what he is feeling. He tells Bruce that life and death is all the same, that we essentially live on regardless.
Wanting to help a friend, Bruce begins his investigation into the murder of Swamp Thing’s father. First he deduces that in order for the killer to have gotten into the apartment without using the door, he would have had to have gone in through the window.
Enter Tom King’s favourite character; Kite Man!Hell Yeah.
During this aerial takedown, Batman finds out from Kite Man that he sold one of his Kites to a pawn shop, and at the pawn shop he finds out that an arms dealer bought it, who in turn sold it to a mercenary called Headhunter, and he is the killer.
Batman and Swamp Thing race to the Gotham Museum Of Art (the grass there told Swamp Thing where he was, d’uh) in the Batmobile to confront the killer.
Sure enough they find Headhunter there. He knew they were coming and explains his motives. It turns out that Alec’s father was singing My Wild Irish Rose in a bar when Headhunter overheard and liked the song, asking him where it’s from and what it means. He explains that the song is about life and tells Headhunter that his son told him life and death is all the same, that his son was Swamp Thing.
And that’s why he killed him, because his son was Swamp Thing and because he believed that he was told things about the world that people like him don’t deserve to know so he killed him for it.
To say Swamp Thing loses his shit would be a fucking understatement. There’s a hint of irony to the ending because some would accuse Bruce of being the last person you turn to in order to understand your grief, but maybe that’s the reason why Alec turned to him in the first place because he didn’t want justice but pure vengeance.
Standing over Headhunter’s mutilated body, Alec reveals that the song his father would sing was one he performed for him when he was little, when he was scared. When he learns of his father’s murder it pretty much reverts him back into that scared little boy again.
Bruce though is utterly betrayed, he thought he was helping his friend but he realises now that Alec was simply using him to get revenge. As it turns out, Alec never read his father’s letters and felt like he owed his father something.
What Alec tells Bruce earlier about life and death being the same rings hollow now that he knows Alec doesn’t appreciate his own words, destroying any comfort Bruce took from it that his own parents lived on.
Honestly it’s hard to say what is more difficult to see here, the shame on Alec’s face or the rage in Bruce’s.
The artwork of this issue was absolutely top grade amazing. Mitch Gerads handles everything except for the lettering and it’s a wonderfully consistent piece of work to boot. Finely crafted details in the pencils from the noir scenes of the beginning to the night scenery of Gotham, Gerads leaves nothing out. One of the best parts of his work this issue though is the layouts, going from a 9 panel grid to lovely horizontal panels.
This issue is a great preview into the upcoming Mister Miracle series by Tom King and Mitch Gerads this Summer (read my thoughts about it here), promising to be as fantastic an endeavour as their Sheriff Of Babylon series.
TL;DR - An amazingly crafted story and fantastic artwork sees Tom King reach new heights with his Batman run.