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Review: Batman #51

After last month’s polarizing (not really a) wedding issue, writer Tom King reunites with his Batman/Elmer Fudd collaborator Lee Weeks and atmospheric colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser for a courtroom drama with a bit of twist ending in Batman #51. Bruce Wayne chooses to make a mockery of the legal system over awkwardly revealing his secret identity and sits on a jury where Mr. Freeze is being tried for the murder of three women, and, of course, was apprehended by Batman. It’s a fairly thought provoking look at how Batman fits into the larger legal system of Gotham, and at times, may do more harm than good. And far from being a mere procedural, King and Weeks use the contradiction of Bruce Wayne sitting on a jury in a trial connected to the actions of his alter ego (Or real personality.) to probe into the anger and guilt buried in Bruce/Batman. Never has a quick restroom visit been so chilling in Weeks’ violent pencil and ink strokes as he blurs the boundaries between billionaire playboy and creature of the night, who definitely isn’t an impartial juror.

King and Weeks juxtapose the relatively restrained setting of the courtroom and jurors’ quarters with dynamic, brutal beatdowns and classic chiarascuro lighting from Breitweiser in Batman #51. It starts with the relatively mild mannered Bruce Wayne arriving at the courthouse for jury duty and the Frank Miller-channeling fists on face beatdown that Batman gives Mr. Freeze, one of the more sympathetic members of his rogue’s gallery. The flashback sequence crescendoes into a close-up of Freeze’s face in anguish, his goggles flying that takes up the whole middle of the page. Lee Weeks is truly a master of pain and gives him a furrowed brain and slobbering mouth. All the while, Bruce Wayne is calmly lying about his connection and thoughts about the Batman to the district attorney in measured, almost sterile dialogue from Tom King. However, this calmness turns into guilt beginning with a darkly framed silent scene in Bruce’s hotel room where it seems like he might slip into his costume and play Dark Knight until court in the morning. It hits a breaking point when Bruce breaks a sink off in the bathroom as he is wracked by the fear that his actions as Batman might have doomed an innocent man.

Until the end of the comic, King and Weeks portray Batman as a hypocrite and even insert little asides like Jim Gordon’s testimony and the jury deliberations that show the city of Gotham gives his violent vigilantism too much of a pass. Mr. Freeze’s defense attorney makes the point that the women were considered to have died of natural causes until Batman did his own autopsy and connected them to Freeze because their brain stems were “cold” in a true leap of logic setting up a darkly humorous nine panel grid of Gordon squirming and finally stating that Batman doesn’t have the authority to conduct autopsies in whatever state Gotham is in. Batman basically framed Mr. Freeze and coerced him into making a confession, but the jury is already convinced that Freeze is an evil villain and Batman is a perfect hero so who cares about the laws of the land. There isn’t really time to do a 12 Angry Men and develop all of the personalities of the jurors in Batman #51, but King does the next best thing and has them share quick personal stories about how Batman helped them instead of evidence to decide a verdict.

Many arguments for vigilantes, Batman included, state that they can execute justice in a more effective way than the legal and judicial system. However, Batman #51 shows that this isn’t all the case as the deaths of three women from natural causes has turned into a full blown murder investigation and has probably taken the place of more pressing matters. Tom King, Lee Weeks, and Elizabeth Breitweiser venture into the real world a little bit in this issue and go into the actual court systems while still having stylized moments like Batman dangling Freeze off the roof top.

In Batman #51, King, Weeks, and Breitweiser go beyond inserting Batman into the court room drama genre and use the trial of Mr. Freeze to probe into his anger and pain and the roots of Bruce/Batman’s sense of justice. Lee Weeks’ naturalistic approach to figures and faces really helps as most of the denizens of this book are ordinary citizens and not superheroes or villains.

Story: Tom King Art: Lee Weeks
Colors: Elizabeth Breitweiser Letters: Clayton Cowles

Story: 8.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review