Review: Batman Vol. 8: Cold Days trade paperback (DC Comics)

December 23, 2018


It is another stellar volume of Tom King's Batman. In the aftermath of the wedding volume, Batman Vol. 8: Cold Days begins not with a bang but with a whimper (or a whimper-bang); in as many times as we think we've read this particular kind of story before, King finds a way to defy expectations and still deliver, and then follows with a second story that confuses and confounds the topics at play all the more. Nearing as we are 80 years of Batman, that any writer should find something new to say month in and month out is a minor miracle on its own; that King not only has new to say but also manages to toy with comics as a storytelling form at the same time is a real treat.

[Review contains spoilers]

After Jason Todd died, after Batman was branded murderer and fugitive, and surely a half dozen other times, we know full well we're in for a spate of "Batman can't control his anger and goes nuts" stories before the Bat-family of your current continuity talks him down from the belfry. Such might've been the case under most writers after Catwoman jilted Batman at the rooftop altar last time around. Instead, King tells a story that takes place largely in a jury deliberation room, a story that — while not completely absent punching and kicking — mostly involves Bruce Wayne and his jury duty cohorts sitting around and talking. It is a Batman play; clearly there's meant to be shades of 12 Angry Men here, but also it reads like a forgotten Gotham Central story with Lee Weeks providing the Michael Lark-esque realism (colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser's pastels deserve some credit, too).

It bears considering that if Batman is really the greatest of all time that he's chalked up to be, possibly this historical strain of emotional immaturity doesn't make sense. And therein is where Cold Days finds itself, asking in its instant-classic third chapter (Batman #53) exactly what version of Batman the reader subscribes to. Batman is not God, Bruce Wayne explains in an issue-long near-monologue, despite that even Bruce himself perhaps thought he was — not all-healing, as Bruce might have thought, and not infallible. What I expected to be a story about Bruce coincidentally finding himself on a jury and having to fight to preserve Mr. Freeze's arrest is actually a story about Bruce buying his way on a jury to try to overturn Freeze's arrest because Bruce is afraid that, as Batman, he coerced Freeze's confession.

King's story bucks Bat-tradition in that Batman here recognizes his own overreaction and mends fences himself, without need for a crossover Bat-intervention. It is also a (affectionate, I'm sure) repudiation of over 10 years of Batman stories, from Grant Morrison's "hairy-chested love-god" to Scott Snyder's aspirational figure. The aforementioned Batman #53 argues against Batman worship, suggesting that Batman is "just us ... But in a leather bat suit" -- not an ideal or aspirational figure, but just a man. It is the antithesis of the "always be Batman" meme, but surely not meaning to cut Batman down; rather perhaps King's presentation of Batman Bruce Wayne is the purest we've had in a while, stripping away all the trappings to recognize the man instead of the legend.

But King also has a pattern of undercutting his own themes in this Bat-run, and zigging one way only to moments later zag another. King follows the three-part "Cold Days" with the semi-comic "Better Man," actually a moving story of Bruce and young Dick Grayson's relationship, but paralleled with adult Nightwing trying to cheer Batman up (and with more-animated-than-usual art by Matt Wagner). That itself leads in to "Beasts of Burden," which continues down the comical path ... right up to the point the KGBeast shoots Nightwing in the head. The issue after sees Batman unhinged again, brutalizing baddies on the way to KGBeast and ignoring Alfred's pleas as he ventures out into the blinding slow; the final issue famously involves very little dialogue, just grunts, as Batman and KGBeast pound one another to smithereens.

In essence, Cold Days is a book at war with itself. Half of it is a story about Bruce Wayne realizing he's been too harsh with Mr. Freeze because of his emotional hurt over Catwoman; half of it is Batman letting his emotions take violent lead after Nightwing is injured. Batman seems to grow here, but ultimately does not; he is two steps forward, one step back. Had Batman reacted as calmly to KGBeast as he wished he had to Freeze, King's story might be over (Bane's mysterious and lingering plan of revenge notwithstanding); Batman's character arc would be complete. Instead, like the animals in "Beasts of Burden"'s side story (with art by Mark Buckingham), we find it's not so easy for "beasts" to buck their instincts. Despite his growth, Batman reverts to his old ways, and so the story continues into the next volume.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batman Vol. 8: Cold Days

The range of stories and storytelling styles in Tom King's Batman run remain impressive. We've had stories that vary on a single linguistic theme, stories like "Beasts of Burden"'s conclusion where Batman barely speaks at all, stories like "Cold Days," dialogue-full and action-light. Always I know it'll be something impressive. We're interstitial a little bit here in Batman Vol. 8: Cold Days, being an epilogue (though well done) for Batman Vol. 7: The Wedding and then set up for events in Nightwing; Cold Days doesn't move King's Bat-saga forward all that much. This was issues #51-57, seven issues; the next book, Batman Vol. 9: The Tyrant Wing, due out in March, is just issues #58-60 plus an annual and Secret Files stories. That's less than I would like, though to be sure I'm there for it.

[Includes original and variant covers, Lee Weeks sketches]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batman Vol. 8: Cold Days
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 3 )

  1. I loved the Mr. Freeze arc and the one-off flashback, but the KGBeast arc felt like King stretching a two-issue arc over three to me. Also, it made me wonder if King had already talked about it with Percy before he started writing Nightwing, because that was a big curve ball to throw him right in the middle of what supposed to be a big saga involving the Dark Web.

    About the next volume, the actual solicits says it will collect issues #58-63, so it looks like they'll be splitting the "Knighmares" one-offs between this and volume 10, which is set to collect issues #66-69 and Batman Secret Files #1, skipping the crossover with The Flash. And I'm still wondering where Tom Taylor's great Batman Annual #3 will be collected.

    1. Glad to hear about the increased contents for Tyrant Wing. Splitting "Knightmares" gives me pause, but King seems pretty involved in all of this, so I imagine that won't hurt reading experience any. Given the praise for the Taylor annual, I'd be surprised if they didn't collect it *somewhere.*

    2. Now that the cover to Batman Vol. 9: The Tyrant Wing is visible at Amazon, listing Tom Taylor and Otto Schmidt among the authors, it looks like the solicitation was wrong and it will collect just issues #58-60, Annual #3 and Secret Files #1 as listed. That means all "Knightmares" issues (#61-63 and #66-69) will be collected in Vol. 10, which works best.


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