Review: Batman Vol. 11: The Fall and the Fallen trade paperback (DC Comics)


With just over 10 issues to go before the end of Tom King's regular Batman run, Batman Vol. 11: The Fall and the Fallen is a big one, giving us our clearest look yet at Bane's overarching plan to break the Batman. The answers, when they come, describe a plan so outlandish as to challenge even the limits of comic book believability, but no one can say King's run so far has not been about pushing the limits. And wonderfully — in the weirdo, mad, loopy storytelling style that has come to define this run — we begin to see various thematic elements coming back home to roost, demonstrating above all else that nothing has been accidental in this run and nothing has been wasted. I am so, so very tempted to end King's run by going back and reading the whole thing over again.

[Review contains spoilers]

To pose a grand Grant Morrison-ian theme on Tom King's Batman run, I might say this is the story of Batman getting defeated by comics. By which I mean that Bane's whole plot hinges on Batman believing that things are the same as they ever were — the monthly or every-six-issues cycle of a villain on the rise, Batman seemingly defeated, and then triumphing in the end. We saw this indeed in the first three-volume arc of King's run in which Batman battles Bane, with even some in-story acknowledgment that Batman is stuck in a cycle of combat with his constantly attacking enemies. Recognizing this, and facing his own mortality, Batman Bruce Wayne seeks to break the cycle by doing something he's never done before, considering his own happiness and proposing marriage to Catwoman Selina Kyle.

But we've known since Batman Vol. 7: The Wedding, after Selina breaks off the engagement and her maid of honor, Holly Robinson, reports right to Bane, that something was amiss. With Fall and the Fallen, we finally know exactly how amiss, that it has been Bane all along, from the crashing airplane that made Bruce consider his own death to imprisoning Bane and feeling the cycle of repetitiveness that brought him to propose to Selina, to Selina leaving Bruce at the altar, it's all been Bane. Essentially, even as Batman has thought himself to be the arbiter of his own destiny, able to change the course of his life as it's unfolded month after month for decades, he's actually no better able to slip the narrative cycle than he ever has been; it's still an attacking villain, it's still a machination.

And consider the sheer audacity of the idea that Bane had the Riddler reprogram Booster Gold's futuristic robot Skeets so that Booster would change time to show Bruce a world where he did achieve true happiness, at cost of an apocalypse, with Bane trusting that Bruce would take away the lessons of that incident but also manage to right time and put things back as they were. Put another way, Bane let himself be wiped from existence with no promise of his own return aside from his own faith in Batman, just as another step in ruining Batman's life. That's an insane plot, one that only works because the writer wants it to, because the narrative wills it so. Bane, all-knowing, all-powerful, is the writer here, the architect of this whole tale. This is the story of Batman thinking he's going to do things differently this time and getting knocked back down by the strictures of comic books, which demand things be the same as they ever were.

That's what we find in Fall and the Fallen, the pieces laid clear — that this is not just a matter of Bane taking revenge after their latest encounter in Santa Prisca, but rather that Bane's influence reaches to the very first pages, before Bane was even mentioned. And yet, this does not discount anomalies. The third chapter (Batman #72), where Bane's plan is enumerated, has an unusual structure, as King's stories do. The imagery by Jorge Fornes is of the present action, intercut by flashbacks to previous issues with art by Mikel Janin, but the narrative is the voice of Bruce's returned father, the Flashpoint Thomas Wayne, presenting Bane's plan as a prelude to asking how Thomas himself might help Bane break the Batman. Thomas is the hole in things, as Morrison might say, the unexpected consequence, the thing Bane did not plan for (and, arguably, the "difference," the thing in a Batman story that's never happened before, and an element that ostensibly did not even come from the writer King but rather from the exterior needs of the DC Rebirth initiative).

As such, while Fall and the Fallen gives us much greater insight into Bane's plan — and the whole of King's run — than we've had so far, by no means do we yet understand everything. How did Thomas Wayne get here? And when? And what is the purpose of the desert trip Thomas takes Bruce on at the end of this book, ostensibly to resurrect Martha Wayne, when Thomas' stated goals otherwise have been to break Batman alongside Bane? (Though one wonders if it's really Thomas' intention to sacrifice one of Ra's al Ghul's men to the Nain Pit in exchange for Martha's resurrection or if Thomas intends to sacrifice Bruce instead; the entire two-issue sequence has a certain Abraham and Isaac vibe to it, in which Bruce doesn't know he's actually the lamb.)

I must applaud again this fantastically weirdo manner through which King is telling his Batman story. I've already mentioned the third part, an issue through art and other art and narrative is simultaneously looking in three directions at once. I found the first chapter (Batman #70) to be the weakest of them all, though still a delight, a somewhat mundane sequence of Batman punching his way through his villains, though punctuated with a Calendar Man callback to the beginning and also Janin and Fornes getting to draw a swath of Batman rogues.

The artists' art is not particularly similar, however, so Janin and Fornes' switch-off in that issue is jarring; however, their drawing similar parallel elements in the second part (Batman #71) — Mikel on the Bat-family and Fornes on Batman battling Bane alone at Wayne Manor — is a fantastic effect (here again King unsticks time to show before and after in tandem). Then we're back in the desert in the final issues (another callback); I'm sure a Batman issue to the tune of "Home on the Range" will annoy some, but I found King setting Batman '66-esque "bam-pow" fight scenes atop a resurrected Thomas Wayne set to "Home on the Range" to be absurdly, blithely wonderful. And the final issue is another of King's "talkies," itself calling back to artist Mark Buckingham's bizarre cameo drawing a weird German folktale amidst Batman's fight with the KGBeast, now made central in this book's penultimate conflict.

Not that we don't know that Batman will eventually triumph, but I admit some disappointment at Batman's "turn" late in the book, when we find out he's not just a broken pawn of Thomas Wayne but actually undercut Thomas' plan while Thomas was asleep. Sure, there's satisfaction in that reveal, but too it's very Morrison-esque, the Batman-is-always-one-step-ahead-of-his-opponents approach. I couldn't say exactly how I'd like to see Batman triumph here, but I felt some pang about the heroic fake-out, a kind of "oh, so I guess this is the story we're telling" feeling, when perhaps it's a little early for that.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batman Vol. 11: The Fall and the Fallen

Obviously I'm on board for the finale, of course, Batman Vol. 11: The Fall and the Fallen giving way to Batman Vols. 12 and 13, the two-part "City of Bane." Those are scheduled for April and July respectively, which feels as always like a long wait — 2020 will be halfway over before we see this conclusion. And then, again, I'm tempted to go back and start all over again, to see the themes of change or the inability to change thereof reflected from the beginning, the questions of whether we can ever actually do things differently or if we're stuck always in a loop of the same patterns. No light reading here.

[Includes original and variant covers; also the Batman: Secret Files #2, unused cover sketches]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batman Vol. 11: The Fall and the Fallen
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 3 )

  1. Sorry for the off-topic! I thought this was interesting, maybe for its own post. Just in case I leave this link here!

    This goes in line with what we have been seing as of late, with kind-of poor trade solicitations lately.

  2. Are they going to release Vols 12 and 13 as a TPB or just HC?

    1. I feel confident they will be released as TPBs also; that's what usually happens.


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