By Tom King, Matt Wagner, Tomeu Morey & Clayton Cowles
Batman #54 is a love-letter to the relationship between Dick Grayson, and Batman, exploring it from its rocky early days to the two characters learning to trust each other. It’s a simple, low-stakes story that feels remarkably refreshing and makes the most out of its character-centric storyline. King is one of DC’s most talented writers and he gets both Nightwing and Batman here, with their back and forth interactions feeling genuine and never forced. It’s touching and feels well-made, with heart. But that’s no surprise, one of King’s biggest strengths has been how Batman interacts with the characters around him.
This particular father/son team-up is entertaining to always entertaining to read and it is no different in this issue. The villains are not big names and this is a good choice, as it allows the attention to be focused elsewhere and as a result they almost feel like they didn’t even need to be included at all, and were tacked on only because it’s a superhero comic. It makes the most out of the dynamic that is one of the oldest in comics, and explores how it’s changed since its earliest days. The decision to put more emphasis on the father/son relationship as opposed to a crime-fighting duo puts a highlight on Bruce’s flaws as a character, as he has to overcome his struggles just like anyone else’s. But that said, the narrative doesn’t quite go as deep into his head as some other issues have, and although more could have been done, it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day when what’s on display is so good.
The artwork as always for this Batman series is spectacular. Matt Wagner helps establish the differences between Bruce and Dick in the artwork alone, emphasising situations where Bruce is struggling to understand what makes his adopted son tick. Dick always feels more open whilst Bruce is more of the closed-off of the two, and that is portrayed in Wagner’s art. The action scenes are bright and colourful as appropriate of the antagonists featured here, with colourist Tomeu Morey helping structure the book so it feels of like a throwback to the classic era. Clayton Cowles’ letters are well-designed and structured, and the panel layout present in the book is easy and clear to follow.
The villains – among them, the fascinatingly named Crazy Quilt – are interesting and it’s easy to see why they never became as popular as the more famous antagonists among Batman’s rogues gallery like The Joker or Bane. But the benefit of the book not taking itself too seriously allows King to call out the flaws in the characters to great effect, never going out of his way to make anyone feel out-of-character in doing so.
Ultimately, Batman #54 is a fantastic standalone issue that needs to be read by all fans of the father/son relationship between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. It’s readable regardless of whether or not you’re keeping up with the comic, and its closed off structure makes it for a nice break from the more intense drama elsewhere in the DC Universe.