The cover speaks for itself: an enraged Batman rips The Mad Hatter’s Hat in half while a blazing fire burns in the background. All the while, The Hatter desperately attempts to sip the final drops of his “special tea”.
However, as much as the total gist of this issue goes, it is a necessary formulaic one. For as the cover blatantly suggests, or even last issue (#21) for that matter, one can clearly imagine and predict what will unfold in the following pages of this issue.
Moreover, readers can rejoice because finally this story arc has finished. This arc has been stretched for quite a bit and all relevant tension that was built in the earlier parts of this arc have become diluted in the process.
At first glance we have the much welcomed return of artist Ethan Van Sciver, who did the better job (compared to Kudranski) depicting the sheer insanity and ferocity of The Hatter. He also does a great job illustrating the desperation closing in to madness of both the personas of Wayne/Batman (and that fine line that connects them). Also, the pure maddening rage makes Batman look like he might run over anyone who stands in his way of revenge.
There are even religious intonations in this issue; the way The Hatter presents his madness, one chooses to either drink or eat from it. There is a sense of reverence in his art and how he manages to pull the right strings to drive his victim mad with absurdity and mental chaos is an admirable one, yet desperate. Desperation seems the driving force of this issue in fact.
A particular scene is presented in sheer grotesque glory akin to a Jacob’s Ladder or a Silent Hill scene. This alone makes one question the entire rationale behind Batman’s motives. The writer (Hurwitz) presents the thoughts of the character. However, the writer cannot disclose the internal conflict that goes beyond words, for characters are more complex than how they are presented as. This can only be applied through imagery and other form. This particular moment is drawn beautifully as the representations of the characters are interwoven in a multi layered dream. This results that the thoughts/feelings one might have both to their subject of loss and duty end up in conflict.
The transition between mental and physical states is rather choppy. Batman’s psyche is not given ample time to really fight through the hallucinations thrown (or lured out) by The Hatter. This lack of progression dries up the narration and crumples the characterization that was needed in such moments. As far as this issue goes, the final mental games performed by The Hatter play second fiddle to his ultimate defeat.
As I mentioned earlier, the necessary formula to be followed does leave to desire in terms of quality and heart. Formulas are repeated because they are effective. However, it is the circumstantial differences that make a story memorable. This issue simply skims past these details and at times may feel like a rehash of earlier situations of a similar nature in Batman related stories.
The inevitable beating that goes down is harsh, brutal and merciless. Batman does not take his time with Hatter, but rather seems to want to inflict as much pain as fast as possible. However, none of the violence will bring Natalya back. As the White Rabbit mutters “oh dear, oh dear, I shall be late,” mocking Batman through his entry. He was always late to save her.
Batman’s final moments in this issue indicate that he will become an even darker figure for issues to come. Seclusion is his shelter and the need to go out every night is his medicine.