Last month, Bruce Wayne—who came back from the dead with no memory of his former life as a superhero— found out he used to be Batman. This week, we see how he comes to grips with what that means.
Originally published 1/22/16
Since last summer, Gotham City’s been under the protection of a new Dark Knight. In the Superheavy storyline rolling out in the main Batman title, readers have seen Jim Gordon don a sleek capeless outfit and giant mech armor after the presumed death to Gotham’s previous guardian. Gordon’s efforts to safeguard the city have been wildly different. He’s a fully sanctioned member of the police, so he uses a gun. He’s got a corporate benefactor with deep pockets and fancy tech, so he’s got his own back-up crew. Gordon’s battles against new alpha-villain Mr. Bloom have been tougher because he’s a superhero newbie. Still, his history as as a cop who knows Gotham inside out have added a different dimension to his Bat-tenure.
Nevertheless, for all of the clever facets of the current Gordon-as-Batman moment, Jim Gordon can’t stay in the Batsuit much longer.
Forward-looking solicitations are a fact of life of the modern-day comics landscape. Publishers need to tell readers and retailers what’s coming so that they can pre-order appropriate amounts of books they want. It used to be that solicits were tightly controlled secret knowledge but now everyone knows what’s coming three months in the future. The exact timing of Bruce Wayne’s return to the cape and cowl is known now—and the creators knew it would be—so the remainder of Superheavy has to mine a different kind of dramatic tension.
This week’s Batman #48 gives readers a Bruce Wayne who isn’t eager to go back to the Batman identity. In a scene where he talks with the resurrected, amnesiac Joker, he rails about the futility of it all.
The story is split between Jim Gordon getting his ass handed to him and Bruce watching both Gotham and his new life messily explode in front of his face. Thomas and Martha Wayne’s son knows what he has to do. It ends with two final pages that honestly choked me up.
Alfred is crying because he knows that the peace and happiness Bruce stumbled onto is over.
There’s an inevitability to storylines like Superheavy, in that readers know that Bruce Wayne is going to become Batman again. Other people have been Batman before. Bruce always comes back. So, the best thing about arcs like this is how they engage with that inevitability. When Jean-Paul Valley was an ultra-violent Batman who killed, it was a metatextual commentary on the darker turn taking over superhero comics. The subtext of Dick Grayson’s turn in the Batsuit was about the struggle between finding one’s own way in life and maintaining the legacy of one’s forebears.
What Superheavy has told us about Jim Gordon is that he could be the superhero that Gotham needs. He doesn’t have to hand off city-saving responsibility to someone else. Sure, it takes a massive dollop of disbelief suspension to swallow the idea that he’s young and fit enough but readers accept far more outlandish things in cape comics. The result is an uptick of collective respect for Gordon. He’s not just the guy Batman ninjas out on. He can hold the line.
What Superheavy has told us about Bruce Wayne so far is that he can actually be happy, that he doesn’t have to be beholden to the trauma of his past. That’s not a new story beat for Batman storylines to fall on but I hope it leaves a mark this time. That’s the imprint that I hope Superheavy leaves on the modern-day interpretation of the Dark Knight: a Batman who doesn’t build a family by accident, who embraces the relationships that have accrued around him for years. And, as I’ve said before, I hope part of that attitude change is doing away with the old trope of Gordon not being able to figure out Bruce Wayne is Batman. After the events of the last six months—where Gordon kept the Bat-legacy alive in his own way—the very least Bruce can do is let him into the family.