When writer Scott Snyder had Batman and the Joker face off each other in one epic final battle of everything in his ENDGAME arc (Volume 7, issues #34-40), they both eradicated one another not just in a physical sense but in a symbolic one, making this a rather meaningful moment since it was supposed to close the chapter of both characters' prolonged rivalry. Not only that, but it was also later revealed that Bruce Wayne himself had forgotten who he is and what made him Batman in the first place; including his childhood loss and trauma that motivated him to take up the cowl. To replace him was former GCPD commissioner James Gordon, who had to deal with a lot of cynical reception not just within the comic book pages itself but with the fanbase of loyal readers.
But this is a superhero comic book, so it wasn't really the first time when Batman died before; or at least made believe to have died. Given the character's history and legacy, Batman is irreplaceable but there have been other characters who have taken up the mantle. The most recent example before Gordon was his former ward and first Robin, Dick Grayson. Now DC had gone down the same path with Gordon and for the last eight months starting with issue #41, Gordon was Batman. He was fantastic, dimensional and often fun to read about, even as he struggles to fill such mighty shoes. In the hands of more than competent writers who understand Gordon's psychology and personality, we get stories that represent why he was such a fan-favorite to begin with, and how deeply cares about his city and would do all in his power to protect it even when he feels like his shortcomings as a crime-fighter outweigh his passion. In the last eight months, we have to contend ourselves with this Batman and though the fanbase was divided in a lot of factions concerning Gordon's run at the cowl, one thing remains certain that we all can agree upon:
Only Bruce Wayne is Batman. He was, will always be, and should be Batman forever.
I expressed in my previous review of the combined issues #45-46 that I was unhappy that Snyder has to bring back Bruce as Batman because it came off as a cheap cop-out. I do think I was harsh to claim this, only because I was under the impression that Bruce Wayne was NEVER supposed to come back as Batman, and that Gordon will stay as Batman until...I don't know, when Damian Wayne finally takes the mantle once and for all? That would probably happen decades from now, who knows, but for now in this generation and as far as 75 years of history and legacy is concerned, Bruce Wayne IS Batman even when he wasn't. I suppose the two things that had me convinced that Bruce is permanently removed from the equation were because of (1) The Dionysium completely erased his memories and changed his identity; and (2) A glimpse at the future a century from now during a special story written by Snyder himself where a series of Batman clones take over protecting Gotham even after Bruce's death. Now that Bruce Wayne is once again Batman (after the really convoluted and drawn-out arc that included the sadly expendable Mister Bloom), does it mean that the Batman clones won't happen at all? Did Bruce's return change that future? Again, anything is fair game at this point and I'm sure that if the times demanded it, DC would just do yet another Crisis/convergence/divergence thing again that will make it plausible for a future with Bat-clones to come to pass. It's DC, so I won't put it past them.
Enough with the speculations, and let's talk about the journey towards this inevitable destination.
Enough with the speculations, and let's talk about the journey towards this inevitable destination.
To make this review as succinct while still substantial, I just want to talk about the highlights. Snyder's Superheavy issues during its second cycle were A LOT to digest because of Snyder's verbosity which you don't notice (or would easily overlook) because of his artistic team's way of balancing the text with the visuals. Capullo, Miki and Plascencia once again bring the most dynamic and creative illustrations that defined Snyder's run of Batman as one of the more visually captivating comics out there. Most of its pages don't even strike you as something you would normally see in superhero comics. In fact, while I was reading this inside my parents' bedroom and my father walked by and glanced at what I was reading, he asked me if it was Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. My dad has good eyesight, by the way, so I know he was paying attention to what he was looking at, and so when I told him that it was Batman, he looked a little unconvinced about it. It led me to the conclusion that he was deceived by the colors and presentation that made him believe it couldn't possibly be a superhero comic book.
FIRST HIGHLIGHT: In the previous issue #47, we ended with a cliffhanger between Bruce Wayne and the Joker--or the normalized version of him post-death at least. The Dionysium seemed to have cured the crazy out of him which would be disappointing indeed if not for the ominous tone the entire dialogue exchange between him and Bruce was written in. As far as I'm concerned, if Bruce Wayne comes back as Batman then this guy will become the Joker again. They're intrinsically inseparable characters after all. Snyder seemed to be gearing towards that reality as well, but it was quite interesting to see that this normal Joker (how should I call him? Joe?) was essentially though subtly begging Bruce to move on and not fall back to the Batman role. If he does, then Joe has no choice but to become the Joker again--for symbolism and old times' sake, you know. There is actually a part of me that feels sad for Joe because based from his dialogue here, he seems happy that for the first time in forever, he is free from playing the chaotic evil to Batman's lawful good. He would even rather die than go back:
SECOND HIGHLIGHT: Joe's climactic suicide attempt was interrupted by this bullshit: Mister Bloom's hostile takeover of Gotham City. The city has been under attack SO MANY TIMES already than whenever a villain starts doing it again, I just--I don't know, I feel like rolling my eyes and just skimming through the panels, waiting for the good guys to clean up the mess. To be fair to Snyder, each city-wide attack that he made Gotham undergo (whether perpetuated by the Owls, Riddler, or the Joker) have been transformative in spirit. These acts of terrorism didn't just happen for the sake of action fodder; there was always a metaphor he manages to put in that neatly and poignantly makes sense of the tragedies that Gothamites keep on facing and ultimately enduring for the better. So what makes Mister Bloom's act of terror different from his predecessor? Not much; most of it is a little overdone and for shock value--but what it does establish in the end is become a representation of cynicism and hopeless for Gothamites who have probably given up and allowed for sorrow and despair to take root and bloom into something dark and deadly.
I wouldn't say Mister Bloom is a formidable new villain, but I appreciated what he was supposed to stand for at this point in Snyder's run for Batman. This is a villain borne out of the citizens themselves when they lost their hero and have to face the facts that no one is possibly going to save them. Even Jim Gordon's Batman was casually brushed aside as an undeserving pretender who didn't make a damn difference. THAT PART OF THE STORY MADE ME A LITTLE ANGRY. Snyder somewhat attempts to diminish Gordon's contribution and hard work as Batman Regent, only to have Bruce himself affirm it again by driving home the point that Gordon has done a spectacular job holding it all together for the sake of Gotham; for stepping up and embracing the challenge of it. Phew, for a while there I thought Snyder was dissing Gordon. And so we get this marvelous speech Gordon made during the climax:
THIRD HIGHLIGHT: As I've mentioned many times here, Bruce Wayne coming back as Batman was inevitable. It's downright predictable. Snyder handled his comeback in a dignified manner that his character more than deserved. Sure, there were some annoying details such as the fact that yet another one of Dionysium's erasure side effects was the removal of Bruce's mental and physical scars. I take offense to that because has undone all the pain and suffering that Bruce has undergone to become Batman in favor of him truly becoming 'reborn' in the most literal way possible. Ergo, acquiring perfect, unblemished skin and top physical condition. So the entire emotional journey of his baptism of fire, as well as those lifelong battle scars he had worn with pride, were all for naught becomes here comes the fix-all Dionysium cure? UGH. I was not a big fan of that. What I did approve of was Bruce's last gift to his now ex-fiancée Julie. He donated the dinosaur statue from his Bat-cave to the children's recreation center. I thought that was a nice gesture. It didn't automatically make the abrupt break-up and ending of that relationship any less tacky and unfair--but Julie and I are just going to have to contend with it now, won't we? It's such a shitty thing, you know. It was as if Bruce's relationship with Julie has been a placeholder for him becoming Batman again all this time. How else am I supposed to see it but just that? The only thing that softened the blow was the fact that I barely knew Julie to care too much about how she was badly treated as the love interest when all is said and done. But whatever, right?
It's not like superhero comics have female readers too who might expect women who play as romantic foils to the heroes to be written at least with more active roles--even if they are just secondary characters. WHATEVER.
My favorite part of this entire arc had to be issue #49 which was illustrated by Yanick Paquette (of Batman Incorporated!) as opposed to Capullo. The visuals for that issue were still pretty awesome especially the gorgeous full-paged spreads depicting the kooky, inventive ways Bruce tried to remember being Batman by using a machine that was originally supposed to conceive Batman clones. His DNA imprint was stored there so in order to remember his identity, he had to subject himself to agonizing simulations. I really didn't need to see him die over and over again, or choose a life of fighting crime over having a stable, happy life, mind you. But it was a necessary evil. Besides, I think the one thing that has made me tear up was Alfred's role in all of this, as well as his reactions to what is happening and about to happen yet again to the man he deeply cared for and would want to be set free from his lifelong burden. He was the character who broke my heart the most.
So Bruce Wayne as Batman is back. It has finally happened, fanboys, so shut the fuck up and enjoy it. Your have been appeased. That costume below had me in a state of giddy nostalgia, if I may add, because the gray tights were reminiscent of the BTAS costume. I don't really have anything else to say anymore that I didn't say in the introduction of this post, so I'm afraid I will end this review in a rather anticlimactic note. All I could say is that I am...relieved though a little peeved that Bruce Wayne is back. I can't really complain now, can I? It's all we wanted. Gordon had been great but Bruce is forever and always will be Batman. As painful as it was for Bruce, he simply needs to keep being the hero Gotham wanted because the alternative is accepting that Gothamites have to save themselves and they can't do that. And neither can us fans.