A displaced Bruce Wayne has emerged from his battle with Failsafe to find himself on another Earth – one where Bruce Wayne is dead, and Batman never existed. Now he must navigate a world filled with familiar faces in unfamiliar circumstances to unlock the secrets of this new city. The goal is to return to his own world... but can he abandon a Gotham that is so clearly suffering?
Meanwhile, Tim Drake forms an alliance with Mr. Terrific in the hopes of finding Bruce somewhere in the wide multiverse.
Ages ago, in his newsletter, former Batman Scribe James Tynion IV described Gotham as less of a city than the nightmare of a city. It’s appropriate; whether costumed villains or gangsters overrun it, Gotham City can’t catch a break on any world. Moreover, there’s always been a little discourse around why that is – particularly around the role of Batman (if any) in creating and maintaining that chaos. The theory is that since costumed criminals started showing up after he did, and some of them seemed to be fixated on him, Batman’s presence feeds into the city’s problems by inspiring more of them.
Now, I hate that. It’s not that I don’t understand where the sentiment comes from – and if you look at the evolution of Gotham as a city and the way the dangers escalate from simple, organized crime to, like, Joker War, it does make sense. But I always feel like saying that, much like the attempts to pathologize Bruce’s choice to go around in a Batsuit, misses the point of comics – and the fact that Batman is supposed to be a hero, so, you know, maybe don’t make him a force of destruction in his city.
The excellent news is Chip Zdarsky seems to agree. In the Failsafe arc, he explored the idea of a Gotham where the Batfamily had been taken out of commission and, well, things just went to hell on the streets. Even so, you could still claim that removing Batman and his allies from the equation after they had already sparked off all that drama would logically create a lot of issues, even if the drama was their fault, to begin with; as the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum.
That brings us to Zdarsky’s second arc, which began the last issue – The Bat-Man of Gotham – where Bruce finds himself deposited in an alternate world without him.
As it turns out, it’s not pretty. Issue 132 opens with Bruce’s narration explaining this new Gotham City – police officers juiced up on Venom, seemingly in league with the courts and charged with rounding up innocent people who are then forcibly institutionalized in Arkham Asylum. Why? According to Bruce’s new ally, Julia, it’s tied into the city’s power structure… because Arkham Asylum controls the city. Walled up and abandoned by the country, Gotham is a sea of hopelessness and persecution… a hopelessness that becomes all the clearer when we find out why exactly Bruce is hallucinating a skeleton of Jim Gordon.
The good news is that Batman is still Batman, so he immediately sets about learning the ways of this city… which brings him into contact with some surprising faces, including a non-Catwoman (maybe) Selina Kyle, and… it just gets weirder from there.
Now… Chip Zdarsky’s time on Batman has taught me a great deal about my perspective on Batman. I’ve always said that no matter how excellent a story might be, what defines an excellent Batman writer for me is their interpretation of Bruce. Zdarsky’s run has hammered that home for me. Even when his run became, in my opinion, a bit too similar to older stories (cough cough), I was able to stay positive for the most part because I have always enjoyed his specific take on Bruce. While Zdarsky’s Bruce may occasionally struggle with his tendency to be obsessive or withdraw emotionally, he is a fundamentally amazing person. His crusade is motivated by altruism; his goal is to help people. He doesn’t kill or even consider killing. He wants to save everyone. And even when he’s falling apart – even when he’s near death himself – he cannot leave someone else to suffer.
This goes back to Batman being pathologized or accused of worsening the problem in the city he’s trying to save. If Batman is meant to be a hero, then let him be a hero.
So far, The Bat-Man of Gotham is improving on its predecessor, as is the specific “sound” of Bruce’s voice under Zdarsky’s pen. Zdarsky’s run is just beginning, so we have yet to see how far he will go with this, but so far, I have every reason to believe he’ll keep getting better. This applies to Bruce’s characterization and the plots themselves – his first arc was a bit unsteady for me, but it ended on a solid note.
On the visual side of storytelling, Mike Hawthorne does a lovely job of portraying the most unlovely circumstances. The hunched-over people, the broken bodies, and the cracks in the walls and floors paint a distinct picture thrown into stark relief by the pristine halls of the rich. His Bruce is exceptionally well rendered, and I can’t wait to see what he’s come up with for Bruce’s next move, as implied in the incredibly excellent closing panels.
In this month’s backup, part two of “The Toy Box,” Tim continues his search for Bruce. By studying the energy signatures of a mannequin-like object left in the wake of Toyman’s apparent suicide, he has determined that the gun used by Failsafe to eliminate Batman was actually designed to propel its victim through the multiversal barrier. Decided to go and retrieve Bruce, Tim reaches out to Mr. Terrific, perhaps the only one left in the world who could help him travel between worlds easily… aside from Lex Luthor, but he doesn’t count due to his being Lex Luthor.
This is a fun (and beautifully drawn) story with quite a sinister twist at the end that I don’t want to give away, but suffice it to say, I’m interested to see where it’s going.
Since he came to the Batman title, Chip Zdarsky has been using his time to dig into Bruce’s character motivations, first by beginning his run with Bruce in lonely-dark-avenger mode and then by using Failsafe and Zurr En Arr to expose the flaws of that approach. Now he’s seemingly on the next phase – reestablishing Bruce as an altruistic type; someone driven by hope instead of simply demons, and I love that for him.
It’s interesting because I almost feel like I’m less interested in the plots than the characterization, whereas in some runs (say, Tynion’s) it was the other way around. Not that Zdarsky’s plots or Tynion's characterizations are bad, it's just that Tynion was very devoted to changing up the tone and flavors expected in a Batman title, which is part of what made it stand out at the time. By contrast, Zdarsky's take is much more classic, which allows the characters to shine.
But as far as Bruce himself goes, I am riveted. And since Bruce is the main draw to the Batman mythos, you could say that I find the run itself riveting.
Also, someone please bring back Alfred, we’ve suffered long enough.
Batman #132: The World Without Batman
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 8.7/108.7/10
- Art - 9/109/10
- Color - 9/109/10
- Cover Art - 8.5/108.5/10