We all know the story of Batman. It's the story of a child who saw his parents gunned down in cold blood before his innocent eyes; the story of a boy who fell down a cave; the tale of a teenager whose window was shattered by a bat. It's a story we know so well that it's become a matter of legend. But this week, in Batman #12, that story has changed just a little bit. It's become just slightly... darker.
Warning: spoilers follow for Batman #12!
A Twist in the Tale
Tom King is a legend among comic book writers. His writing is deep, intense, and psychological; he doesn't just write a story, he presents a character on the page. In an age when comics are often wary of exposition, he uses the old-fashioned text-boxes so liberally you'd think he was a writer from the 1980s. The difference between Tom King and that old-fashioned style, though, is that he doesn't use the text-boxes to tell the same story as the main narrative. Instead, he juxtaposes them.
Take Batman #12. The main story is that Batman is rampaging through an army of goons. Mikel Janin seems to be enjoying himself, sketching countless enemy soldiers, and showing Batman knock two shades of Khaki green out of them! Every page is intense and atmospheric, conveying a rich sense of motion as the Dark Knight proves that he really is a one-man army. Meanwhile, though, the real story is going on in the background. It's happening in the exposition.
The current arc is entitled "I Am Suicide". Up till Batman #12, we all thought it was a description of Batman's current 'suicide mission'. It's not.
It's about Batman's identity. It's about Bruce Wayne's suicide attempt.
Bruce Wayne's Suicide Attempt--?!?
The exposition is a letter that Batman has written to Catwoman, his lover / nemesis. In it, he recounts the true day the Batman was born. The day a ten-year-old child, who knew nothing but pain after his parents' murders, decided to end it all. The day a young boy picked up his father's razor, knelt on the ground, and prayed.
There was no answer.
As the blood trickled down his hands, Bruce Wayne looked at Gotham, and he decided that he must be the answer. So far as young Bruce was concerned, his suicide attempt was successful. This was the day Bruce Wayne died. The day Batman was born.
We've all heard it before: Bruce Wayne died in the alley, we've read countless times. Not according to this book. Bruce Wayne's life wasn't taken, stolen from him when his parents were shot dead before his eyes. No, he surrendered his life, he gave it up, and now there is only Batman. The Batman who made a vow:
"I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals."
This is the reason Batman won't kill, incidentally. Because, viewing himself as one who gave up his life, he views death as a choice. He will not take the choice of death away from another. It's a tremendously subtle, twisty bit of Bat-logic, but it's a clever one, because it successfully draws together all the different portrayals we've had before - including the fact that Batman mourns, that sometimes he allows a criminal to die without his intervention, but that he doesn't take a life himself.
How Does This Fit?
One of the reasons this works so effectively is that it's only the subtlest thematic reinterpretation of Batman's origin. The bare bones remain unchanged; but now, rather than Batman being another victim, he is the actor in the drama, the one who makes the choice, who chooses to die and in turn to be reborn.
From a psychological perspective, of course, this is a dark decision. But Batman's never exactly been upbeat, as viewers of Gotham will attest. In fact, the scene seems loosely inspired by David Mazouz's portrayal of a young Bruce Wayne; as you read the narrative, you can't help imagining Mazouz as the child slitting his young wrists. It's heart-wrenching and frankly disturbing; but let's be honest, that's Batman.
The ethics of this decision are intriguing. Batman is forever living in the shadow of the moment he believes himself to have died, and as a result the title of this arc is actually a description of Batman himself:
"I am Suicide."
Nowhere in King's narrative does he hint that he's telling a story of triumph, where Batman will somehow come to embrace life after that chilling moment. No — too many years have passed for that, and the scars are too deep. You can tell that this is simply part of who he is, an aspect of his identity that's so fundamental he sees no reason to think about it — bar in the extreme scenarios, such as the one King has woven together. King has made his name for intense psychological analysis of characters, and he's now got his lens focused so tightly on Batman that he's even managed to rewrite the Dark Knight's origin. That's impressive.
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- Stop Trying To Guess The Plot Of Ben Affleck's Batman — It's Going To Be An Original Story!
All in all, I can't think of a more potent #ComicOfTheWeek than Batman #12. It's not exactly light reading; odds are you'll walk away disturbed, forced to reinterpret the superhero you thought you knew so well. But it is an example of comics at their best, telling a powerful, evocative story that presents a flawed character in such a chillingly real way. It's unmissable, and a reminder of just how powerful the #DCRebirth range really is!
What do you think of this new twist in the tale of Batman?
Poll Image: DC Comics