The problem with most super hero comic books is they last forever. It’s counter to the way we consume stories. We don’t get our normal curve up to climax and relaxation down to closure. Much like life these books just kind of go on, blipping up and down and meandering on until the end of the world.
But unlike life, comic books need to be interesting all the time and keeping a character that has orbited a constant norm for the last seventy year novel is a fickle struggle for balance. The teetering relationship between maintaining a joinable status quo and still having events that are impactful must run along with having an unending tale that still offers small satisfying bites of resolution.
The mastering of these counter forces has been what has made this Snyder/Capullo Batman run so special. They maintain the feeling of this being the same old Batman, yet they are fearless in the upturning of Batman’s key stones. They have created a long form story with clearly marked arches, yet no story resolution ever feels like a hard stop.
Something balanced on such a sharp fulcrum can topple easily and if this run was going to show blemishes this would be the time.
Bruce Wayne and the Joker are dead. Gotham has no Batman. How do you insert a proxy for one of the most popular characters in the history of human fiction? How do you maintain story momentum after such a conclusive story event? How do you start so many thing over and change so much yet still keep this Batman?
In Batman #41 Snyder/Cappullo tackle these questions and the responsibilities they assign. While it is perhaps not the legend level work that the series has seen so far, it is a brave first venture into a new, yet familiar world.
The new Batman that comes into being is not what you would expect. It isn’t an old Robin putting on the cowl or the activation of some contingency plan left by Bruce Wayne to be triggered upon his death. It is the product of a cooperation putting an old man in a mech suit.
With Batman gone the Powers Cooperation reaches out to Jim Gordon and asks him to become the center of their new Batman project. Gordon will man a robotic Batman suit and have a full tech support staff. He will be supplied with state of the art vehicles and gadgets and he will work more closely with police.
This set up introduces a flood of new dynamics and motivations into Batman’s world. He is no longer the product of an obsessed and hyper disciplined genius motivated by vengeance and a stony, poetic sense of justice.
He is a cop, trying to protect his city because it’s his job, and he is doing that job at the behest of a cooperation whose motivations are less than transparent.
It couldn’t be farther from the Batman we are comfortable with yet most of it works. The new relationships and dynamics are interesting and ripe with potential conflict. Gordon’s involvement and the covert movements of certain Bruce Wayne era Batman allies keep things from feeling alien and the last page cliffhanger (which I won’t spoil) reminds readers that this is still part of the same ongoing story. The old Batman and the things that happened to him still have an effect on this new era of Batman.
Everything feels homey yet exciting. But not everything lands.
Gordon and the people around him handle the idea of him becoming Batman with little consideration of the weight that comes with that name. Powers wants to get in on the Batman game so they make a suit and now they have made Batman. End of thesis. Gordon doesn’t ever really ponder the enormity of becoming Batman. The resistance to the idea he has early on mostly comes from him feeling like he is too old and that being Batman is a young man’s game. The character’s reaction to this workman like origin feels too airy and it makes you feel like they aren’t talking about the same Batman you know.
Also, the new Batman suit design is still dumb. It looks like a combination of Iron Man, a gladiator and the Energizer Bunny. Having Gordon mention the silliness of the design and then inserting a gag for Batman historians doesn’t do anything to soften the offensiveness of this new Batman’s look. It is constantly distracting. A goofy trashcan man amidst a beautifully rendered and population urban cityscape.
This new era of Batman is not without its boils and scars but it is charming in its fearlessness and clear in its intentions to be different and deep. With lesser talent behind the pen, these changes could have been jarring, but Batman #41 is brilliant in the way it makes you feel at home and hurtling through the unknown at the same time.