This isn’t the billionaire who saw his parents gunned down in front of him. Nope, it’s not Dick Grayson either.
This weekend, DC flipped the switch on some rather ballsy status quo shifts for its biggest superheroes in a one-shot called Divergence. One of them involved Superman and Lois Lane, the woman who in previous incarnations had been The Man of Steel’s girlfriend or wife. The other major shake-up? A short story that reveals an all-new Batman — a person who’s never worn a cape before — in the form of a long-eared giant robot suit.
The new Batman is none other than Jim Gordon. That’s right. The same Gotham City Police Commissioner that got annoyed when Bruce Wayne’s alter ego would ninja out on him is now Batman himself.
A long-held idea in the Batman mythos is that the Dark Knight is a symbol to the people of Gotham City. Done by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo — the same team who’ve been doing the mainline Batman book since a 2011 reboot — the Divergence story riffs on that premise. Dialogue describes a populace that’s at its breaking point without its costumed crusader to rally around.
In the fiction — just like the real world, you could say — the new Batman initiative seems to be a bit of corporate opportunism, coming from a mega-corporation named Powers International. That company scooped up assets from Wayne Enterprises, and Bruce Wayne’s company is called “defunct” in the story.
(If a company with the name of Powers in a Batman story rings a bell for you, you might be remembering the merged business entity called Wayne-Powers from the futuristic Batman Beyond cartoon.)
When Batman’s disappeared, been recuperating or assumed dead before, there was always bloated melodrama around who’d take his place and what kind of Batman they’d be. In the early 1990s, there was Jean-Paul Valley, otherwise known as misguided vigilante Azrael, who became an armoured Batman who used excessive force and killed criminals. After Batman apparently died in the 2008/2009 Batman R.I.P./Final Crisis storylines, DC did a follow-up called Battle for the Cowl where a bunch of Batman’s allies tussled over who would wear the pointy-eared costume next.
None of that happened this time. We’ve gone straight from this past Wednesday’s Batman #40, where the apparent grisly deaths of both Batman and Joker were shown, to Divergence. The story mentions the passage of two month’s time but we don’t know what’s been happening with Alfred and the rest of Bruce Wayne’s crime-fighting family.
Part of the drama with the Bruce Wayne Batman was the always-hovering threat of an enemy finding out who he is. When it’s happened, the consequences have been ugly, like when Joker cut off Alfred’s hand in the recent Endgame story. That same tension will likely still exist here but with different stakes and inside a different framework. Gordon’s main family members are already wrapped up in the good and evil sides of the DC Universe. Most famously, his daughter is Batgirl. And his son James Gordon, Jr. is a sadistic, methodical killer who was part of the bad-guys-working-for-the-government team called the Suicide Squad. Story angles focusing on his kids are almost a guarantee at some point.
Does anyone know it’s Jim Gordon at all? Well, it’s intimated from one panel in the Divergence story that at least one of Gordon’s cop buddies — Maggie Sawyer, commander of the Major Crimes Unit, second from the left in he panel below — knows that he’s going to be in the suit.
But it’s not clear that anyone even recognises that guy walking down the hall as Jim Gordon, since his appearance has been so radically changed.
Another interesting angle on Robot Gordon Batman is the fact he’s not a vigilante anymore. Assuming that the title used by CEO Geri Powers isn’t just shorthand or an honorific, Gordon is still a paid law enforcement employee of Gotham City. That means he might have different ideas about following and breaking the rule of law in pursuit of justice, considerations Bruce Wayne didn’t have much time for. You could argue that Gordon knew Batman intimately, if only in a limited fashion. He and the Dark Knight depended on each other but Gordon never really knew how Bruce Wayne made his Bat-magic happen. Now he has to pick up the mantle in a totally different way.
Clearly, things are just starting for this new Bat-era. But, it’s such a bizarre shift from what’s gone on before that it makes me want to jump on board just to see where it goes. I’ve been an intermittent reader of the Snyder-written Batman and stopped after the Death of the Family storyline left me cold. This is a Batman that doesn’t have foundational drama at its core and one that has the chance to approach the franchise’s signature darkness in a different way. It’s either going to be brilliant and fun or painful to watch.