Alfred Pennyworth has finally gotten what he's been wanting for decades: A Bruce Wayne who he won't need to stitch up, worry over or be ignored by. Thomas and Martha Wayne's son isn't a superhero anymore. And the new Batman comic posits that he can't be The Dark Knight ever again.
Ever since the big status quo shift that introduced the new mech-suit Batman a few months ago, fans have been waiting to see how writer Scott Snyder handles the Bat-mythos' Bruce Wayne Problem. Canonically, Batman is Bruce Wayne. Other people have worn the cape and cowl but the status quo always returns to Bruce resuming his role as Gotham's shadowy guardian. In this week's Batman #43, the other shoe drops in particularly bracing fashion.
Written by Snyder with art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and Steve Wands, Batman #43 is almost entirely a Bruce-centric issue. As seen in a preview last week, it opens up with current Batman Jim Gordon talking to former Dark Knight Bruce Wayne.
The interplay between Jim and Bruce is metatextually coy. Unlike the reader, Jim doesn't know that Bruce was Batman but he does know that WayneCorp tech helped the Caped Crusader safeguard the city. However, Wayne rebuffs Gordon's entreaties for help, saying he wants to help Gotham in a different, more grounded way.
Is this a Bruce Wayne who is rejecting his past Bat-life wholesale? Not exactly. The middle chunk of the issue switches to a long encounter between Alfred Pennyworth and Clark Kent, wherein the Wayne family butler tells the depowered Superman how Bruce Wayne came back to life. As many guessed after his apparent death in Batman #40, Bruce Wayne was fully healed by the supernatural element deep beneath Gotham's streets. Alfred never got the chance to tell Bruce that he was Batman, because his surrogate son stopped him.
Clark, who's been shown as desperate to get his powers back and return to his own former self, doesn't deal with this turn of events too well:
Bruce Wayne's brain was changed and all the painful memories and specialised training that made him Batman is gone. Alfred wants him to stay that way.
This new issue also continues to show how Jim Gordon differs from the previous Batman. There used to be a psychologically driven line of editorial thinking in the 1970s and 1980s that the Bruce Wayne Batman would be pathologically unable to wield a gun, since one killed his parents. Not this Dark Knight. Gordon not only whips out a sidearm that shoots Batarangs; it also looks like he's wielding it with deadly force. He's a cop and having to put down bad guys is a regrettable part of the job.
Finally, Batman #43 gives us the first real look at Mr. Bloom, the ascendant alpha-villain who's been sowing superpowers amongst Gotham's criminal class. He's creepy.
Aside from its heartfelt spotlight on Alfred, this issue also hits at one of the criticisms frequently leveled at Batman as a concept, which is that a rich guy punching out criminals doesn't do much to help a city's neediest citizens. Snyder's now given readers a Bruce Wayne who's apparently broke,, choosing to work in Gotham's poorest neighbourhood. It's a big shift from the brooding vigilante who lived miles away from the city he was protecting.
With Bruce Wayne alive, it seems even more inevitable that he'll go back to being Batman eventually. That will likely be a long journey to be told somewhere down the lineThere are new Batman movies in the works — along with the never-ending stream of cartoons and merch to sell — where Bruce Wayne has to be Batman. The stewards of Batman's fate also have to contend with the near-permanent idea in the mainstream consciousness that the billionaire playboy is the Dark Knight. But, here and now — in the medium whence he sprang — Bruce Wayne has a measure of peace. The man who was Batman isn't tortured anymore and I, for one, hope he stays this way for a good long while.