Warning: SPOILERS for Batman #52
Bruce Wayne is facing his greatest challenge yet: publicly proving that Batman isn't a hero. To make matters worse, Bruce Wayne will have to convince some of the most famously stubborn people in the world.
That's because his audience is a jury of his peers who believe in Batman as a force for good, and who just want to convict a confessed criminal and go home with their lives. But Bruce? He's the only one who knows in his heart that this time, the Dark Knight went too far.
Batman, obviously, is never in a great mood. Yet the current arc of Tom King's Batman series finds the Dark Knight in a particularly dour place. Catwoman has left him at the altar, Dick Grayson has taken over as Batman, and Bruce Wayne is serving jury duty, presiding over a trial for Mr. Freeze (who Batman helped apprehend). Bruce, though, isn't convinced that Batman (or himself) did the right thing. Bruce Wayne needs to convince everyone that Batman's not in his right mind - and Mr. Freeze should go free.
The second part of the "Batman on jury duty" storyline is structured A LOT like 12 Angry Men. Everyone on the jury is ready to convict Mr. Freeze for the deaths of three women based on almost nothing but Batman's belief in Freeze's guilt. But Bruce Wayne has his doubts, which are keeping him from wanting to convict. He convinces his fellow jurors to give him an hour or two (translation: two comic book issues) to convince them that Batman is in the wrong. Mr. Freeze is innocent... of this crime, at least.
As can be imagined, Batman #52 is a very introspective story, seeing Bruce Wayne launch into a long monologue about the "hypothetical" situation that Batman is rattled, allowing someone to use his emotional vulnerability to their advantage. As a result, Batman thought Freeze is guilty because someone wants him to believe it.
Based on the heartbreaking wedding issue between Batman and Catwoman, fans would assume the mastermind behind Bruce's current breakdown is Bane. For the moment, Bruce seems in the dark about that piece of information. Right now, all he knows is that Batman feels more unhinged than ever.
Batman #52 is hardly the first time that Bruce Wayne has doubted that Batman is righteous, or even necessary. And in the issue's flashbacks, Batman's capture of Mr. Freeze is brutal, violent, and basically out-of-control. This isn't a hero that Gotham should want protecting their streets.
This leads up to the big hook of Batman #52 where Bruce Wayne tells his fellow jurors that he's going to prove that Batman isn't a hero. The man that Gotham believes is protecting them isn't the man who's actually behind Batman's cape and cowl... at least not any longer. Batman didn't just lose Catwoman at his wedding. Batman has lost his way, and he's no longer acting like a hero, or even a semi-decent person.
The end result to Bruce's Bat-life crisis will probably not be Earth-shattering. Bruce Wayne will come out of jury duty and suit up as Batman once again, if for no other reason than to find the secret mastermind (A.K.A. Bane) who made him so skeptical of himself. Yet even if Bruce Wayne suits up as Batman, he could still argue very effectively that Batman isn't a hero and that could have huge ramifications for that character moving forward.
DC Comics has always been very careful about Batman toeing the line between anti-hero and hero. However, in a post-Catwoman break-up world, the scales might be tipping to the morally ambiguous side.
Batman #52 is available now from DC Comics.