NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for "Batman" #12
In the world of DC movie making, the Batman reigns supreme. And to be honest, the comic book world isn't all that different, with some of the industry's best and brightest talents being given the keys to the Dark Knight's legacy on a constant rotation. With expectations, hopes, and attention at an all-time high with "Batman: Rebirth" it was writer Tom King entrusted with DC's top detective - and the resulting stories aren't soon to be forgotten.
After Bruce Wayne survived a night of killer Kaiju in Gotham, and came to grips with the loss of another apprentice (or two), he set off on a mission unlike any other. As evidence, he needed to first assemble a Suicide Squad of his own, handpicked to take on the stronghold belonging to the now-Venom-free Bane. The mission went wrong almost from the start, and as Batman makes his march to the villain in the new "Batman" #12, King has unveiled his latest fan-staggering twist.
A new interpretation of Bruce Wayne's decision to become the Bat that is even darker than before.
Batman: Rebirth Has Been All About Mortality
When we spoke with writer Tom King at San Diego Comic-Con, he didn't mince his words about what drew him to Batman, or the overall theme he would pursue at the reins of "Batman: Rebirth" - Bruce Wayne is mortal, he is human, and his life is always on the line. It's what has long separated him from his Justice League colleagues, and in the very first issue of King's run, the Dark Knight faced death head on. Standing atop a crashing airliner, calculating the odds of survival and accepting his fate, he posed a simple question to Alfred Pennyworth: "is this a good death?"
It was a moment of humanity and vulnerability - but still unwavering devotion - that rang out like a shot across the bow, and set the tone for King's narrative. Since then, Bruce Wayne has faced the loss of his parents, the loss of friends, and more grief and mortality than most Batman fans are used to. It's all been leading to the current mission, making a suicide run on Bane's island prison to recover Psycho-Pirate. It's only poetic that the mission that may cost him his life is also the one launched to save the life of a soul as scarred as his own (Gotham Girl).
Issue #12 is the one we've all been building toward, with artist Mikel Janin and King delivering their penultimate chapter in a book of entirely double-page splashes. In the process, adding a new wrinkle to the origin of the Batman: he isn't just a hero who can die, but a hero created specifically to die.
The Change To The Origin
The issue's text is mainly delivered in the form of a letter written by Bruce to Selina Kyle, a woman he deems the only person able to understand the reason for his costumed identity. While every fan knows the origin story of Bruce Wayne - rich kid, parents killed, vows to fight crime - the actual origin of Batman is what's being changed here. And as hard as it may be to believe, King's new details paint a picture of an even more tragic, even darker birth of the Bat. Bruce concedes that the entire idea - a man dressed as a bat, in a cape and cowl - is laughable. But the real secret is that it's not a man dressed up at all: it's only a boy dressed up as a man, dressed up as a bat.
In Bruce's words, that boy never really grew up - but arrived at a moment of grief that defined the remainder of his days. At just ten years old, Bruce reveals, he came to realize that he was no longer anything but pain - an existence that was neither kind nor dignified. In such a state, he took his father's razor to his wrist, let the blood flow, and prayed for an answer... and nothing came. Nothing but the realization that he kneeled, hopeless and racked with grief and pain, along with so many in Gotham. And picturing the hundreds of Gothamites similarly pained and forgotten, Bruce saw a new purpose for his life.
It's heartbreaking to imagine King's description of a boy crying out for forgiveness to his parents that he would seek their fate by his own hand. But this new perspective on the true genesis of the Batman identity does the nearly impossible: honors everything fans know, while adding new meaning for the story at hand.
Batman is Suicide - What It All Means
The real weight behind King's revisions or additions is more than just 'Bruce hitting rock bottom before rising as Batman.' Just a page later in the issue, Bruce elaborates that his mission to "wage war on criminals" was not just a new purpose, but the final purpose, as decided upon by that ten year-old boy. In his own words:
I let the razor fall, and I understood, it was done, I'd done it, I'd surrendered. My life was no longer my life, and I whispered-- 'I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.
So that's what it is. The ears. The belt. The gargoyle. It's not funny. It's the choice of a boy. The choice to die. I am Batman. I am suicide.
Bruce may have pulled the razor from his wrist and kept on living, but as this issue reveals, he had committed suicide all the same. That realization gives a pallor to his entire superhero career, while simultaneously making his sacrifice almost more noble, dignified, and kind.
Every comic fan knows that Bruce Wayne made a promise to spend his life fighting criminals, but it's usually portrayed as a glorious mission... not a ten year-old orphan's decision to quite literally spend the life in him by surrendering it in a productive way.
The letter is ultimately used to characterize Batman and Catwoman as two of a kind, having made similar commitments to a life that will cost them everything in the end. Their long romance, therefore, is based on a shared doom somewhere in the future, but marching closer every day. And since Catwoman has now betrayed Bruce and put him on a collision course with Bane, one or the other may be meeting their end very soon.
Not that it would come as a true defeat to Bruce, since we now know he killed himself decades ago... it just took this long to bleed out.
Batman #12 is available now.