Batman 49

batman 49

Today, Spencer and Michael are discussing Batman 49, originally released February 10th, 2016.

Spencer: One of the concepts that’s made Batman such a popular hero for the past 75 years is the idea that anybody could become Batman. None of us are alien refugees or Amazon princesses, none of us can expect to be struck by Speed Force lightning or bitten by a radioactive spider (and survive, at least), but with the right training, resources, and determination, anyone could become Batman; and sure, most of us don’t have access to the seemingly unlimited wealth, technology, or training Bruce Wayne had, but they’re at least goals that someone living in our real world could feasibly aspire to achieve. In Batman 49, though, Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette make all those qualifications — and, indeed, the very possibility of anyone besides Bruce Wayne ever truly becoming Batman — moot. Being Batman is about more than gear or training or money. Becoming Batman requires great, tragic sacrifice; it involves dying, whether figuratively or literally.

That’s what our blank-slate Bruce Wayne discovers as he attempts to reclaim his mantle. First, though, he has to convince Alfred to take him down to the cave and to help him fire up the “Batman-making machine” (a device meant to create new Batmen by cloning Bruce Wayne and implanting them with his memories), which is easier said than done. Alfred is desperate to save his son from returning to his previous life, but as always, it’s a futile endeavor. No matter what form he takes, when faced with people in danger, Bruce is compelled to help them out.

compelled

If Bruce had never lost his parents in that alley perhaps his heroism would have taken on a different form, but as it is, if Bruce has the capability of protecting people as Batman, it’s not something he can turn away from. Bruce Wayne has to be Batman.

Having established that, Snyder next works on establishing why Batman has to be Bruce Wayne — and, again, it all comes down to that moment in the alley. Blank-Bruce and Alfred attempt to make the machine work, to implant Bruce’s old memories into this new form, but despite repeated attempts, it keeps failing — and the process is essentially killing Bruce. Paquette breaks from his more typical layouts throughout the rest of the issue to depict these attempts (which take the form of far-out fantasies within Bruce’s mind), placing them all within circular panels.

circles

This sequence might be the clearest example, contrasting the background noise of Alfred and Bruce’s attempts with Bruce’s circular fantasies. Beyond simply separating fiction from “reality,” though, those circles seem to have several meanings. They represent Alfred and Bruce’s repeated, never-ending attempts to make the process work — Bruce is not giving up. They also represent the fates of Bruce, Alfred, and Julie finally coming full circle once the process succeeds, but with a much more tragic outcome than the one Alfred originally envisioned when this circle was first mentioned in Batman 46. Most importantly, they may represent the circular nature of Batman as a character. We’ve seen Batman rebooted and reinterpreted time and time again, whether in the main continuity or in alternate universes, Elseworlds, and “what if’s,” but for all the various forms Batman has taken, that idea of Bruce Wayne — orphaned in an alley, vowing to avenge his parents — has always remained the quintessential Batman, and any attempts to move away from that concept will always end up circling back around to this ideal Batman.

In a sense, that’s exactly what Snyder has done in the “Superheavy” arc, instituting Jim Gordon as Batman only to remind us all why it’s a role only Bruce Wayne can truly fill in the first place. Blank-Bruce and Alfred’s attempts are doomed because Bruce won’t kill, but to become Batman, someone has to die.

bruce wayne must die

Back in Crime Alley, Bruce Wayne died in a figurative sense — the child that was Bruce Wayne “died”, replaced with the creature of justice who would one day take on the name “Batman.” This time around it’s a more literal death, as Blank-Bruce has to die in order to be reborn with his old memories. For all his resources and tech, that’s something Jim Gordon can’t do. It’s why neither he nor Dick Grayson can be Batman in the same way Bruce is — they haven’t lost themselves to their crusade as he has.

It’s an interesting contrast. Batman’s sidekicks have always been defined as much by their differences from Bruce as they have been by their own strengths. Dick was praised for becoming a “lighter” Batman who could take on the job without losing himself. Yet, none of those characters could have become the heroes they did without Bruce first becoming Batman. Batman’s purpose has always been to make sure nobody else has to go through what he went through in Crime Alley as a child, but by definition, that can’t happen unless he first “dies” there to begin with. Bruce Wayne will always be the one who makes that sacrifice, because he can’t bear to see anyone else do it in his behalf.

That’s a powerful take, one which Snyder’s been building up to for a while (Bruce’s machine harkens back to the Futures End issue of Batman and Detective Comics 27), but it does feel a bit removed from the “Batman of the state”/”Batman of the people” narrative Snyder’s been telling throughout the rest of this arc. Michael, do you have any thoughts about that disparity, or about Snyder’s theory in this issue in general? Also, what do you think happened to Blank-Bruce’s beard? Did the machine burn it up, or did it just vanish as a result of Bruce becoming Batman again, as if it was some sort of Sailor Moon transformation sequence? That I would love to see.

Michael: Spencer, you have no idea how happy I am for that beard setup. No matter what kind of lead you provided, I KNEW that I couldn’t leave the “de-bearding” unmentioned — so let’s dive in! Scott Snyder is a writer who loves grounding Batman in the real world with history and science. No one wants to read a pseudo-scientific explanation of why a man loses his beard when he gets printed with powerful painful memories; so I think Snyder trusts us to make that leap of faith on our own. But why doesn’t the process burn the hair on his head off too? Touché. Snyder is also a writer who firmly buys into the power and the mythos of Batman, so he knows that we need that larger-than-life Bat-moments. At the end of the issue Bruce emerges from the Bat-brain machine ready to suit up and fight crime. Given that, there’d be very little time to shave and then we’d have Bat-beard; which is not a very epic image. Upon witnessing Mr. Bloom’s destruction last issue, Bruce made a mad dash home so he could become Batman once again — there wasn’t a lot of time for him to shave then either. Basically what I’m saying is that I really thought through how Bruce’s beard magically disappeared and logistically Snyder provided us with the best option for that necessary move.

beard

I keep saying this in write-ups, but I don’t think that Jim Gordon got a fair chance at playing the role of Batman. I’ve read Snyder talk about his process to the Batman title and he often relates how “the best laid plans” it all is. Ostensibly “Superheavy” was Jim Gordon’s story, but I think that Batman as an idea — specifically Bruce Wayne as Batman — is one that is too powerful to suppress. Bruce himself tries to actively fight that internal Batman and suppress it, but the need is too strong. I like the idea that Snyder might have had greater plans for Gordon under the cowl but Bruce was still clawing his way out of the grave. Though he’s mentioned, Jim Gordon isn’t even present in Batman 49; Bruce is once again taking control of the narrative.

That idea that Bruce is relieving Gordon of that Bat-responsibility is present in his machine-fueled dreams. Paquette provides us with two distinct “dream bubbles” that establishes the world where Gordon is Batman and Bruce is the commissioner and potentially Bat-Gordon’s death. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the dream bubbles that we have witnessed thus far. In this issue they clearly work as Paquette expressing Bruce’s mental journey back to himself, but in issues past that wasn’t the case. In Batman 43, Alfred explained “Batman’s final invention” to Superman, imploring him to imagine the legion of future Batmen, drawn by Capullo. Something about this sort of rubs me the wrong way: are Capullo’s drawings the imaginations of Alfred and Superman while Paquette’s are the actual inner workings of Bruce’s mind? I guess it could be both, but this whole device was established on theoretical speculation; so interpreting the “Mayor Wayne scenes” was a little jarring for me. If Snyder was going for equal parts subconscious, Elseworld and meta it didn’t really land for me.

picture

Despite any criticisms, I definitely bought into ideas of self-sacrifice that Snyder was putting out there. Is Scott Snyder Catholic? I’m thinking he’s a Christian of some sort because the Bat-Christ imagery is waaaay too strong for him not to be. Batman taking on the burden of pain — even death — so that his loved ones and city might live? Jesus wept — that’s pure Batman right there, baby.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

Advertisements

6 comments on “Batman 49

  1. Did anyone else think that the stuff with Julie in this issue was a little contrived? I mean, I can accept that she deduced that Bruce was Batman, but that’s a huge leap from her figuring that out to her showing up at the cave at exactly the right time to “kill” Bruce in the memory machine. And just how the Hell does she know what that machine is anyway? She just shows up in the cave, sees Alfred electrocuting shirtless Bruce in some crazy device, and says to herself, “Ah yes, this MUST be the way Bruce becomes Batman again”. It seemed like she needed to be brought in earlier in this issue–perhaps coming into play when Bruce was still trying to convince Alfred to bring him down into the cave. That’s just me, though.

    Changing the subject to that memory machine, I think it’s interesting there is an interesting parallel between Bruce’s decision in this issue (to burn out his memories and become Batman) and his decision in Zero Year to not undergo electric shock therapy. The electric shock treatment may very well have turned Bruce into the blank-slate that he was through most of the Super Heavy arc, and it’s interesting that here the thing that is being burned away IS his blank slate self. Not sure I have anything else to say about that other than it has a neat symmetry to it.

    • I don’t think it is contrived. If you can accept that Julie could work it out, why not have her appear at the best time? Especially as nothing suggests she wasn’t already there, and only chose to appear when it became clear that she had to.

  2. To me, the circles represent globes, or worlds. Each one is a possible world, made explicit by the fact that the main ‘world’ is actually trapped inside a sphere. Each of these worlds represent possible Batmans, but Batmans that don’t work. That’s why the main world literally breaks.

    What makes Batman? It isn’t as simple as just Crime Alley. It is Crime Alley, but it is also Bruce Wayne sitting in his study, and ringing the bell to call Alfred as he says ‘I will become the Bat’. And it is also looking at Gotham, and a rage at the corruption that allows Crime Alley to happen. I would argue scenes like the famous ‘You’ve eaten well’ speech in Year One are just as important to the origin as other things. Batman Begins didn’t have that scene, but the moment that Bruce Wayne truly dies and becomes Batman is right after talking to Falcone and understanding the corrupt, broken nature of Gotham.

    The tragedy of Batman 49 is that new Bruce is a great person, who can do so much to help, and a happy person, yet he is not Batman. Were he Batman, he would end up as one of the many alternate Batman’s whose world’s break quite simply because the foundations aren’t strong enough. That version of Batman had failed, as it was a Batman who never went through what Crime Alley actually means. I mean, he’s working alongside the Court/Council of Owls.

    None of these globes can sustain themselves, as they all lack what truly grounds Batman. And so we have the ending, where Crime Alley is reenacted. There are two important parts. Firstly, for Batman to live, Bruce Wayne must die. And secondly, Julie Madison

    I honestly love Batman and Robin. Until Nolan started making his Batman movies, it was my second favourite Batman movie. The 60s Batman movie took an episode of the show and extended it to feature length, turning what was a hilarious, campy thing into a padded slog. The 89 Batman movie was average and generic, Batman Returns is a masterpiece, Batman Forever is a horrible, confused mess and Batman and Robin is pure silliness. It has a consistent tone, and simply is exactly what it wants to be. A great movie to laugh at. But there is one scene that is truly insightful. When Alfred says ‘Death and chance, stole your parents. But rather than become a victim, you have done everything in your power to control the fates. For what is Batman? If not an effort to master the chaos that sweeps our world. An attempt to control death, itself’. This is Batman, and proves why death must be present. Because ultimately, that is what Batman does. Batman must be born in death, so that he can fight against death

    But more important is Julie Madison. Julie Madison arriving to press the button is essential for her role of the narrative. She gets agency in the scene, and is not discarded as a toy that is no longer needed now that the proper Bruce is back. But there is more to her role than just that. It also plays an important thematic role. Because, if this is Crime Alley, then Joe Chill is the machine. And that is the key. What is broken about Batman, what needs fixing, is society itself. Society is ruled by your COurt of Owls, by your Gangster who eat well on Gotham’s fruits, on your Falcones, and the acknowledgement of this is an ignored but essential part of the Batman story.

    And Scott Snyder makes it the most important part. Joe Chill is ignored, but the role of the Madison family, and therefore the powerful, is placed front and centre. When Grant Morrison reinterpreted Batman’s origin, he placed the focus on Bruce choosing to call for Alfred. But Snyder has placed the emphasis at the powerful’s role in breaking Gotham.

    Snyder’s Batman is a Batman who is born out of the failures of the state. Oyut of the failures of people like the Madison family to actually take care of their city. The death of Bruce’s parents wasn’t random, but the obvious result of the fact that the people in power just didn’t truly care. And therefore, in a city where desperate men are forced to crime and the Court of Owls controls everything, a hero was born who will listen to kids from the Narrows and understand them. Who cares.

    The new Bruce couldn’t save GOtham, because as heroic of a person as he was, he missed to things. He could never be Batman because he did not understand death, nor did he understand the way that society has failed the people. And for Batman to work, for the world of Batman not to collapse and break, he needs to understand his enemy intimately. And therefore, Bruce Wayne had to die, and therefore, Julie Madison had to kill him.

    I mean, how else would you defeat Mr Bloom, the man who has taken all of Batman’s values and twisted them into something toxic

  3. Hey, how do we feel about Capullo taking an issue off on this one? I love Pacquette (and it was a Pacquette / Snyder joint that made me fall in love with the New 52), but his style feels a touch out of place in this story. Or, more importantly, I think it almost took me back to Swamp Thing. Perhaps its fitting that the nature of Batman is being explored so elementally here, because Black-Bruce is almost communing with The Bat the same way Alec Holland did with The Green.

    • I believe it was always the plan. Shortly after Batman 44, he said there was another issue that he may get Jock on for this storyline (but he chose Pacquette instead, it seems). Batman 44’s place in the chronology does a much clearer job of justifying why it isn’t Capullo, but I like the choice to break from what we usually expect a Snyder Batman story to look like in an issue dedicated to showing us the infinite variations. If it wasn’t for the fact that Capullo needs the time for Batman 50, it would be cool to have Pacquette and Capullo work together, so that everything in the real world was still Capullo, but as an issue that, by design, is supposed to be out there, I like that there is a change in art to represent the infinite worlds of Batman 49.

What you got?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s