Batman 50

Alternating Currents: Batman 50, Drew and Michael

Today, Drew and Michael are discussing Batman 50, originally released March 23rd, 2016.

Drew: The owner of my old LCS, Paul, was not a Batman fan. In his mind, a billionaire using his resources to “punch bad guys” was so misguided as to be immoral. Couldn’t Bruce Wayne do more good resolving the root causes of crime by building mixed-income housing or running programs for at-risk youth? Admittedly, Batman’s “punch bad guys” solution to crime lacks nuance, and seems increasingly outmoded the more we understand what causes crime in the first place. Unfortunately, it’s kind of key to Batman’s appeal — he can be a philanthropist on the side, sure, but nobody wants to read a comic where a guy dressed like a bat subsidizes grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods. To writer Scott Snyder’s credit, he started his run on Batman by having Bruce turn his attention to exactly that type of socioeconomic solution, a goal that forces within Gotham actively worked against. It was a smart move, but the fact that the Court of Owls would allow Bruce to be Batman, but drew the line at him rearranging the economic structure of Gotham speaks to just how ineffectual Batman is at affecting systemic change. With Batman 50, Snyder offers a more compelling justification for Batman — one that just might be the definitive answer to Paul’s criticisms.

It all comes down to Jim Gordon’s closing monologue, where he ruminates on why we care about Batman when he only fight’s monsters and supervillains instead of what he calls “real things.”

Not Real

Those are exactly the things that Paul always complained about Batman ignoring. Gordon’s explanation here, that Batman is “not real,” might seem like a kind of deflating meta-commentary — Batman can’t solve your real world problem’s because he’s a fictional character — but Gordon goes on to explain why he can still be valuable. Indeed, his explanation, that Batman “fights our nightmares to teach us to fight the real terrors by the light of day,” isn’t just a defense of Batman, but of the whole of fiction. Batman can’t solve economic disparity any more than Harry Potter can, and forcing either to address those issues in-narrative might actually lose what magic they have to inspire us to make the world a better place. I know that sounds like optimistic nonsense, but recent studies have shown that reading fiction can actually make us more empathetic.

But I want to pull back for a second. I get that Batman pulling a Pacific Rim on a giant-sized Mr. Bloom is absurd. Indeed, I accept that all superhero stories are inherently absurd. What I don’t accept is the notion that we can dismiss them because of that absurdity. All mythologies are absurd, whether it’s a magical sword in a stone, or a dude turning water into wine so somebody’s wedding runs smoothly. Honestly, I don’t think anyone benefits from quibbling about the believability of those stories, because the point isn’t that we believe them — the point is that they inspire us. In the case of superheroes, they inspire us to self-sacrifice, to stand up for our fellow man, and to make the right (if sometimes difficult) decisions.

And I think that’s Snyder’s point here. For all the bigness of this storyline, the core truth is as simple as our understanding of what fiction is: Batman is “not real.” You can’t be him, I can’t be him, even other fictional characters can’t be him. Moreover, the problems that he fights are not real. Sure, he doesn’t take up the task of fighting real problems, but that’s because he isn’t real. Let him fight the “monsters or damn super-villains”; we have to tackle reality. His job isn’t to solve our problems, but to inspire us to solve our own.

It’s a powerful message, but one I suspect might be equally true of all other superheroes. I suppose if there’s anything unique to Batman here, it’s the presumption that anyone could be Batman — we don’t quite have the same associations with superpowered heroes. Of course, that leaves a bit of a paradox surrounding Snyder’s point: if this is a story that only works with Batman, doesn’t asserting that we can’t be him rob him of that uniqueness? That’s kind of a half-baked thought that I don’t have a good answer to, but I’d love to hear folks’ thoughts in the comments.

I’m also not sure what to make of the “strange star” that drives much of the action of this issue. Batman observes that it has “the power it’d take to create a viable strange matter reaction,” but the notion of creating strange matter doesn’t crop up again until the end of the issue. At that point, Gordon is drawing parallels to Gotham, calling it “an ‘island of stability‘…where brave new things are made.” Is Gotham the strange star — something large enough to grow new things, but potentially so large to threaten destroying everyone nearby? Again, I’m not sure, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

One thing I do know is that the entire creative team clearly had a blast putting Bruce back in the cowl. Snyder emphasizes that Bruce has literally never felt better as Batman, but the art team of Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, and FCO Plascencia absolutely steal the show:

Batman

Maybe being “real” doesn’t matter when you’re this badass.

Michael, I realize I’m leaving most of this issue on the table. Do you have any thoughts on any of the questions I mentioned? Or maybe more specific praise for the art team than “badass”? Or maybe you have some meaningful thoughts on Daryl’s reveal as the man kind of responsible for Bloom — I left that out because I really didn’t know what to say. Or, you know, you could just talk about Batman’s new suit.

Michael: Drew, like most times, you are speaking my language my friend. I think that your questioning the paradox presented here — that anyone can be Batman, but also that only Bruce Wayne can be Batman — is completely valid. I don’t think that that particular quagmire can be solved by any logical reason; it’s on the same level as “Batman always wins because he’s Batman.” Nevertheless it serves as a good jumping off point for me and embodies a lot of what Superheavy has turned out to be as a whole.

Batman 50 is a packed finale: the return of Bruce Wayne Batman, the revelation that Daryl inadvertently created Mr. Bloom and the heroic near-sacrifice that Jim Gordon makes to take down Bloom once and for all. What connects all of the story dots however is the overarching theme of power — who has it and what they do with it. There are a couple different types of power being emphasized in Batman 50, but most of them are examples of power levels that are inherent and not exactly quantifiable. I’d include the strange star in here too, simply because it’s devastating powers are implied more than defined. All of the characters in Batman 50 want to empower the people of Gotham: Bloom, Daryl, Geri Powers and our Batmen — albeit with different means and intentions.

The character of Gotham City is one that has permeated all of Snyder’s Batman work. Gotham: the immortal hero and villain of the world of Batman. But Gotham City isn’t just an undying behemoth because a city is its people. There have been different men under Mr. Bloom’s mask and many more under Batman’s mask; but it’s the people underneath those masks that define them as symbols and its the people of Gotham who define it as a city. It’s a story we’ve seen in countless Batman tales on screen and on the page: the people of Gotham tear themselves apart at the behest of a madman but put themselves back together under the symbol of Batman.The people of Gotham are responsible for the chaos caused by Mr. Bloom’s seeds but they’re also responsible for returning the balance of power once they know that their true Batman has returned. I’m not exactly on board with “the will of the people” overthrowing Bloom, but it’s a powerful concept nevertheless.

I’ve expressed my concerns of Gordon’s time under the cowl being not fully explored or realized in numerous write-ups but was pleased to see that Bruce’s return didn’t overshadow Jim Gordon’s last outing as Batman. Sure, our traditional Dark Knight came in to rescue Gordon in stupendous fashion, but he wasn’t the one to take down Mr. Bloom in the end — nor should he be. It would’ve felt like a cheat if Pacific Rim Batman just swooped in and won the final battle while Gordon fought the whole war. Batman even says as much to Jim when he talks about Mr. Bloom being Jim’s “monster.”

monster

Batman refutes the notion that Mr. Bloom is another Joker; which in turn is Snyder refuting what many Batman readers have been suggesting. While Mr. Bloom might not have the “darkness” of the Joker, he was the archnemesis of Gordon-Batman for all intents and purposes. The fact that we never really find out who Mr. Bloom is under that mask adds to his Joker-ness, as well. Snyder does so love for his heroes and villains of Gotham to mirror each other, so it’s no surprise that Batman says that anyone could be Mr. Bloom. The combination of “anyone can be Batman” and “anyone can be Mr. Bloom” are seemingly incongruous but the intended message is clear: we all have the potential to be a hero or a villain.

Which brings me to the Daryl of it all — a revelation that was equally surprising and random. The little snippets of Duke’s storyline in Superheavy never really tracked with me; they seemed like a distraction. I suppose they pay off here while simultaneously giving us a little more insight into Mr. Bloom’s origins and developing Daryl’s character. I see Daryl as an inversion of Gordon in a way: Gordon happily hands the role of Batman back to Bruce Wayne whereas Daryl feels like his chance to make a difference was stolen by Mr. Bloom. Bruce is proud that Gordon has carried the mantle of the Batman so well, but Daryl’s legacy has been “bastardized.” Also, Daryl could be a monster version of an angry fanboy who doesn’t like what’s happening with their favorite characters. Maybe.

daryl

I always get so caught up in the symbolism of Batman that I leave little room for the art. As for Batman’s new costume? I’m a fan. I like when batsuits are bold and different, and I’m super behind the purple trim of Batman’s cape. I love that Snyder, Capullo, and FCO have brought purple back to Batman, inspired of course by The Dark Knight’s original glove color. I’m gonna theorize a little further, however: since Batman and Joker experienced their dionesium death and resurrection, maybe Bruce came out on the other side with Joker’s affinity for the color purple? No? Ok. Nevertheless FCO’s ultraviolet colors have been a huge part of Batman’s success as a book, bringing a whole different level of energy to the traditionally drab Gotham City.

All in all, Batman 50 was a fitting conclusion to Superheavy for our boy Jim Gordon. It disheartens me a bit to see how Jim feels like he just made a bigger mess of things despite the fact that he saved the city. I suppose that’s just Batman for you — never satisfied.

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?

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4 comments on “Batman 50

  1. There was always a worry about what would happen in Batman 50. How Bruce Wayne was going to return and save the day. I’ve spent a lot of time discussing what Snyder’s conception of Batman is. And Snyder needed to have that Batman win in the way true to that conception. He couldn’t just beat Mr Bloom up. Snyder’s Batman has always been a symbol of bravery, of resistance and of the people (that’s a big reason why it has to be Bruce Wayne. Because Batman must have neither powers nor be of the state. And explains how Gordon can’t). And yet, Snyder finds the perfect answer.

    The obvious part of the answer is to present three objectives. If all three aren’t achieved, they lose. Which means all three protagonists get a victory. But the genius is that Bruce gets the least important one. His objective is to stop the people of Gotham from using the seeds. And how does he do that? By being Snyder’s Batman. Him returning, being everything Batman is supposed to represent, is exactly what is needed to achieve that objective. Mr Bloom is Batman’s ideals turned toxic, and Batman’s win is to prove to Gotham the value of the true form of his ideals. Batman’s victory come entirely down to the fact that he is an inspiration. Even cleverer, the person who gets the objective ‘defeat Mr Bloom’ is Duke Thomas, the character who represents those inspired by Batman (Snyder lucked out that Lee Bermejo had his ingenious We Are Robin idea, as making Duke a Robin deepened the storyline so much). Every success can be traced back to the fact that Batman inspires normal people to be extraordinary.

    And I am so happy with Mr Bloom’s origin. I heard he was going to get an origin, and could not imagine how to pull it off. The fact that Mr Bloom could be anyone is essential. But Snyder pulls it off. He doesn’t give Mr Bloom a face (in fact, he even makes a point to say that Mr Bloom could easily be a woman, despite his name and appearance). But through Daryl, he expresses the key idea even more clearly. If Mr Bloom is Batman turned toxic, Daryl is how that happens. If we want to make the fan comparison (it is hard not to in an issue that explicitely discussed how Batman is fictional, and makes no difference except in how he inspires us), Daryl is probably the best fit for the Rabid Batfan, the fan who has lost the core of what makes Batman to celebrate the violent power fantasy. The type of fan who celebrates the fact that Batman apparently kills without care in Batman v Superman and spends their time attacking people like Devin Faraci for wanting a Batman that represents more the a base power fantasy (or Drew McWeeny for daring to challenge the power of Batman by discussing how his sources state that WB were very nervous about Batman v Superman). Were it not for the fact that he saw the monster he created, that is likely what he would have become (hell, as you showed, he still has that toxic level of entitlement. Just never showed it because he was too focused on Bloom). Because he made the mistake of caring more about the power of Batman that the inspiration, and created the toxic version we know and love as Mr Bloom.

    That idea of power is the most important thing. Both Batman and Mr Bloom empower people. But the empowerment of people like Duke Thomas is the side effect of standing up for what you believe. Daryl and Mr Bloom care more about getting power than actually fixing things.

    Honestly, if a part doesn’t work for it, it is Gordon. I just don’t feel anything happened that really acted as a fantastic climax for Gordon. Certainly satisfactory, and not bad enough to change the fact that the rest of it is one of the best issues of the year. But nothing amazing.Him saving Gotham he not too different to what Bruce did in Zero Year (‘the Bat is literally the heart of Gotham’esque thing) but it doesn’t feel like a perfect capstone to the themes of everything that Bruce and Duke’s plotlines are. Naturally, most of GOrdon’s thematic weight was going to come down to his truly amazing speech, just wish the stuff around his objective was as thematic as Bruce and Duke.

    Snyder discussed how Death of the Family was about what Batman meant for him, and Zero Year was what he wanted Batman to mean for his children. Snyder has always wanted to discuss what Batman means, and with Superheavy, he has had the chance to explore this in such amazing depth. Both through Bruce and through Mr Bloom, Snyder has explored what Batman is and what Batman shouldn’t be (I love Michael’s insight that ‘Anyone can be Batman AND Mr Anyone can be Mr Bloom’). This is the perfect climax of everything that Snyder has spent his run discussing.

    I may want to do another post later, and discuss this more with the viewpoint of the State stuff I discussed earlier, but some closing conclusions

    1.Snyder expertly narrowed in on the importance of Batman as an inspiration, and built the entire climax around Batman’s ability to inspire others to greater heights. Everything, from the people pulling out the seeds, to Duke Thomas, to Gotham literally being saved by Batmanium is around this idea. And from both a Watsonian and Doylist perspective, this is the most important thing about Batman

    2. Mr Bloom should become a permanent addition to the Rogue’s Gallery. He is a thematically complex villain and his ‘Batman turned toxic’ is the exact thing that is perfect for a proper recurring bad guy.

    3. Not the biggest fan of the redesigned costume. It most certainly isn’t bad, but it feels a bit like ‘is that it?’. It doesn’t feel major enough to be anything more than a small variant that will quickly get forgotten.

    4. Love Batman’s sense of humour in this issue. Throughout Snyder’s run, there has been some fantastic low key pieces of humour. Batman appearing and saying ‘Hello Gordon, who died and made you Batman?’ is just so right.

    5. I may regret this if the rumours are true and Tom King is the next Batman writer, but Scott Snyder’s Batman is my Batman. This is everything I want Batman to be, and as we reach the climax, I feel that Snyder’s Batman run is honesty going to be an important foundation of who I am. As of today, his Batman represents so much of who I want to be and throughout his run, his Batman has, I believe, played a small yet important part in making me the person who I am today.

  2. As much as I like Scott Snyder’s work on Batman, I feel he really did drop the ball on differentiating Mr. Bloom from the Joker. Obviously he recognized that his readership saw the similarities–that’s why he has Batman pretty much spell out exactly why he, Snyder, feels Bloom and Joker are different–but I don’t really buy it. The idea that “anyone could be Bloom” and “only Joker could be Joker” seems to contradict a lot of work that has been done with the Joker. The fact that Joker has had multiple, contradictory (see “The Killing Joke” or “The Dark Knight”) would seem to indicate that there are a variety of ways a person could become the Joker. All it takes is one bad day, as the reframe goes (and yes, you could argue that the “Killing Joke” shows that not everyone has to crack, but still…the story indicates that the Joker could have been anyone. His past is “multiple choice”. Even Snyder, in “Zero Year” opens up the possibility when he suggests that The Joker could be the Red Hood or someone the Red Hood switched with at the last minute: anyone could have gone into that vat of acid, anyone’s mind could have broke, anyone could have had that one bad day that caused them to crack.

    That’s just me though though, lol

    • Snyder has a habit of writing his interviews into the text. If an interview question is asked ‘So, Mr Bloom is Gordon’s Joker?’, you’ll see some text that says the exact same thing as Snyder’s answer. You get used to that. It is a big part of Snyder’s love of being up front about theme.

      But honestly, I feel it was very clear that Mr Bloom and the Joker were different. No discussion about Bloom can really be discussed without discussing the interplay of the people and the state. Every speech he makes is about the people. The Joker would never say the sorts of things that Mr Bloom says, simply because the Joker doesn’t care. There are similarities, due to what Mr Bloom is. While Batman’s entire Rogue’s Gallery is a reflection of some psychological aspect of Batman, Mr Bloom is probably the only villain to come close to be as all encompassing as the Joker. But there is a distinct difference, which basically makes Mr Bloom the Anti-Joker. Joker is the antithesis of Batman, Mr Bloom is Batman turned toxic. Two very different mirror images of the same villain. And why the fact that Mr Bloom follows the Joker is so important, and why the Joker’s presence in the narrative (both from Endgame’s aftermath and his actual presence) is important. Hell, if the Joker is escalation in response to Batman, Mr Bloom is escalation in response to the Joker. Snyder likes to scream theme from the rooftops, so he wants to luxuriate in having characters discuss, either explicitly or through metaphor, the very themes he discusses. But I also feel it is wrong to suggest that it is because of a lack of confidence.

      Honestly, I think a big problem here is you are misinterpreting a lot of the Joker. The Joker has multiple possible backstories, but what that serves to shows that the idea of anyone turning into the Joker is almost impossible to understand. I mean, does anyone really believe that any of those backstories is the real Joker backstory? Ultimately, any attempt to explain the Joker is by definition bullshit, because every explanation he gives is a lie. It isn’t because he is a sad comedian, because that is a lie. It isn’t because he was abused by his father, because that’s a lie.

      This stuff is text in the Killing Joke and the Dark Knight. In both, Joker is desperate to prove that all that it would take to turn a man into him is one bad day. But in both stories, this is proven to be wrong. Despite everything that happens, Gordon doesn’t break in the Killing Joke. Nor do the people of Gotham break when the Joker makes his move in the Dark Knight. In these stories, he is desperate to prove that people are like him, and in the end… they aren’t (this is why I love the choice in the Dark Knight where the Joker actually gets angry when people call him insane, instead of laughing it off. Against the grain, but truly shows just how desperate he is to prove that people are like him). As Batman says, ‘What were you trying to prove, that deep down, everyone’s as ugly as you? You’re alone’.

      And that’s the Joker. The Joker wants you to believe he could be anyone, but he isn’t. No one is like him, and any explanation justifying how someone can be that evil is ultimately just another lie. Remember, he doesn’t actually have multiple backstories. He just says that he does. The only explanation for why the Joker is the Joker is, quite simply, because he’s the Joker. Otherwise, you are trusting the word of a guy who explicitly lies about the very topic discussed every time he brings it up

      Zero Year is completely consistent with this. Liam Distal, the person everyone thinks was the Red Hood, was murdered in such a way that you don’t know when he was killed. There is explicitly no evidence of who the Joker was before.

      The thing about the Joker isn’t that he could be anyone. We have a very long list of characters who quite simply would never, ever be the Joker. Commissioner Gordon. The two ferries full of people. Batman himself. What Killing Joke and Dark Knight prove that at the end of the day, no matter what you do, you can’t make someone as ugly as the Joker. He will always, in the end, be alone.

      Mr Bloom, however? Unlike the Joker, we know exactly what makes Mr Bloom. Where the Joker can’t be explained, what makes Mr Bloom is explicitly spelled out. And what makes someone Mr Bloom is something that is universal. Anyone can be Mr Bloom.

  3. But to sort of answer the paradox of “everyone can be batman”/”only Bruce can be Batman”, I think it would help to see Batman as doubly fictitious. There’s Batman the *concept* created and best played/presented/performed/embodied by Bruce Wayne. This Batman never bleeds, never dies, and fights the supervillains that normal humans cannot. He is inspirational because he triumphs over the bad things and shows us that we can too. The concept of Batman cannot defeat everyday corruption, at least not directly, because his aim is to be an inspiration and defender, not an agent of change. More of a symbol to rally behind than a social reformer.

    Then, there’s Batman/Bruce Wayne the *character*. What’s cool about him is that he is a normal guy (albeit one with terrific resources) who was able to create Batman the concept. He pushed his body and mind to their absolute highest potentials and ingeniously engineered an undying symbol that can serve to inspire the masses. Anyone, theoretically, can do this. And, as I write this, I guess what I realize as I write this is that, because of this dichotomy, ONLY Bruce Wayne can be Batman, but ANYONE can be a Bruce Wayne-like person.

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