Today, Drew and Mark are discussing Batman: Rebirth 1, originally released June 1st, 2016.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Drew: There’s plenty of reasons to believe Freud never said such a thing, but whatever its origin, this quote always helps me keep perspective when attempting to parse the symbolism in a work of art. The last thing I want is to sound like Fred Armesin’s exaggerated (and nonsensical) lyrical analyses, so it always makes me nervous when I find my attention drawn to symbols within a comic. Even with that reticence, though, I couldn’t ignore the deeply symbolic nature of Scott Snyder and Tom King’s Batman: Rebirth, even if I’m not quite sure what all of the symbols mean.
The most prescient symbol — one that opens and closes the issue — is that of an avocado, picked by Alfred from trees outside Wayne Manor. If that repetition wasn’t enough, the fact that the fruit is specifically an avocado makes it clear that this detail isn’t incidental; avocado trees don’t grow anywhere in the northeast, where Gotham is typically set. So what is it about avocados that demanded their inclusion here? Curiously, they’re left utterly unremarked upon within the issue itself.
But, like, what do avocados symbolize? With less biblical baggage than an apple, and less phallic connotations than a banana, I don’t have a go-to reading for avocados. (Incidentally, “avocado” is derived from a Nahuatl that also meant “testicle,” though I think it would be a stretch to consider that reading as meaningful.)
Perhaps we can get something from Alfred’s gesture of casting the avocado into the cave? While some fruit bats do eat avocados, none of those species are native to North America. Which is to say, Alfred isn’t feeding the bats. There are, however, numerous new world bat species that fertilize avocado trees, though again, none of these species live in the Northeastern US. So the gesture itself must be symbolic. If we pull our perspective out of the issue to understand its context — a story co-written by two writers who will proceed onto their own separate series following these same characters — splitting the avocado in half and tossing it into the Batcave makes a little more sense. That is, the halves of the avocado are Batman and All-Star Batman, both stemming from the single fruit of this issue, and both occupying the same space, though they are now separate entities.
It’s not the clearest reading I’ve ever come up with, but I think it supports the themes of rebirth that permeate this issue. Whether that’s simply meant to reflect the “Rebirth” in the title, or is a more meaningful reset for the character going forward remains to be seen, though it’s difficult to ignore the significance of the torch-passing that this issue represents: longtime Batman writer Scott Snyder shares the stage with new Batman writer Tom King before leaving King to his own devices.
Anyway: rebirth. This issue opens and closes in spring, and cycles through a symbolic year before Batman is able to stop Calendar Man’s season-accelerating machine. The details of Calendar Man’s plans don’t matter — something about bad spores and that machine that somehow changes the seasons — this is all about that symbolism. I mean, Calendar Man literally sheds his skin and is born anew.
With that sense of rebirth in mind, perhaps Alfred isn’t discarding that avocado, but planting a seed. The bottom of a cave might be an unlikely place for a tree to take root, but it’s not really any weirder than an avocado tree in Gotham.
Speaking of trees, I was struck at artist Mikel Janin’s clear allusion to another famous Batman rebirth: Year One.
That not so coincidentally leads us to Bruce flat-out stating thesis of this issue, if not necessarily King or Snyder’s work with Batman going forward: “We come back better each time, too.” This isn’t the first time Batman has been reborn, and it won’t be the last, but hopefully each new iteration brings with it new ideas and innovation. With these two writers at the helm of Batman for the foreseeable future, it’s not hard to imagine this rebirth actually living up to those promises.
At least, not for me. Mark, I’m curious if you’re as excited for Batman and All-Star Batman as I am. Also, do you have a better reading of any of the symbols in this issue, or is this a case of an avocado just being an avocado?
Mark: I don’t have anything to add in the avocado department, I think you pretty well summed it up. But I am excited for Batman and All-Star Batman, even as I’m a bit tentative about Batman moving to double printing. Still, if there is a writer I trust to lead us into the brave new world of DC getting an extra $2.99 from faithful readers each month, it’s Tom King.
Batman is perhaps the DC character who needed a Rebirth makeover the least. Where the creative teams over Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and insert-name-of-pretty-much-any-DC-hero-here seemed to lose their way over time, Batman’s trajectory was being consistently charted by Scott Snyder and stayed faithfully on course.
The one Snyder-led Batman initiative I could never really care about was the introduction of Duke Thomas. It’s clear in hindsight that Snyder had long term plans for Duke when he was first introduced, and he’s slowly become more and more intertwined into Batman’s world, but I still groaned audibly when Duke showed up at the front door of Wayne Manor. Duke Thomas so far has been boring and superfluous. It doesn’t help that his main series, We Are Robin, was a pretty dire affair all around. Who is Duke Thomas and why should I care?
Batman: Rebirth doesn’t spell out a compelling reason for Duke Thomas’ inclusion, but I am interested to see if King is able to bring more interesting dimensions to Duke’s character in his new role as not-Robin.
There’s nothing earth-shatteringly new in Batman: Rebirth, but Batman wasn’t really in need of massive reinvention, anyway. Instead, it’s a reassuring continuation of Batman’s steady run as it moves into a new configuration.
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?