Batman 12

batman-12

Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Batman 12, originally released December 7th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Michael: The murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne: imagery that has probably become as iconic as the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We’ve seen these two lovely rich folk get shot up so many times in various Batman stories that they have negative lives racked up. How many times can we go back to that well and find something of value? Batman 12 doesn’t replay those deaths yet again but it does try to draw new perspective from them — but does it work?

It’s hard to believe that we are in part four of the “I Am Suicide” arc as not a whole lot of plot has been advanced, big picture-wise. The long and short of it is this: Batman recruits his “Suicide Squad,” invades Santa Prisca, gets caught and then is betrayed by Catwoman. Okay, I’ll admit that’s a whole lot more plot when I type it out. Maybe what I’m feeling is a lot of steady build-up, presumably to a Batman/Bane showdown? There’s an interesting contrast at work here as Tom King dives deep inside Batman’s pathos and philosophy while Mikel Janin’s widescreen action – King goes internal, Janin goes external.

Over half of the issue is Mikel Janin putting in this kind of work. He gives Batman the kind of fluid motion that we typically see in Dick Grayson – something that most likely comes to mind because of King and Janin’s work on the former Grayson title. With an issue that is over 50% double-page-spreads, Janin keeps things interesting by showing us a whole catalogue of different styles of the more epic form. Batman is going to beat every goon and henchman that he comes across on the way to Bane’s throne room – that’s a foregone conclusion. Janin’s job then is to give us those sequences in a unique and attention-grabbing way. Perhaps the most unique of these is when Batman is scaling the side of the castle, in a Where’s Waldo-esque action scene.castle

Now we arrive at the moment in the issue that many readers are likely talking about: following his parents deaths, a young Bruce Wayne came very close to committing suicide. I suppose that there are some readers out there who will find this to be a world-shattering, status-changing revelation. Personally I don’t find this to be all that shocking or off-base; Batman is a moody son of a bitch that dwells in the darkness after all. How many times have detractors – fictional and otherwise – criticized Batman’s actions as being suicidal? Batman leans in hard on the futility and pointlessness of existence: his constant state of feeling dead inside. Even for Batman, it’s a bit much.

It’s important to keep in mind that though all of these dark thoughts appear in the same format of a traditional Batman internal monologue, they’re actually the contents of his letter to Catwoman. Does that mean that Batman might not exactly mean 100% of the things he writes? Tricky to say. On the the one hand, Batman is trying to appeal to Selina’s humanity, trying to coax her out of committing to her new murderous M.O. On the other hand, that very appeal is being built upon complete, brutal honesty – so it would be pretty fucked up if he was lying. I suppose that my main issue with this is that I don’t like believing that Batman is completely and utterly joyless – at least not to such a nihilistic degree that he is the walking dead.

However it is from that more nihilistic place that we some rare self-deprecating humor from the Dark Knight. He might not find it humorous himself but Bruce has the self-awareness to know how laughable his whole career as Batman is. He talks about “the leather and the armor,” the idea of himself as a grown man perched on a gargoyle, ready to “punch crime in the face.” Punching crime in the face is what Batman is all about – I’m just glad he could finally admit it himself. Batman 12 is all about King diving deep into Batman’s psyche. My favorite part of the script was a subtle part when Batman writes “All of them can laugh. Mother. Father. Him. The whole world.” Him. I can’t be the only one who took that to mean the one who laughs at Batman the most: The Joker. Batman won’t even give his archenemy the courtesy of assigning him anything greater than a pronoun – I love it.

god

I’m a little fuzzy on where I land with the message of this Batman 12; it feels like the issue itself is too. One thing I think King nailed was describing the birth of Batman. He writes about a boy in pain praying to god who isn’t there or doesn’t care. God doesn’t answer so the little boy has to create and become his own god. It’s a heightened twist on one of the central ideas of Batman: Bruce becomes Batman so no one else will ever lose what he did and be forced to become like him. It’s interesting, there’s a lot of meat to chew on in this issue: one whose action doesn’t correlate with the visual narrative most of the time.

Patrick did you enjoy diving into Batman’s head yet again? Do you think anything was added to the overall mythos by throwing in the “I Am Suicide” twist? How do you perceive the Bat/Cat relationship at this point? 237 murders is a LOT to forgive for a man with a no kill code.  

Patrick: Well and let’s throw in the most recent betrayal while we’re at it. We got a lot of shit a few weeks ago for praising King’s characterization of Catwoman (Selina’s fans are protective of her morality, it seems), and while I’ve got no dog in that fight, it sure does strain credulity that Bats would put up with a mass-murderer for so long. I suppose that’s me being protective of Bruce’s morality, but, y’know, that’s his no-kill code, not mine.

Let’s talk about this “I Am Suicide” twist a little, as it is by far the headiest idea of King’s run on Batman. Batman’s letter says “… the dead know that death is a choice. They don’t take that choice from anyone.” That sorta fucks up our concept of what “death” is, right? There’s no way that Bruce is arguing that his parents chose to be gunned down in that alley. It would almost appear as though King is working from a different definition of death, one that has more in common with transformation. Sure, it’s carries all the hallmarks of death — removing oneself emotionally, forsaking folly and generally embracing a macabre aesthetic — but it is not death.

But I think the “suicide” part of the analogy is apt. Or at least, intriguing. Suicide is elective death, rather than involuntary loss of life. It’s easy to think of Bruce as a victim, and he become a deranged vigilante in a batsuit as a result. King paints an ever-so-slightly different picture – one where Bruce inflicts the transformative punishment on himself. No one forces Bruce’s hand, he becomes Batman of his own volition. I guess how well that translates to “dying” and whether or not the idea that Batman is the solution dreamed up by the child that “died” that night is going to vary. Bruce’s letter to Selina is certainly poetic, but it’s hard to image that this thing is literal, right? Like, he clearly gives up his secret identity in a letter that’s going to be vetted by Arkham guards?

But then again, it’s not really like the letter makes suitable narration for the wham-bam action sequences that Janin stages here. This is exactly how the second issue in the arc went as well, with Selina’s confession scoring the non-stop punch-em-up. Michael’s not wrong to say that we’re not getting a lot of plot in these issues — a problem mitigated by the series’ ambitious release schedule — but we are seeing a lot of implied narrative about Bruce and Selina’s relationship. So while the whole “I Am Suicide” thing may not feed into what’s happening, or what’s about to happen next, there is something to the idea that Bruce feels such a profound and vulnerable connection to Selina. Does that forecast a triple-cross? Or will it just make Batman’s decision to deal with Catwoman more emotionally resonant (whatever it may be)? Future readers have us at a disadvantage, as this issue stubbornly refuses to drop the other shoe before teasing…

what-next-batman

Janin’s storytelling throughout all of this is balletic, if a little unfocused. Batman fights through a seas of baddies, but it’s seldom clear what threat they pose or how Bats is able to overcome them. It’s not even until the end of the fucking issue that Batman even seems to be winded. Which is a shame, because the only thing better than Janin drawing Batman in action is Janin drawing Batman’s steely resolve.

batmans-steely-resolve

Batman’s kind of checking himself out here, as Janin raises and lowers his head, scanning his own strength. King and Janin obviously subscribe to infallible Bat idea — Batman’s superpower is that he always wins — and it’s nice to see them stew in it for a page or two.

But, to Michael’s original question, “does it work?” – I honestly can’t tell yet. It is compelling, non-linear storytelling propping itself up on familiar Batman structures. Maybe it doesn’t matter if it works.

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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7 comments on “Batman 12

    • Tom King had some really great interviews that really sounded like he got the character. Between that and the three masterpieces he was writing, I was really had me excited for his Batman run, before I read DC Rebirth and just lost any interest in DC.

      Haven’t read this issue, but read an interview about it. And while I admit, as a massive Catwoman fan, the stuff he said about Selina sounded 100% perfect, the stuff he said about Batman was so boringly simplistic. Especially as the whole ‘joyless to the point of walking dead’ doesn’t fit well with the idea of Batman as the father of the Bat family. Or his empathy and actions as Bruce Wayne. Or many other aspects of the character that require something less simplistic.

      If people like it, all power to them. If this represents their Batman, I’m glad they see their Batman. Not going to say they aren’t fans. But I can’t pretend that everything I hear about the Batman books at the moment doesn’t bore me to death. Nor that, as a massive Batman fan, this is my Batman

      Also, didn’t Scott Snyder explore the idea of Bruce committing suicide in Zero Year? With the flashbacks around Bruce going to Arkham? Not sure why a big part of the finale of one of the best Batman comics in recent memory is being treated as an element never discussed before

      • I think it’s less simplistic than you’re giving it credit for. An important detail of the Bat Family is that virtually all of them are also orphans. That Bruce relates best to people who went through similar trauma isn’t a theory — it’s canon. This issue definitely twists the reaction to that trauma a bit, but it also demonstrates that he projects that reaction on to those he relates to. That, to me, is very true of people — we imagine the people we like think like us, filling in their opinions and political leanings in ways that don’t make any sense. In King’s reading, Bruce definitely isn’t seeing his wards as they are, but I think that jibes with the psychologically damaged Batman that is part of just about every interpretation of the character.

        • Batman’s family isn’t entirely made up of orphans and broken families. There is a reason Barbara Gordon is so important. Bruce is just as much a father figure to Barbara as he is to anyone else (even though Barbara has the second father figure in her actual father). And Tim Drake usually still has a functional family

          But the problem is less the idea that Bruce fits best with those similar to him, or that he has trauma. It makes perfect sense, for example, that Bruce had a suicide attempt when he was younger. Scott Snyder did it perfectly, paralleling it with the climax of Zero Year, where Bruce does the exact same thing to restart Gotham’s ‘heart’. In becoming Batman, the thing that once led to death becomes the thing that brings life. Bruce’s care regime for his trauma is being Batman.

          To take the approach that Batman is Bruce Wayne’s long suicide, however, is terrible. It simply gets rid of so much of Batman. He is more than the wish to die. The line about Batman going out every night to find a way to get killed may have a slither of truth in his worst moments, but that is not who Batman is. THere is so much more to him than that.

          Batman is a man who truly cares about the problems of Gotham, interested not just in fighting crime but understanding and attempting to address the underlying causes, like he does in Snyder’s masterpiece, Batman 44. He is a man who wants to do what he can to help the victims, like he helps Ellie in Morrison’s work and so many others. He is a man who has a great interest in rehabilitation, shown in Dini and Brubaker’s work. His efforts into charity work are legitimate, with actual attempts to help people and build a better Gotham. How much he cares for his friends, even those who have given him every reason to give up (Rucka and Brubaker). Devin Grayson’s masterpiece, Gotham Knights 32 (the story of an ordinary 24 hours of Bruce Wayne’s life), showed just how varied Bruce Wayne’s average work day was. And how committed he is to finding ways to help Gotham without even risking his life. Whether it is subtly manipulating the egos of his rich colleagues into acts of meaningful charity or simply spending a minute each night playing chess with Harvey, one turn at a time. There is even space for happiness in Bruce Wayne’s life. Real, sincere happiness, when he spends time with those he loves.

          And more importantly, his role as a father is something that is truly important to him. His role as a father is something essential to his being. He lost his family, and the formation of a new family to replace it is essential to who Batman is. He loves his children with the love of his father, and nothing is more important that their welfare. Though Weisman is the only person I can think of on the top of my head who made it explicit, it is widely accepted that the reason Batman let Dick become Robin was so that he didn’t turn into Batman. In fact, Weisman wrote a Batman whose position as a father was so important, that he frequently made sure to constantly made every effort to be the best father to Dick, taking into account Dick’s emotional needs whenever it was needed and making the choice to prioritise Dick’s birthday party over running the Justice League’s operations in Bialya. Despite running the Justice League.In fact, as much as we talk about how Batman has collected a family who are mostly either orphaned or from broken homes, it is important to note that Dick Grayson is the most emotionally healthy person in the entire DC Universe. That is kind of the point Dick Grayson.

          Infinite Crisis was about the darkest hour of the DC Universe. The Trinity was fractured. Superman was inert and meaningless. Wonder Woman had executed a man on live television. And Batman had let his very worst instincts take over. Meanwhile, multiple deadly threats are on the horizon, impossible to stop with such a fractured Superhero Community. Fractured by the very failures of the Trinity.
          And a key scene in Infinite Crisis is that Bruce is given a choice. He is told that he has failed, and that the only thing left to do is to rebuild everything from scratch. Everything, including Batman, has been corrupted. Batman’s great mission has failed. And it is a hard point to refute. As I said, this was the DC Universe’s Darkest Hour, and Batman was just as much at fault as anyone else.
          Except he can’t accept that he has failed his Mission. Because if he had failed, there would be no Dick Grayson. And when he challenges Earth-2 Superman to explain how he failed Dick Grayson, Superman can’t. It is literally impossible for, even if this darkest hour, for him to conceive why Dick Grayson is corrupted. And throughout the entire story, Batman’s love of Dick Grayson is the very core of his character in this darkest hour.

          Michael said ‘Batman leans in hard on the futility and pointlessness of existence: his constant state of feeling dead inside. Even for Batman, it’s a bit much.’ And that’s the problem. There is far more to Batman than the simplistic idea that he is dead inside and suicidal, running on rooftops trying to find the best way to die. His life isn’t entirely dour. It is just as much about chess games with Harvey Dent, or breaking ground on a new section of affordable Wayne Industries housing. It is about investing in Arkham so his villains can get healthcare, or about listening carefully so that he knows what he can do to help. It is about doing what he can for those who need help, in whatever way they require. And it is about his family.

          Batman will one day die, probably by jumping in front of a random bullet. But when that happens, suicidal aspects will be low on the list of reasons why he did what he did. Because ultimately, Batman isn’t a tragedy. It is a triumph. The triumph of Batman is that a man so damaged that he almost committed suicide instead turned things around. He instead found a way to create something greater.

          It comes back to Zero Year’s finale. He could have committed suicide, and instead chose not to. Instead, he saved the entire city, restarted its dead heart through an act of selflessness. And then started the real work

    • I’m hoping you can expand upon this, because I’m honestly not sure what you’re objecting to here. King has definitely embraced some of the campier elements of Batman’s history (I’m still loving how he crams Kite Man into every issue he can), but he’s also approaching that campiness seriously, digging in to find real emotional motivations for his characters. It feels to me very much like the approach Morrison took during his Batman Epic. What is it that you think opposes the very concept of the character?

  1. Hey guys, Batman’s letter leans pretty hard on the “lie” Catwoman told, which I think suggests she didn’t actually kill all of those people. I have no idea why she would take credit for doing such a thing, but I think there’s more going on here than her story suggests.

    • I forget what it is exactly, but doesn’t the letter also set up either Bruce’s lie or truth or something? I’m gonna look it up, but from a couple days later, I have this image of Selina’s “lie” being rhetorical.

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