By Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Here’s the present, 1985, the future, and the past. Prior to this point in time, somewhere in the past…the time line skewed into this tangent…creating an alternate 1985. Alternate to you, me, and Einstein…but reality for everyone else.
Doc Brown, Back to the Future Part II
We’re all familiar enough with the notion of alternate timelines and the butterfly effect by this point that any reasonable time-traveler would have to fear ever changing past events — indeed, it’s a sci-fi concept so ubiquitous, even Abe Simpson thought to offer Homer a warning about it on his wedding day. And yet, we still like to imagine “what if” scenarios about making different decisions in only our own pasts, but those of fictional characters. The most well-known “what if” story in superhero comics might well be “For the Man Who Has Everything,” Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s clever parable about fantasy wish fulfillment. Superman’s fantasy necessarily focuses on his own experiences on a non-exploded Krypton, but the absence of Superman would obviously have profound effects back on Earth. That is, there are butterfly effects in that fantasy timeline we never see, that a Krypton-based Kal-El wouldn’t even know about. Cleverly, Tom King and Tony Daniel open on the butterfly effects of their alternate timeline in Batman 45 before circling back to explain how and why this alternate timeline was created in the first place.
And those butterfly effects are super disorienting. We see Hal Jordan kill himself. We meet Tim Drake working as drone in Wane Engineering. We meet Dick Grayson as a gun-toting Batman. We meet Jason Todd as (hilariously) a tire security expert. And then we finally pull back the curtain enough to understand why the world might look the way it does: Bruce Wayne’s parents are alive, so he never became Batman, so he never scooped those young men out of their lives to train them as Robin, and never pushed back against the Joker, who has infected all of Gotham. The scope of the story keeps getting bigger and bigger (there’s no Damian, because Bruce and Talia had no cause to meet, and without Batman to keep him in check, the al Ghuls now rule over all of Eurasia), even as the reason for these changes becomes ever more minute.
Which brings us to Booster Gold and his whole reason for changing the timeline in the first place:
It’s actually a very sweet sentiment — the point of the gift isn’t to give Bruce his parents back, but to prove to Bruce that he is already living his best possible life. Only, in true Booster Gold fashion, it totally blows up in his face. Upon hearing Booster’s machinations, Bruce immediately smashes Skeets (kind of evoking Homer’s defiant rampage in that same Simpsons short), effectively choosing this new, alternate timeline over the original. It’s a choice we can’t imagine our Bruce Wayne making, but this isn’t our Bruce Wayne. The big flaw in Booster’s plan (which again, is perfectly in-character) is that this isn’t a fantasy world. The Bruce we see here isn’t a tourist from his original timeline, but a product of the new one, so has totally different values and morals. Booster just kind of assumed Bruce would willingly opt for a world where his happy, loving parents were murdered in front of him, even though he doesn’t know that world. It seems like a callous choice to us, but this Bruce knows no other life, and is also a bit more of a privileged asshole than the one we know.
And I guess that’s the biggest butterfly effect of all: without that defining moment in young Bruce Wayne’s life, he becomes an entirely different person, without the superhuman drive for justice that turned him into the man we know. Without those life experiences to shape him into Batman, he’s effectively a different character. And so is everyone else. This is a “what if” that games out the fantasy to the rest of the world. It’s the fantasy from It’s a Wonderful Life on a global scale, with the added twist that George Bailey preferred the world without him. I have no idea how Booster turns this around, but there’s more than enough to see in this timeline to justify the extended stay.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?