The Timeline Skews in Batman 45

By Drew Baumgartner

Batman 45

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:

Booster's Plan

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?

One comment on “The Timeline Skews in Batman 45

  1. Are DC writers forced to misunderstand Alan Moore works? Is that the editorial direction at the moment? Thou shalt reference Alan Moore as much as possible, but only incorrectly? How can you misinterpret For the Man who has Everything so badly? The whole point of the story is that being given his heart’s desire and having it stripped away from him is so horrible that it pushes Clark almost to his breaking point. And that’s ignoring how Jason is the one who removes it. Or that Clark never doesn’t reject the future, but realises that it is false because his mind is rebelling against the Black Mercy by adjusting the fantasy to acknowledge the events happening outside.

    But of course, that is nothing compared to the continuing refusal to care about characterisation that this book continues to show. King creates a parallel timeline completed divorced from characterisation, preferring instead on cheap superficial garbage. Why is Dick Grayson Batman, when the bat was a symbol that meant something to Bruce specifically? How does the Joker exist in this world? Though the worst is Booster Gold, which is such a terrible approach to his characterisation that it is character killing. I’d call it reducing him to a single trait so bad it is character killing, but that’s not the case. Booster can let money get to his head and can be a bit of a prankster, but he is a long way from breaking time out of irresponsibly. So once again, we have a DC story that slaughters all characterisation because it is far more important to do try hard edgy bullshit. Because this is DC, and this is modern King. Characterisation doesn;t matter, because then people would matter. And such an empathetic idea goes against Rebirth’s values

    And talking about Rebirth’s values: Bigotry! Because this can’t be DC without reminding everyone that women and PoC aren’t really people, and don’t matter. Apparently, every Robin deserves a feature, but not Barbara Gordon. Because to acknowledge Barbara would be to treat a woman as someone that matters. Instead, the only woman worth mentioning is Talia, but she’s only important to establish Damian doesn’t exist. Because this is King’s Batman, Rebirth’s Batman and women are only valuable as sex toys or mothers. And that’s why we can’t treat Barbara Gordon, an essential part of the Batfamily and longer lasting than most any other character, as a character worthy of respect.

    Though the thing that really made me truly feel ill was Duke Thomas. God, I almost puked at racism of that. The only black character, reduced to meat. All agency, all personhood stripped from him. All white people (all white men, sorry) still get to exist, still get personhood. But the very first thing King changes? He throws away the black person’s personhood, his identity.White people get lives. White people get personhood. Black people don’t. (Riddle me this! What ethnicity is Damian? Biracial, half-Arab. And how much personhood did Damian get? That’s right. Literally none)

    I guess I made a mistake. Booster wasn’t out of character. He didn’t break time. Of course he didn’t. Because this world is just as hateful as the DC Universe left behind.

    Fuck, let’s talk about something that isn’t just hate

    ______________________________________________________

    Telltale’s Batman: the Enemy Within – Same Stitch

    Wow. First and most important thing to establish is how ambitious this is. They released two completely different episodes of this game for the final episode. Depending on your choice at the end of episode 4, you had two completely different experiences. The episodes didn’t even share a single location. With one non-Joker exception, the major supporting cast members were completely different. THey didn’t even share the same Joker model, with two distinctly different Joker looks (Villain Joker’s outfit is crazy, full of clownish touches like colourful squiggles that go against any seriousness. COmpletely lost. Vigilante Joker feels more like a parody of a pulp hero, a crazed imitation of the real thing. Meanwhile, vigilante Joker’s hair is styled like devil’s horns… or Batears. My only problem is the makeup around the eyes, that feel unnecessary). They are so different, I need to do two reviews. Villain and Vigilante

    And so, let’s do the villain first. I think this is the strongest, but that isn’t an insult to vigilante. What Villain does so well it looks at the key aspects of Joker, the destructive nihilism and need to burn thigns down, and applies it to the very game mechanics. Telltale games are games about relationship management. About building and maintaining relationships with a rich supporting cast. ANd so how do you do the Joker in a relationship management game? He attacks your relationships. THe Joker knows Bruce Wayne is Batman, and so knows everyone you care about. And his entire game is to ruin each and every relationship but throwing every sin they have made in Bruce’s face, and every sin Bruce has committed into their face. Which is perfect, especially alongside the complex characters Telltale has made.

    Joker starts strong with (at least in my playthrough) Gordon himself betraying me. Which really hurts, and sets the scene for what is to happen. And then you wake up of a rollercoaster, going slowly through a fnhouse, hearing Joker make a deal with Selina. All Selina has to do is push a button, and she’ll be free. But if she does does, Bruce will be trapped forever. And just as she presses the button, you arrive at the station. She’s still trapped, and you just learned that she will sell you out. She tries to justify herself by saying that if she got out, she can get help, but do you trust her? And then the Joker gives you a puzzle to escape the first room, one that ends with a choice. Give Selina the key, so she can join you and fight Joker together (but if you do, she may instead choose to run away). Or keep the key, which forces you to keep Selina locked up but ensures your own escape.
    And this is the miracle of Telltale’s approach. Unlike King’s Batman, they have created rich personalities with deep complexities. At the least, every player’s Selina will have been a strained ally. In mine, it was a love story, but one plagued by constant betrayals because of incompatible needs. Bruce and Selina loved each other, but Selina’s own life had too many challenges for her to create perfect bonds of trust. It is a complex, difficult choice where the story gives you every reason to fall for the Joker’s destructive nihilism.

    From there, we have another nasty challenge where every major death is thrown in your face, focusing both on how much damage Bruce has suffered from his relationships (the choice of this continuity to have Thomas Wayne be a secret gangster is used wonderfully here. Bruce’s pain isn’t just from Joe Chill, Thomas Wayne is just as culpable for Bruce’s parents death which creates another vector for Joker’s assault) and on the deaths that he personally has caused.

    And then we reach the finale, a twisted game of ‘Never Have I Ever’ where you, Selina, Alfred and Tiffany are all tied to chairs, so Joker can force everyone to confront each other’s betrayals. Selina’s betrayals on Bruce. Alfred lying about Bruce’s father. Bruce’s own sins to his ‘friend’, John Doe. Even as Bruce tries to use the same tactics of relationship destruction to divide Joker and Harley.

    All ending in a brutal fist fight, jsut the two of them, where the Joker’s usual speech but how they are two of a kind means so much more than it usually does, because that’s what the Joker is doing. He is lashing out because he sees himself as the victim of Bruce not giving him enough love. Just as John Doe was obsessed with being Bruce’s friend, Joker is obsessed with being his villain. He needs it. Where comics Joker (again, outside King’s awfulness) sees Joker as someone who needs to prove that Batman is like him to prove that he isn’t alone, Telltale’s Villain Joker needs Batman because under all his bluster that John Doe is dead, his relationship with Bruce is all he has and he needs to burn down the world to keep it. Even if that relationship is nemeses

    Meanwhile, the Vigilante Joker focuses instead on Waller and the Pact. Joker is supposed to be a hero, but he’s fundamentally incapable of it. As much as he wants to be your ally, he is obsessed with sleights against him, and is too focused with own ego to find true heroism. Waller turns the Pact into this game’s version of the suicide squad, escalating and escalating a conflict between two forces that should never get this bad. Waller isn’t a good guy, she’s been morally compromised from the beginning and Telltale have dramatized that at every stage. But she’s a character that can be managed. With the Pact stopped, she has no reason to do anything except clean up. Except for the Joker, rescalating. If villain Joker takes the Relationship management mechanics and attempts to break them, Vigilante Joker just ignores them. Nuance is dead.

    Which leads to the finale of Vigilante Joker, which I can’t discuss without discussing the one commonality of the two versions of the story. Tiffany Fox, hero in training. Throughout the game, she’s been developed as Bruce’s new ally, a hero in training. And in the Vigilante version, she joins you side by side to stop the unstable Joker (as opposed to villain Joker, where she is introduced in another way). Except Tiffany has a secret.

    The long running mystery throughout the season was ‘Who killed Riddler?’. And in both versions, it is revealed to be Tiffany. It makes perfect sense, both from her militaristic approach to Batman that you needed to teach her to reject and the fact that Riddler killed her father. It is this that truly escalates Vigilante Joker to extremes. He is obsessed with the fact that he was blamed for RIddler’s death. And the last vestige of heroism disappears here.

    Meanwhile, the Tiffany twist is amazing. Especially because of how much effort is placed in asking how you handle it. One of the last choices you make is whether or not to take Tiffany as your sidekick. There is precedent in the comics for an ex-killer to be in the Batfamily – Cassandra Cain for example. And Tiffany is honestly redemptive. And you have to take into account that Telltale’s Batman uses a different set of dramatic tropes, more focused on the dramas and thrillers than traditional blockbuster morality. Designed to go a bit deeper. It creates a powerful question, especially contrasted to the Joker. John Doe and Tiffany’s similarities are hard to ignore, and you have to ask if they have enough differences. Hardest decision I had to make.

    Honestly, the problems are small. First, creating two games affected the codas. While Tiffany and Alfred both get final scenes that are the same regardless of choice, and there are, of course, two different climaxes for the Joker, the other characters get short changed. You don’t get scenes, just a conversation with Amanda Waller to decide their fates – they could make two different games, but not two different epilogues. It really hurts in the Villain playthrough, which was begging for a Selina Kyle coda. She’s the only member of the ‘family’ Joker gathers who doesn’t get one, and the strong focus on her throughout the Villain story makes it especially notable. While I can’t say this for certain, it looks like the only way to get an ending where you tell Selina you love her, for example, is to do a Vigilante Playthrough, despite the fact that she’s a superficial part of the Vigilante Joker story and your relationship with Selina is a key dramatic backbone of the Villain one.

    But the bigger problem is the final choice. Other than the fact it seems designed to be an ending and kill the chance of a third season (which is a shame, as a third season would be the perfect way to finish the stories of the long running characters. Anyway, R’as al Ghul and Poison Ivy would be awesome in this sort of Batman game and I want to see them), it feels like the wrong final choice. The Enemy Within was about reshapping what Gotham looked like. Seeing the world fundamentally change. The Rise of the Supervillain, the possible rise of Tiffany Fox as a superhero… Everything changes. Which is why it is so wrong to have the final choice be about giving up Batman. Never been the biggest fan of ‘Is Batman responsible for supercrime?’ question that Alfred poses, but ti makes more sense here than most since it is all about causing the Joker. But the real problem is that letting you retire as Batman is a bad dramatic choice here. End of the first game could have done it, choosing to redeem the Wayne name over vengeance. End of a third would easily be able to do it. But this is the wrong time to retire. The proper ending should be addressing the way the world has changed into a world where Batman is inseparable.

    Still, this has been a fantastic series, a bright light in DC’s dark times. Not just good Batman, but great Batman. Even if DC wasn’t actively hateful at the moment, this would be a bright spot in any DC line up. We have had two amazing seasons of emotional complexity and intelligent storytelling that focuses on everything that makes these characters great that we often forget for simpler pleasures, while twisting our expectations in original ways that challenge us and force us into evolving our understanding and going deeper into how we perceive Batman than we could otherwise. Sensational.

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