Any thoughts on the big spoiler from today's Batman?
So the overarching “I Am” story of Tom King’s first year on Batman came to an end with last week’s issue, and god damn is this still my favorite superbook on the stands. I know a lot of people have taken issue for it - an inevitability of suddenly shoving King’s unconventional style onto the largest possible stage, not to mention that it to be fair really is probably his weakest long-form work to date (though it’s getting progressively better with time, whether because he’s getting more used to the biweekly schedule or because he’s gotten enough credit in the bank to do more of what he wants) - but to me there’s no question that this is the best Batman run since Morrison’s heyday, and some of the all-time best material in the character’s history. It’s grim in a way even Batman rarely gets (at least successfully), it’s intelligent both formally and in its handling of Batman’s larger mythology in terms of character and symbolism, it’s intensely satisfying, and at one point a drowning Batman punches handholds into a brick wall so he can forcefully snap his back into place and then beat up an entire island of mercenary cultists.
What’s particularly interesting about it though is that it returns to an idea largely sidelined in recent years: that Batman is himself psychologically unhealthy. This has been dropped for a number of good reasons - it often comes down to shallow “what if…he’s as crazy as the crazy people he fights!” statements or a broader characterization of him as an asshole, and it was also part of a larger trend of overly grim Batman stories post-DKR that the comics started to turn their back on around 2006 with Morrison and Dini taking over the main books. Morrison and later Snyder particularly focused on the idea of him as a more well-balanced individual largely finding satisfaction in his family and work, and while Morrison delved at a few points into the idea of him as a child lashing out at the world the only way he knows how, that was more centered around deconstructing Batman as a narrative concept rather than as an individual. Shockingly few until now have really delved into the idea that Batman as a coping mechanism might be insufficient for Bruce Wayne, and - crucially - none of them were Tom King (and David Finch and Mikel Janin and Ivan Reis and Mitch Gerads and Jason Fabok and Clay Mann and Jordie Bellaire and John Workman).
That’s what the whole run has been about so far, to one extent or another - the question of if Batman is insufficient, fundamentally flawed and ultimately doomed. I Am Gotham focused on the idea of his mission as a quixotic and untenable one, even when handed to someone theoretically better-suited to the job. I Am Suicide delved hard into his mental state and concluded that he’d essentially realized at ten years old that he was never going to be happy with the damage done to him, and therefore dedicated his life to the cause of justice since he understood his pain wasn’t isolated - that everyone in Gotham lived on the same razor’s edge one way or another, and deserved kindness and dignity in the form of a protector - and that living for his own sake was no longer worthwhile anyway, an act of surrender he in no uncertain terms considers to have been his spiritual death. And in I Am Bane, we see what it is that makes him more than his pain when up against someone just like him but defined by pain alone; his connections with others, and that beneath it all, while he may be shaped by what’s happened to him, he isn’t Batman in service of it, but truly for the sake of others.
So that’s why the ending of Batman #24 kind of has to be what it is: if the conclusion of this first year is that Batman is as a hero and a man more than his pain and - as straight-up told to him by Martha in I Am Bane and Thomas in The Button - he has a right to seek a life beyond it, of course it’s going to come down to letting himself rebuild a family, and given he has so many siblings/children already, it has to be love in the romantic sense that represents the change. I’m not sure if King’ll go through with it; The Brave and the Mold was all about someone in his position not being able to move on in spite of seemingly having a higher perspective on things to illustrate Bruce’s own condition, and going straight from “maybe I should let myself be happy” to proposing to his on-and-off girlfriend he has serious moral issues with is the definition of trying to run before learning to walk. But at the same time, major changes are afoot at DC with the likes of the previously unthinkable Jon Kent being seemingly permanently embedded in the status quo, and Tom King’s said his run is supposed to show Batman winning - and given all his previous tragedies had characters largely achieve their practical objectives but face psychological or moral ruination, I doubt he would cite his Batman run as a contrast to that if it ends with him as miserable as ever. I personally think the idea of a happily-married Batman is a far dicier one than with Superman or Spider-Man, but I’m more than willing to give it a chance, and however this ends up the proposition represents the culmination of a really fascinating time for the character, the biggest development yet of a line of thought extending back decades that concludes that yes, Batman is damaged, and obsessed, and scared, and doomed. And above all a hero, because he can see that same pain in others, and he believes in them, and fights for them.