Alex Ross cover to Batman #676 [digital] © 2008 DC Comics.
Last May brought the 70th anniversary of Batman’s debut in Detective Comics #27,
as I wrote around the time of the actual event. DC marked the occasion by killing him, during a storyline called RIP, not terribly long after introducing his son.
Or did it?
The 70th anniversary wasn’t really marked. I’m a far more casual reader of comics these days, true, as opposed to the die-hard fan turned would-be scholar and journalist that I was for a good 15-20 of my almost 40 years of life. So it’s possible that at conventions and via industry magazines DC was promoting writer Grant Morrison’s run, which has included the latest passing of the mantle from Bruce Wayne to Dick Grayson, as explicitly celebrating the character’s seven decades of existence — Morrison has been referencing Batman history right and left, as did Neil Gaiman in his coda to RIP. One could argue too that 70 isn’t as ballyhooed a birthday as golden or diamond jubilees when it comes to pop-culture properties. Yet DC failed to capitalize on the 50th anniversary of its marquee band of superheroes, the Justice League of America, earlier this year. It also let several months lapse after the 75th anniversary of the very first proto-DC publication before addressing the issue (no pun intended) with a designer icon and merchandise.
Plus, Bruce Wayne didn’t die during RIP — the storyline that ran in DC’s primary Batman series and had its logo branded upon affiliated monthlies (Robin, Detective, Nightwing) — but instead in the pages of Final Crisis, a line-wide DC Universe crossover also written by Morrison. RIP as a title doesn’t guarantee that an actual demise is involved, of course; heck, even stories billed “The Death of _____” won’t necessarily feature in-continuity, for-real deaths of the character in question. We saw Darkseid’s omega beams strike Batman in Final Crisis #7, though. And while the beams have been known to teleport or outright vaporize living beings (who can subsequently be reconstituted at Darkseid’s whim), Superman was depicted as holding Batman’s skeletal remains, which later were briefly animated in a separate line-wide crossover called Blackest Night. Many readers were upset by this, not so much because they didn’t want Bruce Wayne gone — nobody truly believed he’d be taking a permanent
dirt nap — but rather because it felt like a bad-faith bait and switch to kill him off (however temporarily, given the endlessly serialized nature of American superhero comics) in another series when something called RIP was coming to a head in the pages of Batman itself, especially since RIP was the culmination of a suite of sprawling, often daring, occasionally gripping Morrison Batman arcs, whereas Final Crisis was just… sprawling.
Plus plus, notwithstanding what it says in the above paragraph, Bruce Wayne apparently didn’t really die. And I don’t mean that in the sense of him merely being a fictional character, despite that very fact being an enjoyably meta aspect of Morrison’s overarching Batman stint as well as Gaiman’s elegy/eulogy “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?”. I mean that it’s been confirmed that the character seen sitting in a cave at the end of Final Crisis is indeed Bruce Wayne, skeleton be darned — and that he’s currently fighting his way through the timestream back to modern-day Gotham City in yet another Morrison-written homage to certain of the goofier tales of yesteryear called The Return of Bruce Wayne. That limited series is running parallel to the ongoing Batman, Batman and Robin, and Batman: Streets of Gotham, among other series, which feature a new Dynamic Duo consisting of Dick Grayson (the first Robin, ward and then adopted son of Bruce Wayne, later known as Nightwing) and Damian Wayne (Batman’s possibly biological and possibly cloned offspring, or so my fuzzy recall of Morrison’s Batman and Son storyline has it, based on a tryst with Rās al Ghul’s daughter Talia in a graphic novel long considered to be outside the core DC Universe continuity).
While continuing to read those explorations of the aftermath of Bruce Wayne’s disappearance with an eye towards writing about them, I’ll publish my review of Gaiman’s postmodern postmortem shortly.
Related: A Wing and a Prayer • DC at 75 •
If You Meta the Batman, Kill the Batman