[Lost like Bruce Wayne in the time-stream, Guest Blogger Scott returns with a look at the idea of Batman, Inc. -- including a very well observed connection between Morrison's Batman and Will Brooker's book Batman Unmasked. I make a comment below about Dark Knight Returns.]
Perhaps this old news to some of you, but it was only upon picking up the latest issue of Morrison’s ‘Batman and Robin’ that I learned of Morrison’s plans for the Batman franchise once Bruce Wayne returned. Like most, I assumed that Dick Grayson would, of course, immediately hand cape and cowl back to his mentor and go back to doing his own Nightwing-thing. But Morrison has something bigger in mind: we are now going to have two Batmen: Grayson will remain Gotham’s Guardian while Wayne will become ‘Batman International’ so to speak and travel the world setting up a network of ‘Batmen’ (expanding upon Morrison’s reintroduction of the ‘Club of Heroes’). It’s not a completely unheard of concept; when Oliver Queen returned from the grave Connor Hawk retained the Green Arrow title as well, a similar concept has worked with the Flash even before Barry Allen’s return with Wally and Jay both bearing the mantle and there’s been more than one Green Lantern of earth for close to 40 years now, so why not Batman?
The idea of the hero passing on the torch to another is nothing new and, in fact, has long been a part of pulp-heroic tradition. Perhaps the most direct ancestor of the modern superhero is Lee Falk’s Phantom and in that strip the original Phantom wasn’t even the ‘original’ Phantom within in the continuity of the story (I think he was something like the 4th or 5th to have taken up the mantle; a way of cementing the idea that ‘the ghost who walks’ is actually immortal). Also, within the pulps, many characters over the years would develop a complex network of allies and associates to the point that, eventually, the central character would take a back seat in the action.
The idea that Batman should take this step is nothing new, in the conclusion of his book, Batman Unmasked, Will Brooker was inspired by the then most recent successful interpretation of Batman in a popular medium, Batman Beyond, to observe, “if the Batman line of comics really is being brought more into line with the animated series and its younger audience, Warners have realized that to a kid of twelve, a man in his early thirties might as well be a sixty-year old in terms of appeal […] why not take this model to its logical end, push Wayne forward to his ‘real’ age and play to the strengths of this ‘Team Batman’ concept?” (326). It is worth noting that Brooker’s book was published in 2000, when the most recent Batman film, Batman and Robin had flopped and no one could foresee that Nolan would re-invigorate the film franchise and, outside of the comics—perhaps even more so than the comics—the animated series was the most successful representation of the Bat Franchise as a whole and, with Batman Beyond as its latest incarnation, perhaps it was about time to re-imagine Batman as a whole. Brooker imagines a ‘Batman Genre Story’, “some of the codes would always remain—a Bat-costume, gadgets, crime-fighting, Gotham […] ‘Batman’ as a genre could embrace variation and improvisation around its core template, adapting to survive as Batman has always adapted to survive, both in Gotham and the real world” (328). In fact, to the younger Batman audience, Bruce Wayne is pretty inconsequential, “He just needs the suit and the gadgets, the abilities, and most importantly the morality, the humanity” (329). The latest Batman animated series, Batman: The Brave and The Bold—a series aimed towards a slightly younger audience than previous animated series, is an excellent example of this concept; while there is an unspoken implication that it is Wayne under the costume, this is not what is emphasized in the show. His motivations are unimportant; he’s just the guy with all the neat gadgets who fights crime.
Of course, older Bat-fans have a problem with this; we prefer Bruce Wayne. While the utility belt and Batmobile hooked us as kids, what brought us back was Bruce Wayne, the man behind the mask, a character with, arguably, the most complex psychology of any superhero; he must constantly balance his own darker nature and need for vengeance with justice, he must walk the line between hero and villain, savior and tyrant; however, this could equally be true of anyone who donned the cape and cowl. What anyone else would lack is Wayne’s origin; he has a very understandable, primal motivation for doing what he does and he is understandably driven—even obsessive depending on which version of the narrative you subscribe to-- to continue in his crusade no matter what. Bruce Wayne DOES NOT give up; he does not retire. When Neil Gaiman wrote his ‘Whatever Happenned to the Caped Crusader’, he envisioned several different ‘deaths’ for Bruce, all of them in the line of duty, none of them from just growing old and dying of natural causes. It is this rich psychology of the character of Bruce Wayne that, perhaps, explains why, of all superheroes, Batman has inspired works that tend to transcend the genre in terms of quality (The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, many of the vignettes in ‘Batman: Black & White’, Arkham Asylum, to name a few).
What Morrison seems to be attempting to do with the ‘Batman Incorporated’ concept is to split the difference in this controversy: he allows Bruce Wayne to remain Batman, but in a very different role than the street level vigilante of Gotham (namely the Globe-trotting adventurer that Morrison is so fond of) while, at the same time, allowing characters like Dick Grayson to move more to the forefront of the Bat-Mythos and take on new roles. While it remains to be seen how well the concept is actually EXECUTED it does make for an interesting compromise in the ongoing debate of the future of Batman. I, for one, am open to the concept at least; after all, this doesn’t preclude any ‘old school’ batman tales from being told. Titles like ‘Batman: Confidential’ could still give us tales of Bruce Wayne, the troubled, obsessive loner, patrolling the streets of Gotham, not to mention mini-series, alternate realities, and so on and so forth. So, the question that I am posing to the blog is this: could this work? Does Bruce Wayne have to be Batman, or rather, the ONLY Batman?
[I stopped reading Morrison's Batman, but I have blogged about the tension between Miller's Batman and Morrison's. I wonder to what extent is Morrison's Batman Inc a response to Miller's Batman at the end of Dark Knight Returns -- become a teacher to a new generation of Bat-Soldiers.]