Batman: Well, he sure looks dead, doesn't he?
In comics, always bet on "or something."
You won't go wrong, particularly when the putative corpse in question is — as in the case before us — a multiple-franchise-spawning chunk o' intellectual property whose heavily marketed multimedia presence has infiltrated mass culture to an absurd, and in some cases profoundly unflattering, degree.
In superhero circles, see, death is a chronic condition. It's inconvenient, yes — but treatable.
Case in point: Last month, DC Comics once again sent one of its most recognizable characters into the Great Beyond ... or somewhere thereabouts.
In the Caped Crusader's absence, DC will launch Battle for the Cowl, a multi-issue series in which Robin, Batgirl and the rest of extended Bat-family... well, battle. For the right to wear the pointy ears.
"Battle for the Cowl." Hey, it beats what they called a very similar plotline back in the 90's, when Bruce Wayne literally broke his back fighting crime.
(He, um, got better. But for a while a Bat-vacuum existed that nature thoroughly abhorred. I wasn't too crazy about it either, frankly, as it allowed this cheesy, "TO THE EXTREME!", quintessentially '90s chump of a character — your garden-variety brainwashed, gene-spliced, French-Catholic-assassin in fire armor — to take over the Bat-books for a time.)
Back then, DC editors ushered in the guy's doofy stint as interim-Batman by asking the question: "Who Will Inherit ... the Mantle of the Bat?"
"Mantle of the Bat." Doesn't really sing, does it? Not sure why. Maybe it's the faux-gravitas of it, which just comes off sounding ineluctably dumb. Or maybe it's because the word "mantle" puts you in mind of things that stick to rocks.
After the jump: The facts, such as they are, behind the Dark Knight's Dubious Dirtnap.
DC is fond of saying that they've been building up to this shattering turn of events for years. Mmmyeah.
I've been over and over the last few years, and dang if I can find a through-line. Seems like a lot more like the steady accretion of weirdness, when you take a step back.
The Year: 2004
The Tale: Identity Crisis
Batman grows deeply affronted when he realizes that his fellow Justice Leaguers have robbed him of a particularly troubling memory — a memory that's altogether too squicky to go into here. Let's just say I kinda wish they'd mind-wiped me as well, while they were at it.
Oh, okay, but I did warn you:
It involves one of his colleagues getting brutally raped by a D-list super-villain.
("Hey Kids! Comics!")
Let's ... let's just move on.
The Year: 2005
The Tale: The OMAC Project
The already paranoid Bats gets steadily, fabulously moreso, and creates a spy satellite to monitor his fellow heroes. Said satellite, natch, becomes self-aware and takes over the world.
The Year: 2006
The Tale: Infinite Crisis
Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman grow exasperated with other, decide to break up the band. This promptly leads to big, cataclysmic badness across several (okay, infinite) universes, until the three reunite. Cue hugs, Skittles, karaoke.
The Tale(s): "52", "One Year Later"
Batman decides that, because driving the world to the cusp of Armaggedon is exhausting work, he needs to go off somewhere to clear his head. He takes young Tim "Robin" Drake and Dick "Nightwing" Grayson with him on a ... round-the-world cruise. (Quiet, you.)
At one point during this year away from Gotham, Batman seals himself in a Himalayan cave for 49 days to undergo a grueling Buddhist ritual of psychic death and rebirth.
Tim and Dick, sensible lads, opt instead for the hot-stone massage package.
The Year: 2008
The Tale: Batman, RIP
Now things get weird.
Batman returns to Gotham, has some adventures, then finds himself targeted by a mysterious secret society that may or may not be run by his long-thought-dead father. To combat their protracted psychological torture, Batman reverts to an alternate personality that he ... came up with ... early in his career...
Or something; this part gets murky.
Seems to be a sort of "In Case of Psychological Torture, Break Brain" kind of deal. Which may have something to do with that Himalayan ritual. Again: Murky.
As said personality, Batman roams the streets of Gotham wacked out on goofballs. He hallucinates, rants, doesn't shave. Expresses a desire to see Hosea win Top Chef.
Gets into a big fighty-fight with Maybe-Dad, whereupon their helicopter crashes into a river. Later, Batman's cape and cowl wash up on the river bank. No Bat-body is found.
The Year(s): 2008-09
The Tale: Final Crisis
The Bat-body is found. Turns out, Batman has somehow been abducted by the DC universe's resident all-powerful despot, just before the copter hit the water. This particular all-powerful despot possesses, as is the peculiar wont of all-powerful comic book despots, zappy eye-powers. Also: thigh boots.
Eventually he turns those zappy eye-powers on Batman, and voila: the Bat-corpse, en flamb??. Heroes mourn. Villains exult.
We readers note, however, that said all-powerful despot employed a peculiar vintage of zappy eye-power on the cowled crimefighter, one that seems not to kill, but to instead make its victim live an infinite succession of hopeless, utterly defeated lives.
[Cheap joke about Paterson, New Jersey redacted.]
On the final page of the final issue, we abruptly cut to: a Stone-Age cave, where a mysterious bearded figure draws a familiar bat-symbol upon the wall...
And that, it seems, is where we stand, going into Battle for the Cowl — with a Batman-free Gotham, and a hero trapped in the distant past.
As it turns out, though, where we stand is on ground that's awfully familiar.
After all, Batman just got back from that round-the-world walkabout of his, what, a year ago? And just a few years before that, Aquaman found himself trapped in the distant, prehistoric past.
I'll wait and see what Battle for the Cowl brings, but I can't shake the feeling that, with Bruce Wayne stuck in what looks to be the time of the Cro-Magnon, it's all going to seem a lot like re-inventing the wheel.
(See what I did there?)