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BATMAN…….IS………BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry if that ruined the surprise for you, but with that cover, I’m not really sure me yelling at the top of my lungs was truly a spoiler anyway.  I mean, what did you expect to happen in this issue?

For those of you who have not yet read the issue, please be aware that I will be talking openly about the contents.  I won’t ruin every surprise or discuss every single scene in detail, but this is not a spoiler free review.  If you have already read the issue or don’t mind spoilers, proceed.  While this is a review, it’s also meant to invite and encourage discussion.  In that respect, I’m here to provide opening statements.  I leave it to you to carry on the conversation.

As the story opens, there is some small amount of confusion.  In retrospect, it makes sense, but the initial read can be slightly jarring till you figure out what is going on.  As the story unfolds, we cut back and forth between the reality of the cave, and the insane ramblings and hallucinations that “Bruce’s” mind undergoes as it is rewritten.  Within these hallucinations, many of the characters and visuals we encounter are offhandedly representative of certain aspects of Batman’s infinite history.  While these scenes are somewhat intriguing due to the crazy what-ifs they present, they don’t really hold a candle to how compelling the real world dialogue and interactions shared between “Bruce”and Alfred are.

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This is the first bit that really caught my attention.  Throughout the entire SuperHeavy arc, Alfred has always been the strongest proponent to allowing “Bruce” to live out his life, free of the shadow of the bat.  I’ve always thought that was slightly weird because this isn’t the Bruce Batman would have become had his parents not been killed.  This is some weird third version of Bruce created without factoring in the loss, or lack thereof.  It’s just weird that Alfred clings so vehemently to something that is half a lie from what he actually wants.  It’s also kind of weird that Alfred implies that Batman wanted to die in a grand face off with the Joker.  While that might be the Joker’s ultimate fantasy, I’d be hard pressed to insinuate that Bruce became Batman merely to contend with the Joker.

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This caught my eye next.  This panel raises several questions.  Is Batman without the trauma even Batman?  I’d say not, but that’s just me.  That loss is a necessary motivating factor.  Without it, why would someone voluntarily put themselves through so much torture.  You could say that this “Bruce” sacrifices himself without feeling the trauma.  But that sacrifice is fleeting.  He makes a decision, it is over, and he doesn’t have to live with it.  Real Bruce had to reaffirm his commitment every day of his life.  On to Alfred, his dialogue brings up a small continuity issue I have to point out.  In previous chapters, Alfred didn’t just delete data.  He went to town on the machine with an axe.  From the visuals we were shown, it didn’t look like he was smashing a server tower, but the main apparatus itself.  I can believe that Bruce would hide backup data in an alternate location, but what good is that on a machine that was supposedly broken?  Lastly, “Bruce” hints at Batman’s habit for formulating contingency plans for his contingency plans.  I love the fact that this came into play.

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Maybe Batman didn’t scold Alfred, but I sure feel like “Bruce” did.

The backup file for Batman’s memory is called “The Alfred Protocol”.  While Alfred ponders why Batman choose to name it that, “Bruce” shares a possibility.  Personally, I think that Batman called it “The Alfred Protocol” because it was put in place just in case Alfred did something crazy like this and decided to “kill” him/destroy his memories.  As in, an anti-Alfred protocol.  If Batman really thinks of everything, it isn’t so far fetched to believe that he would consider the possibility that Alfred would choose not to honor his legacy.

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I sooo don’t get you right now Alfred.

You’re fine with “murdering Batman” with an axe, but not overwriting some fake Bruce?!?

Maybe I’m picking apart a couple of moments, but this was actually rather touching.  The cover gives us a vague idea of what to expect from the story, but it’s trying to capitalize on drama that never actually unfolds.  There is definitely drama, just not the drama implied.  “Bruce” doesn’t crash to his knees and wail over the agony of realizing that he was Batman.  In fact, he completely embraces it.  He might not have Batman’s memories yet, but he still displays that same sense of self sacrifice that Batman always had.  While I am happy to see this guy gone and Batman back, the fact that he did have some traits in common with Batman makes his passing and sacrifice more meaningful than I was expecting.  I’m in no way implying that I prefer “Bruce” to Bruce, but the story still managed to play a bit with my emotions as I watched a quasi “Bruce” get erased.

Yanick Paquette is on art for this issue.  If I recall correctly, he worked on a couple of issues of Batman Incorporated (volume 1) back in 2010, but I don’t recall seeing him on anything since then.  If you consider him to be a fill-in-artist, I’d say he is a lot more competent in that capacity than a lot of the other artists DC has used for such purposes in the last year or so.  Nothing he did detracted from my immersion in the story and I actually appreciated all the design work he must have done in order to present all of “Bruce’s” hallucinations.  It’s one thing to simply draw your take on Batman and the Batcave.  It’s something we have all seen many times, we all know what it looks like.  It’s another thing entirely to be tasked with bringing multiple Batmans alive, but still have them feel intrinsically like Batman.

For those of you who are all about getting your money’s worth, you’ll probably be happy to know that this issue is 3 pages longer than the standard 3.99 issue.  While it’s always nice to get pages for free, I’m sure the book could have easily fit within the standard 22 page length and told the exact same story.  There were 6 two page spreads in this book, and while pretty, they weren’t essential.  Or at least not essential that they be spreads.

Odds and Ends:

  • I love when Bruce steps into the cave for the first time and is just like, “My god…”  Like, “Man oh man, would you just look at this…I must have been crazy.”
  •  I also loved the fact that they said, “Batman was too much for another living mind to take.”  And, “The living brain cannot handle what Batman was.”  I know it was meant literally in the scope of the story, but I’d like to equate it to us not being able to comprehend just how awesome Batman actually is.

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  • Anybody else think it was odd that the energy from the machine essentially exploded his beard off his face?  Otherwise, I love the fact that he instantly gets down to business.  Not, “what happened?”, or, “what’s going on?”, or, “what did you do?”   There is only the mission…

Interesting Facts:

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  • The issue’s Neal Adams variant cover is an homage to Neal’s 1985 cover for Deadman #1.

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The original cover alongside Adams’ pencils for this variant.

  • Unlike some of the other variants out there this month, I felt that this one actually made a loose attempt to tie into the subject matter of the issue, with Batman being “dead” and all.

Recommended if…

  • You want to see the return of Batman.
  • You want to give Alfred another chance to justify his actions.
  • You want to see “Bruce” acting more like Batman than I ever thought possible.
  • You like when a comic gives you something to think about.

Overall:

“For Batman to live, Bruce Wayne always has to die!”  That pretty much sums up this story.  None of the major beats really came as a surprise, but sometimes events unfolding exactly as you envisioned they would is exactly what a story needs to feel satisfying.  Here, entertainment isn’t handed out through meaningless shock and awe, but through solid character interactions.  Much of the dialogue exchanged between “Bruce” and Alfred is quite emotional and thought-provoking and really holds your engagement right to the last page.  Can’t wait till March 23rd!

SCORE: 8 / 10