By Terrence Sage
Human beings… we’re complicated. We’re emotional creatures driven to insane lengths to complete our goals because we feel in our bones that we’re doing something right. In his time writing Batman, Tom King has shown us how Batman’s eternal struggle as a hero has been guided by a simple truth:
“I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.”
Everything he does is for the parents that he couldn’t protect in Crime Alley.
Early in King’s run writing the main Batman title, his “I Am” trilogy of stories was essentially the beginning phase to a long-term dive specifically into Bruce Wayne – and not Batman. King asks questions about Bruce’s humanity: how he believes his parents would view him, and what he does every night… as he could potentially die from saving an airplane full of people from crashing. Everything comes to a climax with Issue #24, “Every Epilogue Is A Prelude” where Bruce and Gotham Girl (or rather, Claire, after all they’ve been through) having a conversation about what they could do, what drives them and what comes next.
This issue is the cap to King’s first year on Batman, capturing what this run means for Batman thematically and his mental space. In King’s attempts to humanize Bruce, he’s asked how the loss of his parents has affected him and his war on crime. Bruce is emotionally stunted, effectively putting his Superhero Life before any of the wants and needs that normal people are afforded. The conversation with Claire is a look into how she’s been feeling about the events of late and she’s carrying the load of deciding on what to do. She’s asking questions of Batman on what she should do with her life – because it’s Batman, who better to ask, right? She asks what she should do and Bruce isn’t forthcoming with any concrete messages to tell her. He’s telling her what she thinks she wants to hear.
Bruce’s life was defined by the death of his parents and his calling to be Batman. He speaks about his war on crime, and how nobody wanted this for him after his parents died. Alfred had always been the most vocal about the subject – but for Bruce, he might as well have not been saying anything. Claire asks
“What about your family? Before Alfred. Your parents. Would they have wanted you to be this? To be Batman?”
With “Every Epilogue Is A Prelude” we’re seeing a more emotional Bruce at play here; digging into the wants of the man who puts on a mask and fights crime every night. Drawn by Clay and Seth Mann during the day and David Finch and Danny Miki for the segment set at night, the issue alternates Claire and Batman’s discussion of how far they’ve come against showing Catwoman’s own storyline with Batman, which plays on their history together as characters.
Throughout their conversation, Claire is shown as being at a crossroads with her life. After the death of her brother Hank, being traumatized by Psycho-Pirate, and finally stopping Bane, she has a decision to make about what she should do – and who better to ask than Batman, the hero who saved her?
“You think you could do it? Go back to being normal?” – Gotham Girl
“What’s normal?” – Batman
“You know…. not saving. Just being.” – Gotham Girl
Batman is a figure that’s been viewed at many different angles over the decades. King takes a more human approach, suggesting that the cape and cowl are all there is to Batman. This is Bruce’s “suicide” as he says here. Bruce has metaphorically killed himself in order to be Batman, and this issue puts all the cards on the table about what that means for him. He’s Batman because he needs to be Batman. In a world full of Supermen, Gods, and Monsters, it takes a special kind of person to dedicate themselves to being there for others whilst combating the emotional trauma from the loss of their parents. That’s what King is making a point toward with not just this issue, but the whole run leading up to it. It’s emotional and human, putting up Batman as this tortured figure who saves the day at a cost. There’s something behind the mask that only a few people get… and one of those people is Catwoman.
The shared history between the two leads to a decision at the end of the issue that summarizes the message and characterization that King is painting for Batman as a character. Is he a man, or a child who never grew from a traumatic experience and is tunneling his pain into a life of being a superhero? And all of this comes at what cost? At this point there’s a shift for Bruce, because as he and Claire open up about what exactly super-heroics can be for them and their respective lives, King is simultaneously taking the emotional weight of being Batman and putting it against the sunny spark of Gotham Girl.
As they talk, Bruce does his best to give Claire his point of view on what being a Hero is, and King is here revealing a side of Batman which truly questions if he can be happy with the cowl on. He’s trying despite being obviously hurt by all of the things he’s seen and done – but the very human yearning that King reveals through these two characters pushes us to see how we get the last page.
“But what you don’t know, Claire, is that I try. I do this to be happy.” – Batman
They’re Superheroes, after all, and there are things they need to do. But this time, Bruce is putting his life first, pushing past just being Batman and the emotional trauma that hinders him from being anything other than Batman. He’s taking a step in the direction that he feels is best for himself, with someone who was there since the very beginning.
Bruce’s conversation with Claire is clearly designed to show that there’s not a lot of happiness out there for him, because of the life that he’s made. King wants to actually try and make The Dark Knight something more than a tortured soul,ere – and to make him someone with wants; needs; and emotions. Gotham Girl’s own journey reflects this as a fairly new wide-eyed addition to his world. She’s a foil to his brooding crisis of self as they have this honest conversation. She’s seeking guidance from him because he’s gone above and beyond for her in the short time, they’ve known each other, but at the same time she represents how someone can come back from a world-shattering event. Her journey is equally drenched in loss, but that doesn’t prevent her growth from previous issues as we saw her trying to cope with the death of her brother at her own hands.
With the underlying focus of King’s run being what emotions do for, and to us, I’d suggest these two exemplify what the human condition is and all it entails.
Batman Vol 3 #24 – Every Epilogue is a Prelude
Written by Tom King
Drawn by David Finch, Clay Mann and Seth Mann
Inked by Danny Miki, Clay Mann and Seth Mann
Coloured by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Terrence Sage is a writer and critic who has had work published for sites including Comicosity and Pop Culture Reviews. For more from Terrence, you can follow him on Twitter here!
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