By Ewan Paterson

I am a child of Batman: The Animated Series, which is perhaps why I’ve always been drawn towards the comics of Darwyn Cooke. Cooke, whose career with DC started with storyboarding on The New Batman Adventures, had an energetic, animated style that stood out amidst a sea of superhero stories that emphasised well-defined musculature and anatomical detail. His interpretation of Batman – seen in works like Ego and DC: The New Frontier felt similarly unique in that it, like BTAS, balanced the character’s darker elements with his more hopeful ones.

With Ego specifically, Cooke dissects the duality of the character and affirms the importance of Bruce Wayne, refuting the old cliche that Bruce is nothing more than a mask, and that Batman is all he is deep down. What starts out as “morbid introspection”, in Bruce’s words, turns into a journey that emphasises the soulful core of Batman as a character, with both halves going to war following a tragic encounter one night in Gotham.

During this confrontation, Cooke turns a spotlight to the Christmas before the murder of Wayne’s parents, where Bruce receives a toy of Zorro (a character with a formative influence on both Bruce and Batman as a series) from his father Thomas. On this same day, Bruce is confronted with death for the first time when Thomas fails to save the life of one of his patients. In dialogue with his other half, manifested as a ghostly, Dickensian apparition, “Batman” tells Bruce that this was where the Dark Knight was born… primarily out of the fear of losing those closest to him. 

This is partially true, but the presence of Zorro intimates the myriad motivations that gave birth to Batman: namely, Bruce’s own love of adventure. There are tragic undercurrents to the story of Don Diego but, like Batman, Zorro’s mission is about more than vengeance.

As Bruce’s duel against his other half comes to an end, he stops trying to fight the idea that he can give up being the Dark Knight altogether. But this isn’t a moment of defeat. Instead, Bruce defiantly stares back at his ghostly reflection, and emphasises that there’s more to his mission than loss. Doing so allows him to reconcile with the monster within, reaffirming that Batman is as much a “terrifying symbol to the underworld” as he is a “symbol of hope” to Gotham as a whole.

The heart of Ego lies in the idea that not only are Bruce Wayne and Batman one and the same, but that the character is one fuelled as much by love as he is by tragedy. The comic concludes with Bruce racing into danger once again, only this time with a photo of himself and his parents at Christmas placed on the dashboard of the Batmobile. It’s the perfect conclusion to Ego’s heartbreaking yet uplifting journey, showing that Bruce is compelled to help those out of the memories he cherished, instead of just the one that destroyed his childhood.

 

“Batman Ego: A Psychotic Slide into the Heart of Darkness” 
Writer and Artist: Darwyn Cooke
Letterer: Jon Babcock

 

Ewan is the gaming features editor for Screenrant, with bylines at several publications including, most prominently, WhatCulture. For more, follow Ewan on Twitter here!

 

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