By Steve Morris

Spoilers below, of course: we’re talking about the last issue of the run!

What is Gotham? It’s a question which our narrator asks us in the first issue of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on Batman, and it’s a question we’re asked again at the end. The narrator changes over the intervening fifty years, although the purpose of the question stays the same. And, although readers don’t realise until the final issue of the run, the answer is also the same.

The question originates from the Gotham Gazette, which has a regular column where members of the public write in with their answers to the sentence “Gotham Is…”. Issue #1 explains several of the most popular choices, which tend to be gloomy, depressing answers, reflecting the poor state of the city. Batman is our narrator at this point, reflecting on several of the more common answers and how they suggest that Gotham City is a lost cause, a hopeless city where crime is rampant, everyone is unhappy, and not even a protective vigilante can help. By this issue we are five years on in Gotham, Batman has been active for much longer, and the atmosphere appears to have remained the same as ever.

Our narrator this time – who isn’t Batman – talks again about the sinister and depressing aspects of the city, as Batman himself flies around the city, which has been hit by a power cut which appears like it might be the first part of a major attack on Gotham. He checks in with Jim Gordon, who is in the process of resetting back to his Commissioner role after briefly filling in as Batman on Bruce’s behalf. He steps into Arkham, which just as in issue #1 is populated by most of Gotham’s worst criminals, but all of whom are in-check and unable to escape. And he takes a look at the Joker, who has lost his memories and now sits on a park bench, waiting for a new writer who’ll inevitably revert him. 

Throughout their final issue the creative team are able to explore every change they’ve made to Gotham across the course of the five years that the story has progressed in-world, and show us how little has actually changed. There’s always a group of unruly criminals in Arkham, there’s always a weary Commissioner smoking next to the bat-signal, and there’s always potential for the next big attack to happen. For everything we’ve been through, and everything the characters have all experienced over multiple years, at the end of the day things haven’t actually progressed, if we’re being technical about it. Alfred even had his severed hand reattached. 

So you’d expect the answers to “Gotham Is…” to remain about the same, really. Joker could still reappear at any moment, villains like Penguin (who didn’t have a major antagonist role in Snyder and Capullo’s run and shows up here with schemes for the future, unrealised right now) are still a threat, and nobody thinks the GCPD are up to anything. Snyder, however, wants there to be a hopeful and happy ending to his run, so the run ends by going in the opposite direction. The general public, we find out, are positive, upbeat, and lighthearted, the years of protection they’ve had from Batman leaving them feeling safer and more able to help themselves up and help those around them. While Batman has been a constant, the citizens of the city have been able to be proactive within his presence. 

Which hails back to the first issue of the run, and Bruce Wayne’s actions right at the start of the story.  The first issue has Bruce hold a gathering of Gotham’s finest and brightest, as he pitches his vision for the future of the city. It’s not an unusual sight for Bruce Wayne in a Batman comic, as over the years most writers tend to try and play up Bruce’s philanthropic side before they whisk him away for an extended period of punching. Here, however, there is a very slight change to the deal, which is what informs the last issue of the run: Bruce asks everyone else in the room for their help. Technically he asks for their investment, but what he’s asking for is that they join him in the infrastructure, and that they all work together. 

Batman issue #1

Although he doesn’t outright say it, Bruce very clearly answers “Gotham is… you”. He looks out at a room full of people and says that they are, together, the future of Gotham, and that he will help lead the way while they fix and improve their situation to give everybody that better tomorrow. And as Batman goes on his tour of the city in the issue in issue #51, we can see that this promise has been fulfilled. The villains are still in Arkham – but Arkham has a new security system which keeps them held there despite a power cut. Joker is still a possible threat for the future, but he’s sat on a bench where Bruce can find him anytime he needs. The situation hasn’t technically changed, but readers can see throughout that things really have actually changed. 

It’s emphasised when we find out who the narrator of issue #51 is: the editor of the Gotham Gazette, who receives the “Gotham is” answers from the public and writes about them each week. He’s actually one of the goons Batman went up against back in issue #2 of the series, but who then turned around his life, went legit, and became a reporter and writer. He’s interrupted by Batman halfway through writing the latest column, at which point the narration shifts tense and starts writing a direct message to Batman himself. Whereas before people used to describe the town through villains like Killer Croc or Two-Face, our narrator reveals to Batman that the most common answer now is… “you”.

Which technically means that they’re saying “Gotham is Batman”, sure. But when the column is a direct message to Batman, the meaning is “Gotham is You”. It closes a symbiotic circle, and the challenge which Bruce laid out in issue #1. He believes that Gotham is “you”, the people of Gotham, and everybody who could invest their time and effort into the city to make it better. In turn, the people believe that Gotham is “you”, the Batman, the person who protects them every night. The deal which Bruce strikes in issue #1 is fulfilled in issue #51, as we see how people have grown, improved and evolved over the five years that they’ve had Batman around to protect them. They’ve then invested that development into the city, creating a happier environment, healthier relationship with Gotham, and better answers for the Gotham Gazette to publish. 

It’s all very writerly, sure, but it shows the flexibility of Snyder in how he’s able to bring his first issue full circle against his last. He’d go on to write other Batman stories, but within these 51 issues and change he was able to close the loop on all the questions he’d asked at the start. It’s very deftly done – as is the reveal at the end of the issue that the power cut was simply a routine power cut. The lights come on at the end to show an industrious, peaceful Gotham City which is working through the night to continue to improve itself. 

And above them, as always, Batman is watching. Just in case. It shows the strength that comes from allowing a creative team to tell their story, their way, and finish it themselves. Snyder and Capullo didn’t work on every issue of Batman together, but they were there at the start, and there at the end, and it allows them the grace to tie off the story in the way they wanted. As we increasingly find out, that’s what leads to the stories which resonate longest for readers. It’s an affectation, sure, but it’s their affectation. Batman’s status quo will never fully change, but there can be change within Batman the comic, even if only for a while.


Batman #51
Written by Scott Snyder
Drawn by Greg Capullo
Inked by Danny Miki

Coloured by FCO Plascencia
Lettered by Steve Wands


Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.


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