By Steve Morris

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

There’s a hole in Bruce Wayne which will never be patched back together. The bullet which killed his mother also left a lasting symbolic hole in her young son, into which he could feel all his grief flow into a void of emptiness, absence, and loss. He should’ve been able to grow up into a young man who was complete, ready, and willing to take on the mantle of stewardship, partnership and community which his parents represented. Instead, he created Batman, and took up arms against the villains of Gotham City; the people who claw and scratch at perfection and leave everybody scarred and hollow.

But in creating Batman, Bruce Wayne invented a hero who was entirely designed to be an absence. Batman is a walking, talking hole in the form of a hero, his grief and chaos pointed in the way of vigilante justice and revenge against a world which robbed him of his parents and ripped his heart out. Yet Batman is so much more than Bruce could have expected him to be. Many have seen Batman as symbolic of Bruce’s suicidal ideation: his need to fight his way into the earliest grave imaginable. But that take only sees the hole within Bruce Wayne, the part of him which will never be complete. There is no such hole present in Batman: he is entirely absence. In that way, he is whole. A wholly complete hole in the world: and as such, impervious. 

The last issue of Batman Incorporated is just as hyper-fixated on the idea of the whole, the hole, and the endless as both Batman and Talia Al Ghul, positioned at opposite ends of a generational war which has already claimed the lives of their parents and their children. Their battle against one another has ended the Wayne family and the Al Ghul family in one go, as these two grief-stricken figures beg the other to finally kill them and let them be at peace. Fittingly, their fight is over a magical weapon in the shape of a mystery box which is called the Oroboro Trigger, named for the symbol of the ouroboros – a snake eating its own tail. Artist Chris Burnham, who seems singularly suited to keeping up with Grant Morrison’s whims, repeatedly shows that image throughout the image, demonstrating the pointless and endless cycle which these broken children repeatedly throw themselves back into.

The issue derails the epic, insane nature of the conclusion by skipping ahead in time so we see Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon sat in the police station, discussing the battle that just took place: we know from the start that Bruce will survive, and stare across the table from his oldest friend. The global, catastrophic sequence of events taking place as a result of Talia’s war with Batman is merely a background to Bruce and Talia as people, and the absence which motivates them both. The hole which exists in Bruce Wayne came from the death of his parents at a random, unexpected moment in his childhood. Talia’s aggression ultimately comes from being rejected by Batman, which created a hole of grief inside her which led her to kill their son and reject the world. 

Talia’s mistake came in seeing Batman as an equal, someone who was hurt and needs connection in order to reshape the world in a better mould; one which won’t hurt them ever again. She fails to realise that Batman is nothing but that absence, and there is no part of him which has the ability to love her as Bruce Wayne once loved his parents. Batman is a whole creature, entirely owned by absence, and there’s no room in there for the character to reciprocate Talia’s need for love. “I’m sorry I couldn’t love you the way you wanted me to, Talia”, Batman says. He’s simply not designed to be able to offer that; and the hole in Bruce Wayne expands to swallow Talia’s grief and loss as well as his own. There is nothing which will ever satisfy Talia, just as there is nothing which will ever satisfy Bruce, and they each quietly understand that single truth which defines their present. Thus: a duel to the death.

They realise that each are fighting a pointless war with no chance of victory. Talia even spends his time replicating Batman’s endless war by providing him with “an unbeatable villain” using “Leviathan” as their name – only for all of that to be shown as a lie, a con to emphasise the wholehearted folly that is Batman’s caped crusade in the name of justice. But at the same time, although willing to strike mortal wounds, Talia is equally unwilling to give up on her dark knight. She wants him to come through for her in the way nobody else in her life ever die. Two souls on an endless spiral into the abyss.

The irony of the whole thing is that neither Batman nor Talia Al Ghul can ever really die. For one thing… this is comic books we’re talking about, and in a superhero story death is never forever. Yet at the same time the issue also pointedly shows that the future is continuing on around these two star-crossed fragments. The end of the issue shows that Ra’s Al Ghul is alive, and has a room filled with clones of Damian Wayne just ready to be woken up and sent out into the world. Elsewhere, the duel between Batman and Talia is interrupted by two immensely important figures, each of whom represent elements of the absence in Bruce Wayne’s timeline.

First is Jason Todd, the first Robin who died. Jason returns to ostensibly save the day, revealing that the Oroboro Trigger has been deactivated and rendered sterile, making this whole fight pointless. That doesn’t end the fight, of course: the duel was always pointless; a snake eating its own tail in order to satisfy itself. The second figure is Kathy Kane’s, the first woman Bruce Wayne attempted to love with a broken heart, who died and was taken from him. Her return comes almost completely from nowhere, as she shoots Talia, quips a few lines, then teleports away. THe endless spiral of Talia and Batman is interrupted by, well, Kathy’s organisation “Spyral”, which deliberately interrupts the private blood feud between these bitter lovers with a reminder that the rest of the world is still out there. The duelling romantics can experience as tortured and epic a love story that’s ever been in comics – at the end of the day, the world still needs to go on with or without them.

The issue repeatedly undermines “the hole in things” in that way. The unbeatable villain is shot by a random woman from Bruce’s past; the Oroboro Trigger is pulled and does nothing; the ‘Leviathan’ Talia named herself is revealed to be “an empty, arbitrary suggestion of vague promises and unformed ideas”. Talia and Bruce kiss as the world burns, and they surrender to each other in a joint suicide pact as the world recovers itself without their help. Grief can feel like everything and nothing at the same time. Somebody who seems to be full and enriched can be revealed to be empty… just as somebody who doesn’t exist can reveal themselves to be the conclusive answer to a war. The hole in everything reveals truths in both directions.

Bruce finishes the issue by staring at two empty grave sites in his garden, the hole in his life literally represented right in front of him. Batman, on the other hand, returns to the same old cycle he’s always been stuck inside, an endless loop of life, death, and rebirth. Batman will never die: he is whole, and no bullet can pierce the long shadow he casts on the world. All those who fail to understand that dynamic duo of superheroic grief are destined to fall into the hole in the centre of everything, and be lost into the abyss.


Batman Incorporated #13: The Dark Knight and The Devil’s Daughter
Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Chris Burnham
Coloured by Nathan Fairbairn
Lettered by Steve Wands and Trevor Lanham


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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