This is it! The end of the Bat-Saga! We have come a long way — through seven years of comics, through layers of hope and despair, and even through DC’s stupid collection decisions (note to anyone still working their way through the comics: There’s three volumes of Batman Inc, and they’re numbered 1, 1, and 2. Because that makes so much sense. I know the reasoning is that the latter two volumes are “New 52” and the other isn’t, but it’s still stupid. I know there have been people who got the wrong comics. I’m one of them, I accidentally skipped a volume and that’s why this post is a week late, I had to go to a comic shop, which involves a drive of at least two hours — PSA over). Now for the last year of Batman Incorporated and the end of the Bat-Saga as we know it!
This volume is a wrapping up, obviously, but also a working out — that is, it works out all the implications and hints and symbols expressed in the previous six years of stuff. The most astounding thing is the end of the line of symbols regarding holes: after everything is over, Bruce comes back to the mansion to find his parents’ graves have been opened and the bodies taken. So just as he considers hanging up the cowl for good (Talia’s demands on Gotham included a Batman manhunt), he finds the holes re-opened. When Bruce is talking to Jim Gordon he says the holes in his parents, the holes in things, were big enough to accept anything, to fit everything into. That reminds me of a novel called Miss Lonelyhearts, in which an advice column author slowly turns to religion to try to fix everyone’s lives, and he finds the only shape that can accept everything the world throws at him is a cross (in a dream he has to arrange all the detritus thrown up on a beach, and the cross is the only shape that will keep its shape and grow as more and more stuff floats up). The hole in things becomes that, here, while also reminding one strongly of stigmata.
The idea that trauma made Batman and, as such, was necessary, is a core of the character at this point, not a new revelation. but the comic thus far, and this volume in particular, layers reminder on reminder, trauma on trauma, thus reinscribing Batman for a new generation. The constant one page reminders, in the past three years, of Bruce’s first realization that he must become a bat comes alongside everything else — the death of Damian Wayne, the death of Talia Al’Ghul, the reappearance of Kathy Kane, and the reminder (way back in actual volume one of Batman Inc) that Selina is too easily distracted — this reminder makes this Batman’s origin story as much as anything does, because the Batman we know has been shaped by all these events, not only the deaths of his parents. Batman appears to be left alone again. Dick and Tim (and to some extent even Jason) are still there, as they always have been, co-sufferers in Bruce’s pain and their own. The hole in things grows, ever so slightly, making more room to fit everything into.
So I hit you with a bunch of plot bits there. Let’s go over that quickly. There’s another Damian in the future issue — Bruce finally tells everyone what he saw in his visions, and it was these issues of Damian taking over as Batman and failing to stop Talia’s plans. Eventually Barbara Gordon and the entire city fall prey to Joker venom, and as the riots fill the streets the federal government bomb the city, wiping it out. There’s an interesting out, though, that I haven’t seen anyone consider: sure, future-Damian has a cat named Alfred, but what it he’s actually one of the other Damians, possibly the one Talia keeps at her side? He, too, tries to rebel against Talia and she kills him for it, but had Bruce reacted differently perhaps he would have lived. Either way the future is probably avoided, but it’s something to consider.
Talia sets a price on Damian’s head, and the first portion of the story deals with that, with everyone trying to figure everyone else out. Bruce goes out as Matches Malone again, Damian breaks out of the Batcave as Redbird (a great costume, sadly used only once), and Talia inveigles her way into Gotham. She nearly shuts the city down, demands Batman’s head, and Batman Inc has to go underground. Meanwhile, Spyral is still around, headed by Kathy Kane, and she has a mole in the organization, who kidnaps Todd because he has a tracking device in a tooth. Everything rushes toward a horrible conclusion, the hole drawing everything down and together.
Bruce is trapped in a safe, Robin rushes to Wayne Tower to stop Talia from getting the Ouroboros bomb trigger, saving Dick and Gordon along the way. He fights his brother, aged quickly in the womb of a whale, alongside Dick, loses (mind you, only because the Leviathan people cheat and fire on him, something I didn’t catch the first time through), and is killed by his brother. Bruce shows up, fights the brother, and then they withdraw to bury Damian.
Bruce takes Man-Bat serum and infects the city’s actual bat population with an antidote, destroying Talia’s army of Bat-Ninjas. He takes on the murderous brother and wins, planting the seeds of rebellion into his head — the seeds Talia kills him to stop from taking root.
One of the most significant lines in this year’s run is Talia’s: seeing Bruce infected, destroying her army, she asks, “Why won’t he stop?” The answer is what this entire run, the magic, the time travel, the philosophy and imagery and fighting and plotting and deaths and rebirths, have been pointing to. The seven years of comic books are the answer to Talia’s question.
Batman doesn’t stop because there is a hole in things. Darkseid’s fall through the world (DarkseidSatanDemiurge) left a shaft of evil into which things fall. Batman thought he could “take him,” just as Jim Gordon did, thought he could fill the hole. The hole cannot be filled, but can be plugged, can be slowed in its inexorable but by no means inevitable consumption of the world. As Superman says in the Action Comics run Morrison worked on at the same time, the way to beat the devil is to believe you can defeat him. Batman believes he can defeat the devil, no matter who or what it is. Even if that devil is the woman he loves.
Talia goes through the typical motions of mocking Batman, reminding him he seems to cause as many problems as he stops, making fun of his costumes and his antics with clowns in the streets while he could be changing the world. But Kathy Kane reminds her, just before she shoots her in the head, that Batman doesn’t kill — something she should know already. This does not imply Spyral or Kane is better than Batman. No one knows anything about Spyral. They can’t change the world, they can only manipulate what is there. They have no hope of affecting the hole in the world, only moving game pieces around so the ones they dislike fall in first. Talia does the same thing.
Batman works because of his costumes and clowns — as he says of the Justice League earlier, he passed into the world of myth. Only Batman (in this story, anyway), has an effect on the hole in things. Only he has been in it and back out again. That made him a magician, but it makes him, too, the only one who can change things, and he does so by being Batman. Because once you see Batman you know things about him, immediately, without thought. Batman is there inside you, just like the hole in things. And whenever you try to fight against the apparently-inevitable, whenever you struggle against everything, you, too, are Batman, and you, too, help to fill the hole in things.