Before you roll your eyes and scroll past this post, I’m going to ask you to set aside your preconceived notions for just a minute. Even if you’re not a fan of comics (as most of you aren’t, I’m guessing) there’s a moment in the recently released Batman Rebirth: Vol 1 Deluxe Edition that kind of blew me away.
In it, Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) writes a letter to Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) during her imprisonment in Gotham’s infamous Arkham Asylum. Despite being arch-nemeses (don’t worry, that’s a real word), Bruce and Selina have developed an attraction to one another. They’re not all that different, really. They’ve just chosen to deal with their pain in different ways.
Bruce, as you might recall, watched his parents die after they were shot in an alley when he was just seven years old. As a response to that trauma, he deals out vigilante justice dressed a man bat. Which is stupid.
It’s why I’ve never been able to get behind Batman. To me, he’s always been one of the most ridiculous super heroes (in a genre that is ridiculous by nature) because he takes the thing so seriously. He’s this dark, brooding, bad-ass character and yet he dresses in cosplay, does karate, uses words like batarang, and drives a “Batmobile”. It’s insane. And nobody talks about it.
But with Bruce’s letter in issue #12 of the Rebirth relaunch, writer Tom King did two things. He addressed how such a serious person can do something so silly, and he added a dimension to the caped crusader that was sorely needed: pathos.
You see, Batman is pitiful, and not just because his parents died. It’s because he’s a sad, stunted, lost man trying to deal with a trauma and he’s failing in a very public way. His attempt, though, is quite beautiful.
Bruce’s letter begins, fittingly, with thoughts of his parents and what their absence has done to him:
Mother and Father. They would have laughed. To see me all dressed up. The Bat-Man. They would’ve laughed and laughed.
My father was classically dignified, my mother classically kind. They were not people who laughed often. The world was a burden to them. A burden they bore with dignity and kindness. But once in a while. If they saw something—something particularly ridiculous—when I remember them, I remember them laughing.
And they should laugh. Good and hard. Everyone should. It’s funny. The whole world should laugh. Do you think I don’t know? A grown man. Dressed as an animal. Sitting on a gargoyle. Waiting for crime to come. And when it comes, he’s just going to punch crime in the face. And if that grown man just punches crime hard enough, then that’ll just make everything all right.
And what makes it funnier, what would make the whole place scream, is that it’s not really a grown man. That’s just the mask under the mask. No. Way up there. Looking over us. Trying to save us. That’s that kid.
That’s that little rich kid whose mommy and daddy got shot. And instead of mourning them properly, he got on his knees and made a vow.
“I swear to the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.”
A kid and a vow. The ears and the belt and the batarangs and the Batmobile and the gargoyle and the roof and the leather and the armor.
How sad. How stupid. How immature. How hilarious. How hilarious all of it is.
I want to laugh, too. Do you know how much I want to laugh?
But then why does Bruce do this? If he’s this self aware–if he realizes how sad, stupid, immature, and hilarious this whole thing is–then why do it?
So he could create a myth. By dressing up and being something so much larger than life–in a ridiculous way, if that’s what it takes–he’s created a myth that the people of Gotham can believe in.
Because the myth that they’re all supposed to believe in, the one that’s supposed to protect them from harm, is bullshit.
I was ten. I got one of my father’s razor blades and I got down on my knees. I put the metal on my wrist. The edge scratching cold. The blood on my hand. And I looked up. To Mother and Father. I told them I was sorry. I was so sorry.
I was on my knees in Gotham. And I was praying, pushing my hands together now, the blood and the blade warm between them.
And no one—no one answered. No one answered. No one answered. I was alone.
Like everyone else. Like everyone in Gotham. I saw everyone in Gotham, all of us. We’re all on our knees, our hands together, the blood and the blade warm between them.
We pray. And no one answers.
My Goodreads Rating:
Wait, Batman is in Love with Catwoman?: That’s right. I was pretty skeptical when I heard about it, but after reading Rebirth Vol 1 I quite like it. It’s your classic opposites attract story, two lovers whose circumstances inevitably keep them apart. But it makes sense, too. Plus, Selina’s not all that bad. Well, there’s far worse.
Why I Read It: I have always been a Marvel guy. I’ve dabbled with DC over the years but I’ve never really given it a sustained run. But DC’s new Rebirth re-launch has been so critically acclaimed that I had to check it out. So far I’ve read this book and Trinity: Vol 1. Both have been really good. I’m not slowing down.
Where I Got It: Chapters.ca (which typically offers great deals on hardcover graphic novels like this one)
About Writer Tom King: King is actually the author of a novel about superheroes called A Once Crowded Sky, which I reviewed over five years ago and borderline hated. But once he started writing comics he completely hit his stride. In addition to his standout run on Batman he also wrote what’s being heralded as one of the greatest graphic novels of all-time: Vision. Which I’m about to read and will likely review here in February.