As part of DC’s Rebirth, the company has been taking a more concentrated look at its characters and legacy. Many characters have been refined and brought back to their roots, using this more solid platform (after the relative confusion of The New 52) to strengthen the backgrounds and worlds of its beloved characters.
In the recently released, Batman #12 written by major rising star, Tom King a new element was added to the past of Bruce Wayne. To many, the revelation, told in flashback (but never shown) from a letter written from Bruce to Selina Kyle might have slipped by unnoticed. To those paying attention, this new wrinkle in the past of the Caped Crusader presented a major shift.
Obviously, there are SPOILERS ahead.
In this letter, Bruce reveals that when ten years of age he put his father’s razor blade to his wrist and drew blood. Although it does not expressly say so, the implications of this are obvious; Bruce contemplated taking his own life. Calling out to his parents for help and with no reply arriving, Bruce realized that he was alone… that all in Gotham were alone and this lead him to put down the blade and beginning on his path to becoming Batman.
We have had many revelations regarding Batman’s untold past and more retcons than you could poke a Batarang at, but there are few regarding Bruce as a boy and those first steps after his parents murder. This seemingly minor detail in the greater mythology of Batman is far more powerful than it seems and changes Batman in a rather drastic way.
It makes you care about him.
Over the past few decades, Batman has been built up to be an unstoppable machine of a man. It has long been a running joke on the forums that Batman is invincible and if The Dark Knight were ever to battle Galactus it would be a non-event if Bats had 15 minutes warning, a potato peeler and some sturdy gumboots. Although the fact that he is human has always been kept at the forefront of the Bat-mythology, proving how hardcore he was in regards to still being shoulder to shoulder with the Superman, an Aquaman or a Wonder Woman, it did not engender much sympathy for the character. At times, he could be quite alienating.
How could you empathize with such a person? He came across for the most part as gruff, hard and extremely unlikable. Then Scott Snyder came along.
Although initially presenting Bats as even harder and surrounded by a Gotham of absolute weirdness and violence, he also presented another side. By stories end, Snyder had separated Bruce from his Batman persona and, for the first time in any real sense, within real continuity, presented a Bruce Wayne free of the Bat. It was an amazing exercise in highlighting how much there was to Bruce, how much humanity existed underneath it all.
This all lead the groundwork for Tom King’s current run with the character, a run which has highlighted a number of more humanistic beats. It feels that there is a lot more ‘Bruce’ to this Batman than there previously had been.
So, does this strengthen or weaken the character in the long run?
After all, don’t we just want to see our Batman punch the Joker very hard in the mouth multiple times, whilst running impossibly impossible gauntlets of villains and thugs? Don’t we want to see him tortured continuously by insane posses of maddening complexity before eventually overcoming all obstacles and saying something gnarly? Isn’t that the Bats we love? Don’t we just want to see him beat all comers with nothing but a shovel and some gumption and leave all that namby pamby human emotion stuff at the door?
Or has Batman evolved along with his readership? Does the new world demand a new Bats; more human, more humane and vulnerable?
It is very hard to relate to a statue; a representation of something with little nuance. Batman has been in danger of becoming this for some time and although it may lead to many a bad-ass moment, it leaves very little to connect with. Relatibility is the backbone of our heroes and our connection with them. Without something we can attach our emotions and aspirations to, it is hard to care. Bruce’s childhood moment of fallibility, of doubt and loss makes us care; it makes him like us.
It’s a tricky proposition whenever comics enter into real world concerns, especially something as divisive and potentially loaded as youth suicide. If not handled properly it could very easily come off as contrived and exploitative. Yet giving such a known icon, such a strong character whose fortitude is essentially his super power such a circumstance in his past feels like a truly positive move. Dare I say, it might even be inspiring. One could only hope that any young person even vaguely tempted to commit as terrible an act upon themselves would be inspired not to by reading this issue. One would hope that any shame any person might feel in even getting to such a point would be soothed by the knowledge that even a super hero of such stature could succumb to the temptation to commit to such an action.
What this one simple detail shows is that a hero isn’t a hero because of the conflicts he avoids; they become a hero by facing adversity and refusing to bow. Batman facing very real darkness, facing demons not of latex and masks but of the self is a far greater victory than all the Bane’s in the world.
Batman is a hero. Perhaps a greater hero than we realized.