Last year, Batman turned 75. This year, everything changed. The Caped Crusader is one of the most important and celebrated superheroes in comics. Part of that pedigree, however, is a certain resistance to change. Batman will always be Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne will always be an orphaned son of privilege, using his wealth in his personal war against crime. Batman will always need a Robin.
However, as a consequence of the sea changes happening in mainstream comics today, Batman isn't the Dark Knight many of us remember. That's actually a good thing. Writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, the creative team behind Batman & Robin Eternal, are now writing at a time when comics seem to be better equipped than ever to tell stories about the issue affecting their audience — most of whom aren't billionaire playboys with a knack for vigilantism. I spoke with the pair at New York Comic Con this weekend, and, according to Snyder, they took the changes as "an opportunity to look at the mythology from a whole new angle."
An opportunity to look at the Batman mythology from a new angle
After fighting a climactic battle with the Joker this year, Bruce Wayne seemingly died, only to later come back with no memory of his ever being Batman. Commissioner Gordon, one of Bruce's oldest allies, took up the mantle in his stead, becoming a police-sanctioned, mechanized version of the superhero. Now, a supporting character trying on a classic hero's costume happen often in comics. (The last time Bruce was "killed" was recent, in fact, with just about everyone under the sun trying to be Batman back in 2009.) However, Snyder and Tynion are taking this "vacation" from the traditional Batman mythos to take a closer look at what Batman means.
"In moments like this," Tynion told me, "you get to tell stories that no one's read before, which is hard to do."
The creators are afforded the opportunity because superhero comics are experiencing an unprecedented moment of creative if not freedom, elasticity. The market enjoys massive pop-cultural relevance, where superheroes crop up in every medium from comic books to movies to games to VR. And creators are competing to write stories that take chances. At a time when series like Ms. Marvel and Saga are at the top of readers and critics' lists, companies are willing to see work that pushes the boundaries of what audiences expect.
"Creators like us have more opportunities to be daring," said Snyder. "On these superhero books, as long as you're true to [the core concept] and love the character at the DNA level, companies are now welcoming calculated risk."
Calculated risk may involve, in the case of Batman & Robin Eternal, dissecting the Batman myth from the perspective of his "child soldiers," the young men and women like Robin, Batgirl, and others who he dragged into his war to save Gotham. Another would be, in the case of Batman #44, to examine his relationship with law enforcement. In the last year, police shootings involving unarmed black youths have led to nationwide outcries from the black community. When Batman is suddenly a cop in 2015, it's impossible to avoid that issue.
"When you have a Batman who believed in the police, you're gonna come up against hard truths."
"Truthfully, when you have a Batman who has believed in the police and believed in the systems and mechanisms that we've put in place in a city like New York or Baltimore or Gotham to protect ourselves, you're gonna get a story where you come up against the hard truths and the entrenched systemic problems that Batman is sometimes gonna see and say 'What do I mean to these [problems]?'"
Both the examinations of the Batman mythos in Batman and Batman & Robin Eternal have only just begun, so it'll take some time before Snyder and Tynion's work really take shape. Bruce Wayne may even be back in the Batsuit by the end. But in the meantime, exploring the character through this new lens is just what needed to happen.