WARNING: the following paragraphs may spoil a couple of recent Batman stories, but if you didn’t already read them you probably don’t care all that much, so I’m not sure who this little charade is for. Still, forewarned is forearmed, right?
Although I’ve been on board the book since before the 52 were New, I have not been a lifelong reader of Batman. I’m sure that a lot of you in the loyal iFanbase here have been with the Caped Crusader since at least the Jean-Luc Whatshisname days, though, if not before. With that in mind, maybe one of you can tell me: is there a storyline somewhere near the heart of the cherished part of the canon where everyone in Gotham City suffers a traumatic brain injury at the same time? Am I giving them too much of a hard time about Bruce Wayne’s very, very, very very obvious, often-quite-literally-and-very-closely-staring-them-in-the-face secret identity when I should actually be really proud of them just for maintaining as well as they are?
I don’t know whether it’s Gotham, or whether it’s writer Scott Snyder, or whether it’s me, but someone somewhere is daring me to drop this book.
We’ve been reading Batman together for the last year or so, right? Of course we have. We have been calling it our communal Pick of the Week practically every time it comes out. We think Batman is a great book.
Why do we think that?
I know there is no “how do his friends not immediately see through his secret identity?” joke that hasn’t already been made, so I won’t waste your time (I’ll save it for my killer chunk about airplane food) but there’s suspending your disbelief and then there’s lashing it to a pole like a hurricane is coming. These last few arcs of Batman have made me want to hand-write apologies for all the times I rolled my eyes at authors who had the villain deduce that Peter Parker “must be a friend of Spider-Man’s.”
Bruce Wayne is, at this point in Scott Snyder’s run, behaving like one of those serial killers on an episode of Dateline NBC who wants to get caught. He is one issue away from sending taunting letters to the cops that “accidentally” have Wayne Manor return address labels on them. (If all of this were building to the epic “Bruce Wayne’s Cry For Help” storyline, by the way, I’d get Scott Snyder an Eisner if I had to break into Eisner’s tomb to do it.)
For the moment, let us leave aside the storyline about a secret, omniscient Court of Owls who see all, hear all, and are everywhere up to and including behind the cracks in every floor of every building. We just finished a story in which the Joker proved that he knew where the Batcave was, kidnapped Alfred, tortured all of Bruce’s children, and then disappeared, leaving the World’s Greatest Detective to deal with his disappearance by saying, “Well, he seems probably dead. By the way, once I went to his cell and tried to explicitly tell him I was Batman on purpose to see what he would do, but I’m pretty sure he was doing that ‘la la la, I am not listening’ thing aaanyway, who wants to go out for milkshakes?”
This was followed up by issues #19 and #20, of course, when Clayface’s newfound powers gave him the ability to out Batman by touching him. Batman was able to deflect this by saying, “A-ha, but I am wearing Bat-Saran Wrap over my face with Bruce Wayne’s DNA on it!” without any one of the police detectives he was saying this to replying, “All right, but why were you wearing that? When exactly did you stop to put it on? Do you have a lot fake skin with other people’s… ‘DNA’ on it? Just around? Where are you getting enough… ‘DNA’? When are the other times you use that?” Having convinced everyone that his identity remains a mystery, Batman then hears Clayface say “Bruce Wayne doesn’t love his kids” and loses his mind on him. The police detectives see this and think, “What a good friend Batman is.”
There comes a time when the characters are so stupid, you have to stop thinking, “Yikes, they are stupid” and start thinking, “I’m reading this; am I stupid?”
“It’s comics,” they will say to me when they see this. We expect our comics to be serious-as-a-dead-child stories about open-mouthed dum-dums who could still believe in the Tooth Fairy. It’s not a bug; it’s a feature. That “Joker fell in water; guess he’s dead” thing alone has been done so many times this most recent one was probably a “reference.” But maybe we have put so many spins on that classic story (from the forties, for eight year olds) that we have upped the ante past the maximum safe ante height. Any more, it’s just rubbing our noses in the mess we’ve made. Imagine the next poor sap who has to write a Joker story. For Batgirl.
I realize that this tightness in my craw is at least indirectly Marvel’s fault. They have had their share of whoppers, no doubt, but over the course of my reading history they have started leaving the whole “secret identity” area behind. Of course it still comes in handy from time to time– what would Daredevil be without it?– but Spider-Man is the only one who gets any real play out of it anymore. In the sixties, one of the things that made the Fantastic Four unique is that they didn’t wear masks, or even uniforms at first. The more X-Manhood became a racial thing, the more they followed suit; you don’t really see many of the mutants covering their faces these days (other than Wolverine, who is wise to be covering both his face and his ass after having killed more people than cancer). Over time, your Iron Men and Captains America have gotten exhausted coming up with excuses for why they were late to the theater, so they just started using the amazing true one they had. Everyone got familiar with one another, and everyone joined every team, and the battlefield got more and more like a workplace. And so it came to pass that I found myself reading about pitched superhero battles where flying people in rainbow raiment bolt into the fray shouting, “For Steve!!!” Going from that to whatever citywide codependency is going on in Gotham will give a man whiplash.
I will leave it up to you to tell me: have I become too jaded, or not jaded enough? Should I be giving Batman a break? What am I missing? Because I know what Jim Gordon is missing, and it’s driving me batty.
Jim Mroczkowski uses his real name and photo. You should try it.