Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Greg Capullo, Mark “Jock” Simpson, Danny Miki
In March 2015, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo affirmatively killed Batman at the climax of their “Endgame” storyline. That’s not a misnomer; the follow-on story which is partially encompassed by “Superheavy” affirms that Bruce Wayne died at the end of the story. In fact, the close of Snyder and Capullo’s seventh volume effectively gives readers a complete New 52 Batman story, covering the character’s birth in “Zero Year,” two game-changing battles with the Joker, an exploration of the Waynes’ involvement in the darker aspects of Gotham history in “The Court of Owls,” and finally, Batman’s death. Effectively, one could read the duo’s run from Volumes 1 to 7 and have a complete and tragic sight picture of the New 52’s Batman.
Enter Volume 8, in which Snyder–perhaps taking a page from the Arthur Conan Doyle playbook–in which Bruce Wayne overcomes his Reichenbach Falls moment. That said, the authors and company decided to do one of those classic “replace the hero” moments which was so popular in the 1990s and is frequently invoked again today. In the aftermath of the Joker fight, Bruce Wayne is amnesiac and Batman has been replaced by a corporate law-enforcement program with Commissioner Gordon wearing a robotic variation of the bat-suit. The internet predictably panicked over this, although Scott Snyder was extremely honest up front that this would be a year-long story in which Bruce would return to his role as Batman by issue #50. In the meantime, we should see if we can get some fun out of it.
Superheavy collects the first half of this storyline (which, in real time, should be wrapped up by May in time for Snyder’s apparent departure from the Batman title), encompassing issues #41-45 and the short story from 2015’s Divergence special which introduced Bat-Gordon. There’s really two stories running in tandem here which, unfortunately, don’t really start to converge until the issues which will be collected in the next volume. The first is how James Gordon deals with having inherited the Batman role. At least as far as this volume is concerned, Snyder isn’t going the usual route of exploring whether Gordon can truly and properly fill the Bat-role, the way prior stories with Azrael and Dick Grayson have done. We know he can’t, and Gordon knows he can’t as well. A speech by Julia Pennyworth, acting as Gordon’s shadow, reminds him that he shouldn’t get caught up in being Batman. In that sense, Gordon never stops being the cop he’s always been, even if he’s now doing it in a high-tech Bat-suit. Gotham still has crime to fight.
Running parallel is the issue of what to do with a Bruce Wayne who’s no longer Batman. Unlike the absurdity of The Dark Knight Rises‘ finale–where Bruce bafflingly quits being Batman–Superheavy gives us a Bruce whose mind has been wiped, extinguishing the trauma which gave birth to the hero. As Alfred describes it, this is a “true” Bruce Wayne who, without trauma, can live a normal life. We readers know this won’t last, and Snyder blatantly plants the seeds to Batman’s restoration in the story. Still, it’s an opportunity to explore the question of how Batman should continue. As a hero, he performs a critical role in Gotham City, and yet Bruce Wayne is mortal. Snyder has played with the various aspects of how Batman can go on–successors in the various Robins; a cloning program to keep Batman alive in perpetuity; the citizens of Gotham themselves taking the role in spirit. Still, Superheavy lays hints that there is something fundamental about Bruce Wayne himself that no other person can replicate. These issues, of course, come to a head in the next volume.
That is the unfortunate thing about Superheavy, in that it’s an incomplete story, the first part of a larger whole. The volume quite literally ends on a cliffhanger, with Bat-Gordon engaging the significant threat of this arc, the new villain Mr. Bloom. This truly is a character that has to be seen to be believed, as distilling him to a “flower-based villain” doesn’t do him justice. The modernized version of Poison Ivy has been a similarly plant-based threat, although Bloom’s methods are much more insidious, with Snyder working authentic plant trivia into the villain’s modus operandi. His motivations are equally terrifying, playing off 21st-century America’s fears of racial and class warfare. It’s good stuff, but again, it won’t really come together for the reader until the second half of this story in the next volume.
But if you’ll pardon the pun, we do get seeds of Bloom’s plans and how Bruce Wayne is the natural foil to them in “A Simple Case,” a single story (co-written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Jock) which serves as a prequel to the larger Superheavy story. A flashback to five years earlier, it tells a Bruce-as-Batman story where the hero searches for the who, what, and why in the unexplained death of a young black man. Though “A Simple Case” is firmly rooted in the strange world DC’s freakish Gotham City, it speaks volumes to our real-world approaches to crime. Much like ourselves, this younger Batman sees crime as a problem to be punished. Here, Batman learns a valuable lesson in that crime has social and economic roots, and that we often attack the effects rather than the causes.
“A Simple Case” received a great deal of acclaim for its social commentary and was well-received as a welcome change from the larger Bat-Gordon story. Unfortunatley, DC has chosen to publish Superheavy in release order, meaning that “A Simple Case” (issue #44) is reprinted exactly as it came out–in the middle of a bigger fight sequence. On a monthly publishing schedule, this is forgiveable; in a collected edition, it’s not. It would have been more effective if “A Simple Case” were reprinted in the front of the volume so that it could serve as a prelude and not interrupt Snyder and Capullo’s larger story. Hopefully DC corrects this before the final release of Superheavy.
That aside, Superheavy is a fun romp which radically rearranges the pieces of the Batman chessboard with the understanding that they’ll all be put back in order by the end. It will take us two volumes to get there, so Superheavy is woefully incomplete in that regard–but its publication is a good opportunity for readers coming in for Batman #50’s big finish to get caught up on the story.
Rating: Four and a half out of five Bat-bunnies.
Batman Vol. 8: Superheavy will be released on March 22, 2016.