Heavy Metal or Why the All-New Batman Totally Rocks

Bruce Wayne who? The most entertaining Batman story in sometime finds Commissioner Gordon donning the cowl.

Batman #41 is one of the most fun, fresh and exciting single issues of Batman seen in a while. It’s the story of Batman still learning how to use to his brand new, state-of-the-art batsuit, but it’s the clever one-liners and riveting action that make for a truly entertaining read. Oh, and did I mention that Bruce Wayne is nowhere to be found?

Writer Scott Snyder, who has offered up a number of ambitious plot lines for Batman’s titular series since the New 52 launched in 2011, has once again shaken things up for old Bats with his most recent story arc, “Superheavy”. Snyder’s storytelling is so powerful, its effects are felt in a number of other Batman and Batman-adjacent titles including Batgirl, Detective, Batman/Superman and even Catwoman.

“Superheavy” is part of DC’s new “DC You” initiative, which aims for accessibility by focusing on story rather than continuity. “Expect The Unexpected,” reads the large, bolded header on the opening page of DC Comics’ free comic book day sampler. And Snyder has taken that storytelling mentality to heart in a move that is highly controversial for Batman purists. He made Commissioner Gordon the new Batman.

From Batman #41 by Snyder and Capullo, published by DC.

In the aftermath of Snyder’s epic “Endgame” storyline, Batman has vanished and is presumed dead. The prospect of a Batman-less Gotham is a frightening one. So, the Gotham police team up with the Powers International Corporation to take the Batman into their own hands, so to speak. Their idea is simple: create a cop-controlled Batman to find and arrest the city’s deranged criminals and vigilantes.

It’s important to realize that what makes Batman #41 and the “Superheavy” story so entertaining is the writing and not the concept of a new Batman itself. Besides, this isn’t the first time someone besides Bruce Wayne put on the cowl. Grant Morrison famously promoted Dick Grayson to Batman alongside Damian Wayne as Robin during his 2009 run on Batman and Robin. And on television, Terry McGinnis was Batman for years during the series run of Batman Beyond, which saw the teenager mentored by an aging Wayne.

But Snyder’s take on Gordon, who is mostly known as the grizzled, veteran cop presence in the Batman mythos, truly shapes the narrative. Snyder gives depth to the character by keying in on his human, thoughtful side. The danger and unpredictability in becoming Batman weighs heavily on Gordon, and he tries to reason with himself that becoming Batman is the right move. What “…If Batman could show the people that the system can work? That it can help people?” Gordon asks Harvey Bullock in Batman #41.

Early on in the same issue, Gordon and Powers International CEO Geri Powers watch a sparring exercise between top recruits in the police academy’s graduating class, but both of them know that they’re far too young and inexperienced to handle a job like becoming the new Batman. So, while he’s reluctant at first, Gordon soon understands that his marine background and knowledge of the city make him the right man for the job.

But it’s not as easy as slipping on the cowl. Gordon’s new suit is something else. It’s big, shiny, and blue, but far more armored and robotic than anything we’re used to from the dark knight. It sort of looks like Batman, if Batman were more like a Pacific Rim “Jaeger”. Its only recognizable Batman-like traits are the bat symbol on the chest and the knife-like antennas jetting up from the head. When the suit was initially revealed online earlier this spring, a similar sentiment echoed throughout the twitterverse: It kind of looks like a robot bunny?

Honestly, it kind of does. But Snyder, a great tweeter himself, was not tone deaf to the reaction, which resulted in one of Batman #41’s most chuckle-worthy moments.

From Batman #41 by Snyder and Capullo, published by DC.

This kind of savvy, self-aware writing would be refreshing in any comic, much less Batman. Plus, that’s not the only easter egg embedded within the issue. A page later, Snyder unleashes his sub-commentary on art and advertisements sharing the same page.

Then there’s the way the “Superheavy” arc sends ripples throughout the Batman universe. There’s an exceptionally touching scene in Batgirl #41 where Gordon comes clean about his double life as Batman to his daughter Barbara, who herself is leading a double life as Batgirl. Gordon buys Barbara an ice cream cone and takes her on a walk in the park just as he used to do when she was a child. They start with some lighthearted chitchat before Gordon’s mood suddenly takes a serious shift upon admitting to Barbara that he’s the new Batman.

His honesty is met with shock and awe from Barbara, but Gordon doesn’t care. He has to let her know in case he gets hurt on the job. But that’s what it is, his job. Then it all comes to a head at the issue’s conclusion when Batman targets Batgirl, which should make for some interesting dinner conversations down the line, but for now it’s nicely crafted bat-family drama.

From Batgirl #41 by Fletcher, Stewart and Tarr, published by DC.

One of the most absorbing aspects of the all-new Batman is witnessing Gordon learning how to be Batman on the fly. In Detective #42, a gang of mysterious criminals manage to disable the batsuit, leaving Gordon unable to move his legs. The cops then have to come to the aid of Batman for a change. Gordon is embarrassed and shaken, but Bullock reassures him in his typical indifferent tone and tells Gordon, “I ain’t much for pep talks Jimmy…but this is probably the part where I say that it takes time. You win some, you lose some.”

From Detective #42 by Buccellato and Manapul, published by DC.

If you still can’t quite wrap your head around how there can be a Batman without Bruce Wayne, don’t worry. I opened by stating that Wayne is nowhere to be found in Batman #41, but that’s not entirely true. The issue’s final page shows a shadowy figure on a park bench that a passerby identifies as Bruce Wayne. So, it seems more than likely he will take up the cowl once again.

But for now, a Jim Gordon Batman, guided by the brilliance of Snyder and well executed by a number of other fantastic writers at the helm of the Batman-related titles, is an idea that’s so crazy it works. Although I was initially skeptical, Gordon’s Batman ushers in another layer to the deep, rich history of the character, including the idea that above all, Batman is a symbol. As long as there’s someone who believes in the idea of Batman and is willing to take up the mantle, then Batman will live on and, most likely, outlive, Bruce Wayne.

What does remain to be seen are the consequences of using Batman as an arm of the law. I’m guessing there will soon be an impetus that reunites Wayne and the cowl. Until then, Gotham’s new robot-bunny, Jim Gordon Batman is an exciting, compelling, but most importantly, highly enjoyable take on the dark knight. In Gordon’s own words from DC’s free comic book day sampler, “Let’s go have some fun.”