Batman #129: Batman vs. a monster of his own making!
So…over the past few months, while lamenting the overused tropes that appear in Zdarsky’s run thus far, I’ve always held out hope that the story can still stand out as a unique take on those points of view. the plot.
Good news! Basically, I think that distinction finally started to take shape in Batman #129.
To be fair to me, my various criticisms of early issues of Chip Zdarsky’s Batman run still hold true in these issues. They retread many of the same issues that have been raised by other Batman writers over the past 6 years or so – the questions of whether Batman can be happy and whether it’s reasonable to have children as “soldiers”. in his war. Of course, the last issue didn’t help, ending as it did on the third authoritarian takeover of Gotham City in the last 4 or 5 years… – and the fourth widespread takeover when you count Joker War.
It’s always true. But as soon as Batman #129, the specific angle that Zdarsky is taking is starting to become clear and it’s quite interesting.
To explain, in both “City of Bane” and “Fear State”/”Future State”, Gotham fell under the control of a fascist regime that took strict control of the streets as well as the lives of the people who lived there. City of Bane, in particular, seemed to take the position that Bane’s takeover of Gotham resulted in a calmer, more peaceful city and the reformation of nearly all of Gotham’s major criminals…and then argued that, despite this, the regime was unacceptable because it took totalitarianism to maintain these results.
In other words, this story posed a classic question: Is safety worth the cost of losing your freedom? Because it’s a comic, that question became literal because Psycho Pirate was controlling people’s emotions, but the metaphor was clear.
This is where the difference lies. When we land on the first page of Failsafe Part 5, it immediately becomes clear that Failsafe hasn’t made Gotham City any safer or more peaceful. Quite the contrary – by capturing and imprisoning the Batfamily, Failsafe robbed the city of its defenders and allowed crime to run rampant. Gotham City has descended into chaos as the darkness that has always lurked in the heart of the city boldly steps towards the light.
To make this point, Zdarsky uses another oft-used Batman trope: a couple and a child approached by potential danger, evoking the murders of the Waynes all those years ago. Usually these scenes are used to establish that Batman’s presence had the effect he wants as he or another member of his circle prevents the murder, but not this time. Instead, the family is ruthlessly shot in plain sight from the street, while cowering people watch from the window.
In short, Gotham is on metaphorical fire. Worse, the damage done to Gotham itself isn’t without purpose – by forcing Gotham to suffer, Failsafe knows he’s created a trap that Batman can’t help but fall into. Additionally, he cannot rely on his fellow superheroes to intervene, as his creation is crafted with all his knowledge of their tactics and weaknesses, as well as the technology to counter those tactics and take advantage of those vulnerabilities.
This leaves Bruce himself in a difficult position. If he goes to Failsafe, he will undoubtedly be mercilessly killed. If he doesn’t, Failsafe will continue to smash his foot on his town and fend off any rescue attempts from outside.
Of course, it’s Batman, and Batman is a hero, so there’s no harm in deciding.
That doesn’t mean Bruce is going to ease into this bad night, of course. First, he hatches a new plan to take on Failsafe… and while that seems doomed given the previously mentioned programming… the Batman who created Failsafe was a younger, less experienced version of him, this which can open up the possibility of finding a plan that his younger self couldn’t have programmed a way around. Therefore, Batman prepares a trap for Failsafe…but the trap, whether he succeeds or not, may itself prove deadly.
This problem is awesome, honestly. I’m not going to pretend that the previous concerns were unfair – despite Failsafe’s different approach to Gotham’s hostile takeover, I maintain that the themes and plot points themselves are overused. Even so, changing the expression changes the message communicated.
Mind you, I certainly don’t mean that the Bane takeover or the magistrate takeovers were portrayed in a positive light. I just want to say that the argument for why these groups were bad was mostly that freedom was too high a price for safety, whereas Failsafe’s argument is more like “No, no, that’s just bad, full stop”. I don’t mean that Zdarsky planned it that way, but the message is quite timely now.
As for Failsafe himself, it’s a safe bet that the eventual cause of his defeat was announced as early as the second part of the story arc. As the creation of Zurr En Arr, Failsafe is designed to assume that Batman’s only priority is Gotham itself. While talking to the captured Nightwing, it suggests that Batman won’t care about the suffering of his family and allies as they are just soldiers to him, and he knows Failsafe won’t kill them.
Going back to the start of the story when Batman handed over his body to Zurr En Arr, it’s obvious that this perspective is a result of Zurr En Arr’s mindset and his role as a sort of Batman without Bruce Wayne. It was a blind spot in understanding this personality that ultimately made Bruce regain control. Will this serve as a foreshadowing of Failsafe’s eventual mistake – the blind spot that also allows Batman to outrun a machine?
That’s a good question, and I’ll be listening to find out.
It probably goes without saying, but Jimenez is in great shape this month, as he usually is. His work took on a dark, almost unfinished look, with figures and structures defined largely by their shadows and almost sketchy lines.
It’s not a complaint. The style is appropriate for Batman and lends a heavy mood – a certain gravity – to the events of the story. It also doesn’t stop the work itself from being stunning…especially when Jimenez works with non-standard environments like, say, water. Or space.
…In any event!
Moving on to the backup story, we continue I Am a Gun, the story of Batman’s youth with Zurr En Arr’s Batman. We join the story with the Joker, whose fast-paced antics begin to bring out Zurr En Arr’s extreme tendencies. I’m not the biggest fan of Zurr En Arr. This whole idea always seemed to veer a little too close to the “Batman belongs in Arkham” theory. That said, it’s not hard to see where this story is going – and what may have led to the creation of Failsafe – and as justifications, it’s a good idea.
Leonardo Romero and Jordie Bellaire manage the work of art masterfully. It’s pretty wild – and a little disturbing – to see those destructive thoughts and urges peeking out through the flat, saturated, 1960s-style Batman lurking in the back of Bruce’s mind.
It’s usually just a really solid back-up story, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
Finally, I realize that I don’t normally talk about covers in my reviews, but every cover this month is phenomenal. So there’s that too.