The One Batman Comic You Need to Read to Truly Understand Pattinson’s ‘The Batman’
What is Batman? There are, of course, easy answers to this riddle: a superhero, the world’s greatest detective, a dark knight. All of these have their merits. But if you dig a little deeper, peel back the layers of Bruce Wayne’s mind, you’ll find there’s so much more to Batman than that. Something psychological? Supernatural? The death dream of a 10-year-old boy who never matured after his parents were murdered? The real answer lies in all of these theories, at least that’s what Darwyn Cooke hypothesized in his one-shot, Batman: Ego – A psychotic slide into the heart of darknesspublished by DC Comics in 2000.
With the release of The Batman this week, and a few hours away for some of the more eager fans, I started thinking about what would be the one Batman story I would recommend to those waiting for the release of The Batmanor those looking for some sort of nightcap after watching the movie.
Naturally, there are plenty of options, many of which have already been cited by director Matt Reeves and every other director to take on the character over the past 33 years. Batman: Year One, Batman: The Long Halloween“The Falling Man” and Return of the Dark Knight all played their part in forming the Batmen of Burton, Nolan and Snyder. Schumacher had his own influences, of the more camp variety, with Dick Sprang’s Batman comics of the 40s and 50s. Rather than stumble upon stories that have been discussed and deconstructed over and over again, I turned my attention to one of the first stories The Batman director, Matt Reeves, pointed out as an influence on The Batmanand perhaps the most under-read on his list, Ego.
Shorter than most of the aforementioned stories, Ego is a psychological examination of Bruce Wayne that views Wayne and Batman as two separate entities sharing a body and their war against each other following a traumatic experience. The story begins with Batman chasing down an informant, Buster Snibbs, following the Clown Prince of Crime killing spree that left 27 people dead. Snibbs, who worked for the Joker, is on the run, and Batman thinks he’s gotten away with the money he stole during the Joker’s crime spree.
The truth is much darker. The Joker knew Snibbs had turned him in and promised that when he got out of Arkham he would make sure his family paid the price. Unable to cope with the thought of his wife and daughter dying terrible deaths at the hands of the Joker, he killed them himself. Snibbs blames Batman for the fallout, for using him and putting his family in danger, before killing himself.
One of the frequent criticisms about Batman as a character, one that I think comes more from those who are only familiar with the movies than those who are well versed in the comics, is that there is no no responsibility for his actions. He may not kill, but he certainly creates the path for criminals to end up in a death box. Snibbs’ murder of his own family forces Bruce to remember his parents’ deaths, but also his father’s work as a doctor, saving lives. He considers giving up on Batman, when, a monstrous apparition of his alter-ego appears berating him for his weakness, his doubt, his fear of doing what needs to be done to save Gotham. When it comes to the rationale for Batman’s no-kill policy, Cooke cuts to the heart.
Bruce knows that if he gives in, sacrifices himself, and lets Batman take over, he’ll be no different than a monster like the Joker. Batman suggests that they take a page from their old friend Harvey Dent and fully embrace dissociative identity disorder, leaving Bruce free from the brunt of Batman’s actions. Bruce refuses to hand over control to the Batman. He has another option, kill the Batman, part with him completely, but if he does, he does it knowing that it would be suicide and that Bruce Wayne only exists, only survived in the driveway where his parents were killed because of the Batman. .
The decision Bruce makes isn’t unexpected, but it’s the journey to get there that makes Ego such a fascinating read. And with the word that The Batman will grapple with the distinction between Wayne and Batman, and if there is even such a thing, more than any of the previous films, Ego’s influence is clear. But do not get me wrong, Ego is not a dry psychological thesis essay on the character.
Cooke, who sadly passed away from cancer in 2016, made his DC debut as a screenwriter for Batman: The Animated Serieswho many, myself included, consider the definitive, non-comical version of Batman. Ego shares a stylistic sensibility with The animated series, giving the dark nature of the story an digestible format. Presenting itself as an “easy read”, with more cartoonish character designs, the depth to which the story goes is surprising, and everything about Wayne’s relationship with his parents, with death, with women , his villains and Robin is interrogated in a new way. You’ve probably seen Batman’s parents die many times, but never quite like this.
While it certainly doesn’t look as mature as the works of Frank Miller or Dennis O’Neil, Batman: Ego is one of the most mature Batman stories, making it perfect for a film that’s shaping up to be Batman’s most mature theatrical portrayal.
The Batman is out in theaters now.
This is the deluxe edition of Batman: Ego