For 70 years, Americans have had one man they were able to look up to, certainly not as a role model, but as an inspiration of sorts. I am speaking, of course, about Batman. How many times has Yours Truly donned a forest creature costume in an attempt to fight crime out here in the Northern woods? Admittedly, this idea was not so clever, as I found myself shot three years in a row while dressed as Deer Man. I have since retired, but I owe all the memories to my mentor, Bruce Wayne.
Thanks to countless comic books, TV shows, movies and video games, Batman has become one of the best known, and most beloved, fictional characters of our time. Batman was created by Bob Kane, and first appeared in 1939. Due to the DC Comics tradition of telling stories in multiple universes, it is somewhat difficult to give an accurate history of the character, but here is a brief bio: Bruce Wayne is the impossibly rich orphaned son of doctor Thomas Wayne and his wife Martha, who were shot down by a street thug in Gotham City’s Crime Alley — an event prompting Bruce to swear vengeance upon the criminals of Gotham. Young Master Wayne travels the world for many years, studying martial arts, meditation, and self-discipline. He returns to become the savior of crime-plagued Gotham City.
Many hard times befell the Dark Knight during his tenure as Gotham’s resident hero: a murdered partner, kidnapped or assaulted friends, lost loves, loneliness, insanity, a snapped back.
The past decade has been particularly hard on the Bat. In 2005, comics legend Grant Morrison’s work on the series JLA revealed a mistake by Batman that nearly led to the annihilation of the greatest superhero team in the universe. Morrison took over writing Batman in 2006, with all his stories pointing to the ultimate end of Bruce Wayne’s run as the Caped Crusader.
In order to understand the full story, you must read both Morrison’s Batman R.I.P. series and his recently concluded Final Crisis. Neither arc can be fully appreciated without the other. I do not intend to ruin the story for interested readers, but let me just say it is among Morrison’s finest work, and a fitting end for a near-mythic figure.
The final two books of the Bruce Wayne story (for now) are being written by another comics icon, Neil Gaiman (who was recently awarded the Newbery Medal for his young adult novel The Graveyard Book). The first is on shelves now, with the final issue due in mid-April.
Fear not, Batfans, there are sure to be many Dark Knight tales to come, with the battle for who will next take up the cowl kicking off in early March with the appropriately titled Battle for the Cowl.
So while this is certainly not be the last we’ll see of the bat in black, it does represent the official end of Bruce Wayne as Batman. As a lifelong fan, I must say two things: to Grant Morrison, nicely handled. Knocking off a beloved character takes balls and brains, and Morrison seems to have both to share. To the rest of DC Comics, you’re working with a multi-million dollar franchise and a legendary character. don’t screw this up. . .