It’s been quite the week for Batman fans, hasn’t it? Much of the public discourse leading up to the release of Detective Comics #1000, due to no fault of its own, has been about the morality of the character, his essence, and what he should stand for in today’s society. Now approaching his 80th birthday, the question of who Bruce Wayne actually is remains worth exploring. Over ten pages, the team of Warren Ellis (writer), Becky Cloonan (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colourist), and Simon Bowland (letterer) offering their answer to that conundrum and in doing so, offer up what may be the platonic ideal of Batman.
“The Batman’s Design” is a story that channels Year One in its visual tone and focus on the Dark Knight’s street-level activities. It steers into the Caped Crusader’s status as an expert tactician by having our hero walk us through his plan to take down a group of semi-religious extremists fueled by an ideology that says “[they’re] not being listened to”. The pages that follow serve to demonstrate Batman’s true superpower: his mind. There is never any doubt of the outcome of these interactions, but is presents the methodology which underpins his ability to deal with any situation and tips the hat to Morrison’s idea of the Bat-God.
Cloonan’s linework when combined with Bellaire’s colours invokes the feel of Mazzucchelli’s work on the character. Bombastic oranges and reds highlight the moments of filled with adrenaline where characters act on instinct or fear. It represented the uncertainty coursing through every fiber of their being as they wait to be picked off one-by-one. In contrast Batman, for most of this story, is bathed in dark blues and greys. His ways are quieter, calmer and motivated by logic. It makes for all the more powerful when Batman has to accept his own fears and uncertainties, becoming surrounded by orange hues as he does.
Bowland’s captions replicate handwritten diary entries helping to draw attention to the honesty that pervades the narration. There is the very real sense that these are the personal thoughts of a deeply secretive and private man laid bare. Being so, Bruce is able to let his guard down to the readers. Part of him acknowledges that he enjoy the violence of his work and yet he also recognises the foolishness of such actions be it brought about by the fist or the barrel of a gun. Indeed, in the end force does not, and cannot, win the day. Empathy does. In the comics’ final moments, we see the kindness and emotional intelligence that betrays Bruce Wayne’s true character.
Ellis, Cloonan, Bellaire, and Bowland’s take on Batman is one that understands the central role that trauma plays in the legend of Bruce Wayne. Trauma turned a frightened little boy into a broken man dedicated to keeping other’s from suffering as he did. He may be vengeance, he may be the night, but man is a fundamentally a creature of empathy. The character’s mission may have begun as an expression of anger against a world that allowed his parents to die in front of him but that has never been his prime motivator. No. What drives Bruce Wayne to do what he does is the same thing that influenced his decision to take an orphaned boy as his ward, to ensure that that young man didn’t end up like him. Empathy has always been the core of Bruce Wayne’s character as much as he may try to deny it. “The Batman’s Design” is a tale that reminds us that even when you’re hurting, when you feel you’re alone, you don’t have to have to give into the hate and the pain. You can chose to live. You can chose to be more. Bruce Wayne couldn’t. Batman exists to ensure others can. There is arguably no better encapsulation of why the Dark Knight’s legacy has endured than this creative team’s contribution to Detective Comics #1000.
A review copy was kindly provided by the publisher.