By Brandon Evans — During the two years-plus of DC’s Rebirth era, Batman has seen plenty of action. From a stint in the Dark Multiverse, to space-fairing in No Justice, to planning a wedding…wait, planning a wedding? Yep, Bruce Wayne is tying the knot with Selina Kyle, and now we’re all waiting to see if it’ll actually happen in this Wednesday’s Batman #50 (Editor’s Note: Spoilers are out, but pretend they aren’t—ZQ).
Fans have been anticipating these nuptials since Bruce proposed to Selina in #24…or at least since she said yes a few issues later. We had to get through the War of Jokes and Riddles for the answer. It’s almost odd to think that because Batman was consumed with rage and nearly took Riddler’s life, he questions whether he’s worthy of Selina’s hand in marriage. Really though, I think it speaks to a larger question that has been driving the entirety of Tom King’s Batman run: How much is one life worth?
From King’s first issue, when Batman accepts that he is sacrificing himself for the lives of the passengers on a doomed commercial airline flight, we have seen Bruce trade his own life for those of others. I say that very deliberately. We see BRUCE trading his life, not Batman. I know one of the things people like to argue is that Bruce is the mask, and he is actually Batman all the time.
Anyway, Tom King also did an interesting thing with 10-year-old Bruce in Batman #12. It was during the I Am Suicide story arc, where we saw a clever twist on the title. Naturally, we assumed Bruce was assembling his own Task Force X, or Suicide Squad, to invade Bane’s nation of Santa Prisca. The odds were supposedly impossible, and because Bane was ruler of a sovereign nation-state, the Justice League couldn’t help. Batman, however, was undeterred. He knew surviving the mission was unlikely, and yet he went anyway to again put his life on the line to retrieve the Psycho Pirate in order to heal the shattered psyche of Gotham Girl. In a way, the story title fits that notion, and yet King does something almost too difficult to comprehend on a first read. Look again, and you might wonder: Did Batman just confess to attempting suicide at 10 years old? Why yes, yes, he did. The language is plain and layered over images of Batman single-handedly demolishing a legion of Bane’s heavily-armed soldiers, so it’s easy to miss, but when you read closely it’s clear that Bruce’s hope of a normal life was decidedly self-sacrificed then. He explains that he was crying out for help, and yet nobody came. He realized he was just like everyone else in Gotham, pleading and futile, with nobody coming to help them either. It’s with a grim, yet deft hand King shows us the strength that grows from this heart-wrenching moment of despair. With his own warm blood on his hands, still grasping his father’s razor, Bruce swears his oath to fight a war on crime. What survives is the lonely, dark and brooding Batman we know today.
So, this wrecked little boy becomes a tragic and emotionally-stunted man, constantly seeking to trade his life for others’ wellbeing without daring to enjoy his own existence. Up to this point, Bruce refused to allow himself even a moment of peace. The major thing Tom King has accomplished in Batman so far, however, is showing us that Bruce really should let himself be happy. Until this point, Bruce has believed being Batman and being happy were mutually exclusive. After all he’s been through, including brief encounters with his own parents, Bruce becomes aware of what his parents would have wanted for their son: happiness. Though he cannot bring himself to end his crusade as Batman, he does pursue his love of Selina Kyle and eventually ask for her hand in marriage. Having given himself redemption by saving Gotham Girl and allowing her to move on, Bruce finds some motivation to give himself the happiness he deserves. It’s all a stark contrast to the way previous writer Scott Snyder left the character, having just sacrificed a happy normal life as Bruce Wayne to become Batman again and retake his place as Gotham’s protector at the price of personal peace, because the lives of the many in Gotham outweighed his own.
Another theme King has less-subtly peppered throughout his run on Batman is the astounding psychological trauma his characters are experiencing. I mean, Batman comes to terms with his own death in the first issue, Gotham Girl kills her own brother with her bare hands to save Batman (leaving her broken), Batman makes a measured decision to murder Riddler – only to be stopped by the Joker, of all people – and Poison Ivy falls apart after trying to save the world by taking the entire planet under her control. Oh, and finally there’s Booster Gold’s horrendous experience in the recent story arc, The Gift. I mean, I know Tom King is setting up his superhero PTSD idea Sanctuary to be explored in Heroes in Crisis this fall, but I still find it impressive he is putting these characters through so much. That aside, I think King focuses so squarely on this idea of psychological trauma in Batman because, though incredibly damaged, Bruce is a shining example of finding strength to overcome horrific experiences and ultimately help others. He said nobody came, just like for the rest of Gotham, so he became the one who would answer cries for help.
Tom King is evolving Bruce from a man who simply fights injustice with his fists, to a man who can move past deep-seeded emotional and metal trauma to live the life he so richly deserves. This week, we’ll see if Batman #50 allows Batman to finally be happy, or if a new trauma awaits him at the altar.
Brandon Evans is a freelance writer and comic book lover from St. Louis, MO. He is currently working to find his way into the comic book industry. You can find him on Twitter as @writingbrandon