Slight spoiler warnings. I’m not even sure how to sum this one up, but don’t take that as a bad omen for this story. I enjoyed it very much, but there’s so much going on here that it’s not easy to try to sum it up in a few words. However, I’ll try. Basically, this chronicles Batman’s descent into madness and his “death.” Batman has always led a troubled existence where he’s sometimes struggled with whether his actions as the caped crusader really do more harm than good.
Those feelings seemed to have come to a head in this arc where we read about his quest to understand madness. Batman becomes obsessed with a wealthy crime organization known as The Black Glove led by Dr. Hurt—who unbeknownst to Batman implanted a trigger word deep into his subconscious that would turn him into a madman. When the trigger word is finally used against him, Batman withdraws from life, living on the streets in a seemingly mad state, leaving Gotham prey to a crime spree orchestrated by The Black Glove.
I wouldn’t recommend this for the casual reader. You need to have a little knowledge of Batman and his world before diving into this. I read a few stories leading up to this arc, and I still had to feel my way around with the story a little bit. However, even though I still have some questions about the events leading up to this arc, I enjoyed this.
I’m a sucker for this kind of psychological mind trip, and it was fascinating to watch Batman go through this madness while still trying to be Batman. And the funny thing was that Dr. Hurt kept saying that Batman was done, that with his sanity gone he was just a shell of a nightmare. However, Batman said that sanity, which he equates with his “Bruce” personality, was the only thing keeping Batman in check.
The story also centered partly on Robin and Spoiler (in a tie-in Robin #175 and Robin #176) with some supporting scenes from Nightwing and faces familiar from Batman Inc. Robin realizes that something is wrong, that Bruce has been brainwashed in some way, and he sets out on a personal journey to find out the extent of the damage in order to know what his next move should be. We learn about Batman’s 49 days of solitude leading up to these events through Robin’s story. Spoiler helps and hinders him in some ways, which she reveals her reasons for at the end, and the tension between Robin and her is palpable due to her not revealing that she was alive all the time Robin thought she was dead.
The Joker was a break out performance for me. I have to say this is one of the creepiest ways he’s ever been depicted. He reminds me of Jack Torrance from The Shining as he appeared in the picture at the end. He also seemed to be channeling Pyramid Head in some ways with his body apron and knives. In his own sick, twisted way, he seems to be Batman’s biggest adversary and his greatest advocate. He’s chillingly disturbing here, maybe even more so than he was in Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Of course, the arc ends with Batman being aware of everything that has happened to him. Part of my beef with Batman was how he just seems to know everything. I know he has to stay one step ahead of the game, especially since he’s a non-powered hero, but there was little mystery left after you realize that Batman has played the game better than The Black Glove. However, it was spun in such a way that it didn’t come off forced or silly, just typical of Batman. The arc also ends on an ambiguous note. Did Batman really die or didn’t he? We all know the answer to that question, but it still makes for an interesting read.