He may be the best DC has to offer (sorry, Superman), but few iconic comic characters have had it harder than Batman. His tragedy began from his inception: a superhero born by the death of his parents.
The real tragedy of Batman, however, lies not in the death of his parents, not in the death of himself, but in his many returns. The number of times he's been decimated and reborn, figuratively and literally, put Catwoman's nine lives to shame. (And that includes the years you took from her, Ms. Berry.)
While the comics would recover from Batman on parade long before 1989, it took until then for Tim Burton's Batman to save the character on a more mainstream front. Batman returned again in '92, cementing his role in film... Forever, or until Val Kilmer and Joel Schumacher took a turn at the franchise. If Batman Forever was the knife in Batman's side, 1997's Batman and Robin, aided by George Clooney, bat nipples and Arnold Schwarzenegger, was the twist of it. Batman, while extremely successful in the comic world and even more riveting as a weekday animated series, was dead again.
Of course, Batman would Begin again in 2005, and continue with
But while Wayne is set to answer any Hollywood-initiated Bat signal, what of the source material? Long before Bruce Wayne was turning pages in the executive offices of Warner Bros, he was turning pages in homes across America on a weekly basis.
But in the world of comics, nothing -- and no one -- stays dead for long. Least of all a character who's survived Adam West, Val Kilmer and George Clooney's portrayals. Dick Grayson, formerly Robin and later Nightwing, has assumed all Bat-duties (guanos?), filling Bruce's void in the DC Universe as Batman.
Wherein lies the tragedy. While the death of an icon and the ascension of his ward could lead to intense and long-awaited character development, especially in the case of the pop-culture-celebrated Batman and Robin, timing is everything. And unfortunately, in 2007, DC's chief competitor Marvel Comics killed off its own flagship hero without any real superpowers: Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. (Ironically amidst the Bush administration.)
Before that, Captain America's original sidekick, Bucky Barnes (the poor man's Robin in his day), made an unexpected return -- first as the cult-favorite Winter Soldier, and after Cap's death, as the new Captain America.
Though it's certainly not uncommon for comic characters to die, or for characters to evolve from sidekick to title star, this would begin a comparison that would arguably cheapen the latter of the "deaths" and sidekick storylines. Batman and Captain America, while not strikingly similar, had already been compared in the past: two characters, more man than Superman, relying on wit and ingenuity to forge a better tomorrow for the worlds they protect. Two characters relying on shields and utilty belts.
Steve Rogers has since returned to a world where his former sidekick has assumed his superhero identity, after having been lost, and remember this for later, in time.
The very fact that Batman was classified as deceased by characters within DC's pages -- more so than by the company's editorial staff -- in comparison to Captain America's CNN-headlining death, should have signaled, of course, his speedy recovery.
Grant Morrison, deconstructor and reconstructor of recent Batman lore, will write the series. In an interview with USA Today, the writer called it "the latest chapter in the long-running, 'definitive' Batman epic I've been trying to pull off since 2005," while simultaneously promising the mini-series (told in six parts) will "read as a complete story on its own."
He continued to call it "Bruce Wayne's ultimate challenge -- Batman vs. history itself," a battle which is supported by Andy Kubert's concept art, released alongside the news that Wayne would find his way back (are you ready?) through time to Gotham City. Fans will get to see everything from a Pilgrim-Era Batman to a Pirate Batman.
As Rogers will surely dethrone Bucky, one can only assume that Wayne's return will bring an end to Dick Grayson's tenure as Batman, if not sooner rather than later: he and other characters currently featured in the spotlight will not receive their much-deserved due. But even greater a tragedy is that Wayne's return has been announced just after Captain America: Reborn. The Bat books have never been more interesting than they are now, and I could have lived another lifetime without seeing Batman as a pirate.
Perhaps Batman's "greatest" return will be his greatest demise, but likely won't be -- especially under DC's new leadership. Comic fans are rarely as forgiving as the average moviegoer, and just as a "death" should count, so should a rebirth. I'm a fan of Bruce Wayne, and surely there are wonderful stories to come from his ill-timed return, but I will say this: at least Captain America had the decency to stay dead for as long as he did.
Dick Grayson deserved at least the time Bucky Barnes received in his mentor's tights. And Bruce Wayne, after years of Hollywood horrors, deserved a longer rest from the week-to-week of comicdom.
But Marvel has almost always had more buck to play with. Maybe DC needs the sales.