The 43rd issue of Batman drops like a ton of bricks. There have been those who have filled Bruce’s shoes as Batman (Dick Grayson, Jean-Paul Valley and now Jim Gordon), but it has never been imagined that Bruce wouldn’t return to the cowl. The reality in this issue is that Bruce doesn’t want to go back to being Batman because he can’t. Scott Snyder has dreamt up an otherworldly Batman pretense: Batman dies and he is then healed by the Joker’s dionesium, but the brain forgets all his past training, experience, and most importantly, past pain. For the foreseeable future it seems that Bruce Wayne is only going to be Bruce Wayne. The motivation to become the Dark Knight doesn’t exist for Bruce and this changes Gotham expansively.
Batman #43 shows us how Alfred came to know that Bruce was fundamentally different. Joined by Clark Kent, Alfred explains how Bruce came back from the dead only to be a man whose brain is different from the one pre-Endgame. Scott Snyder wields the perfect tapestry through Alfred. It’s easy to feel the pain coming from Alfred as he tells Clark how he had to explain to Bruce his history. It’s similarly painful to watch Bruce extend his grief to himself as a young boy but not feel the sadness the same way because he is now so different. Alfred is getting ready to explain who Bruce really is when he is stopped because Bruce can’t handle learning anything more. Bruce resigns himself to follow in his mother’s footsteps to help in Gotham schools. Alfred says that Gotham never gives back, but this time may have finally relented in giving Bruce someone to be happy with after he’s given Gotham so much.
Clark, thinking that he can convince Bruce to be Batman again, tells Alfred he’ll deliver the news. Alfred shows Clark that last invention of Bruce’s Batman: an unfinished machine designed to beget generation after generation of the 27 year-old Batman. Alfred relays his acceptance that his machine was never completed because this Bruce was not meant to live more than his one lifetime.
The rest of the issue continues the slow crawl of Mr. Bloom from giveaway drug dealer to Gotham menace. Penguin tries his best to intimate and execute Mr. Bloom, but is reminded that weeds are hard to kill and grow faster than imagined. Meanwhile, Gordon is trapped inside a furnace with no way out and no backup. Surely, there will be some way that Bruce has thought of an out for this scenario. Clark muses with Alfred that Bruce will have everything worked out. For Gordon’s sake Clark better be correct.
Snyder, once again, flips the world of Batman on its head. In a stunning revelation Bruce is alive and well but has no abilities. He is no longer the world’s greatest detective, he may be the best caretaker at the local school but he’s a far cry from the crime fighter of the past. Bruce may have lost all of his abilities but he’s happy. Whether or not this less-stressful lifestyle will stick and satisfy still remains to be seen. Regardless, Snyder is doing an ever-incredible job and continues to ensure that Batman is a monthly must have for all comic fans. This issue, in particular, is extremely emotional, touching, and hopeful and at the same time bitter and fatalistic.
The art is world-class and continues to help elevate Snyder’s words. Greg Capullo draws the most perfect Alfred who, while delivering Bruce’s terrible history, looks like a man who can be blown over with a strong gust of wind. In the same issue there is an extremely bloody shootout, a look into the past, sharks with horns, and multiple stabbings. Capullo is doing a damn fine job and no amount of praise will do justice to the glorious nature of his work. FCO Plascencia colors another beautiful book. The haze-like quality of Alfred’s flashback with Bruce helps try to lighten the lead feeling when reading Alfred’s words to Bruce. The brightness of Bruce’s day are a stark contrast to the 75 years of history of hiding and marauding in the dark.
Batman #43 is a shining example of how a 23-page comic book can have all the heart, action, and mystery of a much longer novel or movie and deliver just as much punch. Snyder is telling a Batman story unlike any told previously. It’s a wonder to behold a new day for Bruce. The hopefulness he has is contagious but it’s scary to see him as just another person. Surely something will happen to draw Bruce back to the cape and that is the scariest thought of all.