How do you replace the Batman?
You build a new one.
In the absence of its most powerful and (in)famous hero, Gotham City gets a new hero, the one Powers International believes it deserves: a Batman on the side of the law.
And who better than Commissioner Jim Gordon, the stalwart ex-Marine, to step into that role?
I know it sounds farfetched, and it might take a lot of getting used to, but Batman #41 lays the groundwork for a new phase for the caped crusader — a version that rolls up the Dark Knight and packs him into a Robocop suit ready to patrol the streets of Gotham in full public view. This is a police-sanctioned Batman for the people without the complicated vigilante issues, backed by powerful corporate entities who can shoulder the accountability.
The issue begins with a mysterious entity attacking a bank in Little Cuba, a district of Gotham. The new Batman swoops in to save the day with the support of his eyes in the air, a team made up of tactical strategist Julia Perry, suit builder Daryl Gutierrez, and overseer Geri Powers, the company CEO. Flashbacks give us an origin story told in parts, beginning with Gordon being propositioned for the role. In one scene, Gordon gets counsel from Harvey Bullock who worries about Jim’s age, his eyesight, and whether Batman can ever be seen smoking. When one of the younger candidates for the Bat-mantle mentions he’s a father, Gordon decides to accept the position.
It takes all of one issue for the new Batman to get rid of Precious Precious, the villain behind the monstrosity attacking Little Cuba. It’s also clear Scott Snyder is aware of the potential criticisms he’ll have to field from Batman fans who want nothing to do with this new story arc.
“Why don’t you just slap an ad on it and call it a day because none of this is Batman, Geri,” Gordon states after criticizing the new mech suit.
“No, Jim, it’s not,” Geri responds, and she might as well be addressing the audience, “But if you want to be a part of it you’re going to have to try to accept that.”
By bringing in a new Batman that’s very different from his predecessor, Snyder now has a way of building up the legend through negative spacing — using contrasts between the two versions to examine and deconstruct. The Batman of old — Bruce Wayne as the world’s greatest detective — used technology, training, and his mental prowess to fight crime. Gordon’s crimefighter uses much of the same, though he’s no Wayne in any of those disciplines. What Gordon does have that Wayne did not is the ability to maintain a public persona. As commissioner, he was tasked with addressing public affairs, keeping the peace, and organizing a police force that wasn’t immune from corruption. As a very present and public force that’s part PR campaign for the GCPD, Gordon will have to draw on his years of experience to get the citizens in his corner.
How that works out will give us an alternate version of a Gotham City protected by a legal hero. We get to see what life would be like if parameters were changed. What can this Batman do that the other could not, and vice-versa? We all know what Bruce could do in a suit, but in this way, Snyder can travel roads that were once completely blocked off.
But first, Snyder will have to convince fans to buy into a Batman who travels in a mech suit that looks very much “like a robobat-bunny.” Greg Capullo’s design of the new batsuit is aptly described — I’ve even heard fans call it Bat-Chappie. But by acknowledging the quirkiness of the suit, Snyder’s scripts lay everything on the table at face value as if to say, We know it’s weird and different, but trust us.
And by the end of the issue, you’ll be surprised to find the man worthy of replacing Batman was always in front of us all along. All it took was some physical training, a buzzcut, and a quick shave. It also comes as a surprise that the mech suit is just another layer, a vehicle to keep the Bat-Commissioner safe while on patrol. These things create a viable and believable story, and fans shouldn’t be quick to dismiss this as a gimmick or cash-grab. This is a legit storyline with great intent, and so far it’s compelling and dramatic — from both the scripting and visual perspectives.
Going back to Capullo’s pencils, the issue looks incredibly cinematic. Even in the talky parts, Capullo’s characters are expressive and emotive in their body language and facial expressions. The snappy sequentials move briskly, well-composed, and the page where Bat-Commissioner enters his mech suit and turns to salute his fellow officers has a dramatic element that carries sufficient weight. This is a patriotic Batman grounded in structure and routine — a super police officer that stands in contrast to the real-world news stories we keep seeing.
Danny Miki’s ink work maintains Capullo’s level of precision by bringing out the detail in parts and leaving other areas flat and smooth for a specific purpose. For example, there are very little shading lines on the mech suit’s torso, leaving the dimensional work to FCO Plascencia’s adept coloring that somehow gets away with coloring Gotham City’s sky an ominous red. With the colors creating visual direction, the mech suit gains a sense of material and texture — an effect that works in the art’s favor.
That sort of teamwork takes in the various strengths of the creative team to build an issue of spacious depth. The artwork is fluid, and though the scripting gets a bit exposition heavy in the dialogue, you can’t fault Snyder for trying his best to get readers onboard a dramatically different take on Batman.
Fret not, Bat-fans, this isn’t some sort of experiment or sleight of hand. This is another chapter that has the potential to be groundbreaking. I know some fans don’t like change, but if you’ve been a fan of the Batman title since Snyder, Capullo, Miki, and Plascencia took over with the New52, you would do yourself a huge favor by sticking with it on another leg of their journey. Christopher Nolan played with the idea of anyone becoming Batman — the idea was that the cape and cowl were a symbol to inspire people to take responsibility for their neighborhoods and cities. In this new story arc, we see one of our favorite characters finally get his chance, and I can’t wait to read more.