Nearly five years after DC rebooted its universe, one of the best books in The New 52 comes to an end. While Scott Snyder wrote much of Batman‘s beloved and historic run in the post-reboot world, he cedes writing duties here to James Tynion IV, with whom he cowrote Batman Eternal and multiple arcs on this book, including Endgame and Zero Year. However, as this issue makes clear, Tynion IV doesn’t do quite so well on his own.
It’s not that he doesn’t have a firm grasp on who Bruce Wayne is—that’s obvious in the truncated origin story he tells here. It starts with young Bruce just after his parents’ death, tortured and living in almost complete silence. His only outlet for his pain is the list of ways to move on his doctor encouraged him to write as a means of coping. We catch up with him through the years as he checks off the items on that list while in present day, he pursues a villain who steals one of Bruce’s lock boxes from a small local bank. The two plots seem unconnected until a final clever moment, which I won’t spoil except to point out that some lists are numbered, reveals that the list was always the point. Unfortunately, the art used to get to that reveal isn’t quite as strong as the story it’s telling.
In some cases, while we watch young Bruce become Batman, a text box appears in the panel to tell us which item on the list the action corresponds to. However, more often than not, artist Riley Rossmo (filling in for Greg Capullo, who only does the cover) uses the rather graceless technique of showing the notebook containing the list sitting in a corner. While the choice gets the point across, it’s somewhat silly to imagine Bruce carried this highly personal document around for years while he was being plunged into ice baths and beaten on a regular basis. Still, Rossmo can only work with what he’s given by his writer and that choice is ultimately Tynion IV’s failing. On one level, he makes the mistake of not writing something for those moments, letting the mere presence of the list do the heavy-lifting instead of giving the reader a more in-depth understanding of what Bruce is achieving in each moment. But the larger problem here is that he couldn’t possibly have assigned a different list item for each moment because they all convey exactly the same thing: Bruce isn’t moving on, he’s sublimating.
Instead of using the list to find a way to live normally, Bruce makes a list of things to do to ensure he’s never hurt again. He’s erasing not just his ability to fear, but his connections to other people. He’s erasing his personality in order to become a hero. While this is the essential Batman story, it’s also one we’ve just seen delivered in a more profound way in Snyder’s previous arc. While Tynion IV is perhaps trying to emphasize that point, the execution is so graceless that it cheapens it instead. Plus, Snyder already brought a needed grace note to that story.
The previous issue found Bruce–body and mind fully restored–patrolling an uncharacteristically quiet Gotham. It was a beautiful summation of who the character was and what Snyder had achieved in his time writing him. It should have been the end to the run. And while it’s understandable that DC wanted to let Tynion IV have a last crack at a character he helped make so legendary, this issue leaves little doubt that it was Snyder who made this book great. Perhaps that does make the issue a fitting end to the run in some way. Snyder will be a tough act to follow. This issue proves it.