Of the Rebirth one-shots released so far, the Batman issue was one of the best. The first issue of the new Batman series proper is also very good. In fact, it’s the standard against which all the new #1’s should be judged.
Perhaps Bruce Wayne’s defining quality (other than the dead parents) is his devotion to Gotham City. He’s sacrificed a lot to keep its people safe and Batman has become synonymous with the city itself. He is its standard bearer and he’ll do anything to keep it safe. In this case, that means dying.
Let’s back up a few steps. The issue begins with a familiar sight: Batman and Jim Gordon on a roof standing next to the Bat Signal. They’re talking about a missing surface-to-air missile when WHAM! a jetliner flying overhead is suddenly struck. Before Jim can even form a sentence, Batman is already on the move. He calls Alfred to check the plane’s trajectory (a crowded square) and then calls new Robin-esque figure Duke Thomas to work out some math. And then he fires himself into the air and straight at the plane. It’s insane, but the issue only gets crazier from there. Once he’s finally atop the plane, Bruce slaps some thrusters on the wings and literally uses makeshift reins to guide the plane to a less populated area.
It’s the kind of thing that could only happen in comic books, but rather than revel in how cool (and really, absurd) the moment is, new writer Tom King hits a somber note. “Would they–Mother and Father, would they have been proud?” Bruce asks Alfred after his trusty butler realizes that the landing will kill him. “Is this a good death?” he adds. Alfred assures him that they would be proud and that this is indeed a good death. But Batman doesn’t die, of course. Instead, two new heroes fly in and save him. It’s a fantastic way to reveal new characters, but it’s also a hint of what King is going to do with this character.
Bruce Wayne has always kind of expected to die. That’s why he’s so willing to sacrifice his personal life to be Batman. Most recently, in the final arc of Scott Snyder’s run, that meant leaving behind the love of a good woman and a chance at a normal life that would still allow him to help people. What Bruce has never seemed to ask himself is: “what if I live?” Horrible things happen so quickly and constantly in Gotham that there hasn’t been time, but now, with no less than two superpowered heroes to protect Gotham City, Batman may have just become obsolete.
What does he do if Gotham no longer needs Batman? Does he stop? Can he stop? And most important of all, should he stop? Let’s not forget, Batman did all the hard work. He navigated the plane away from the populated areas and kept it from hitting any buildings on his way. The new heroes, who call themselves Gotham and Gotham Girl, just swooped in at the last second and saved Batman. Still, they’ll get all the glory and you have to wonder what King is trying to say with heroes who seem to be so confident in their abilities that they declare to Batman that they are his city’s new heroes. After all, confidence and goodness never last long in Gotham City and nobody knows that better than Bruce Wayne.