I’m not a big buyer of annual issues. They always feel like unnecessary breaks in momentum since, more often than not, they have nothing to do with the main story. That’s sort of true of the fourth Batman Annual post-New 52. Current Batman Jim Gordon never makes an appearance and we don’t learn anything new about the masked villain using drugs to give ordinary Gothamites superpowers. However, the issue does address–in a big way–the other running plot line: Bruce Wayne’s amnesia.
In my review of issue #41, I lamented the fact that writer Scott Snyder so quickly dangled the prospect of Bruce both surviving his epic battle with the Joker and returning to vigilantism when he should have spent the first issue post-Endgame focusing on why Jim Gordon makes sense as Batman. I still feel that way and yet this is the first issue that gives me hope that Bruce’s return to the Bat Cave isn’t as inevitable as it feels.
Writer James Tynion IV (who cowrote Endgame and a few other arcs) and artist Roge Antonio step in for Snyder and artist Greg Capullo, kicking things off with a striking first panel. An unknown speaker (who turns out to be Bruce’s current girlfriend, Julie) says, “This is where you belong, Bruce,” over an image of the Arkham Asylum sign. What she really means is that Bruce belongs in Wayne Manor–which was recently the temporary home for Arkham’s inmates–but her statement rings equally true in the literal sense.
Because Bruce Wayne is crazy. He may have pushed his insanity in a more positive direction than the people he put into Arkham, but those who have enabled or even encouraged his delusions know that Bruce Wayne was not a well man. That’s why Alfred (who understands Bruce’s delusions better than anyone) is so determined to keep the newer, saner Bruce from donning the cowl again. Despite what the villains who gathered to punish him say in the issue, Bruce doesn’t deserve to live the rest of his life controlled by his madness. In fact, bringing him back to that life would be cruel. And that’s really the point of this issue.
In a very obvious way, the Riddler, Mr. Freeze and Clayface want to make Bruce remember because it gives them purpose. If their greatest adversary can’t remember them, then they’re just psychos and their actions have no meaning. However, on a smaller scale, Bruce’s friends are guilty of a similar selfishness. The only reason he’s even at Wayne Manor is that Julie, Alfred and Geri Powers (who took control of Bruce’s assets post-bankruptcy) want him to be the man they knew. Geri wants him back as a powerful CEO and friend, Julie wants the boy she knew as a child and Alfred wants the man for whom he was a pseudo-parent. Bruce is vehemently against reclaiming any part of his past and yet they push him toward it anyway. So, what the issue is ultimately doing is forcing readers to ask ourselves, why do we need to see Bruce Wayne go back to an awful existence when he could be happy instead? Is it because it’s the right move for the story or because it would make us feel better?