Who and what is Batman? What, exactly, does he stand for?  What function does he serve?  Scott Snyder has a way of structuring his stories as philosophical inquiries, and these are the questions that define the center of Batman #42.  In fact, they are the questions defining the entire present arc.

One clear answer is that Batman is a hero who protects Gotham from supervillains.  In this issue, new Batman Jim Gordon obtains his very first supervillain, an achievement of dubious happiness, to say the least.  The story opens with Gordon still working with the GCPD and the Powers Corporation, a relationship that itself raises difficulties since, as Police Commissioner Maggie Sawyer points out, Batman has never been one to work within the confines of the system.  Gordon’s closest collaborator is none other than Julia Pennyworth, now calling herself Julia Perry, who has evidently found a position somewhere within the complicated structure of the public/private initiative that is the modern Batman project.  Julia opines that Batman is about people helping each other, a theory symbolized by a Batman App that allows a distressed citizen to call out for help.  Gordon believes it is more about getting boots on the ground to face current threats, and the present threat is odd even for Gotham.

Someone has been enhancing the street criminals of Gotham, implanting them with seed-like pods that awake genetic potential.  The pods also release lethal radiation when one of the enhanced is captured by the police.  The current enhanced, one Gee Gee Heung, has control of silicates, the basic material components of glass, brick, and concrete.  In other words, he has the power to control the very fabric of the city itself and shape it into a weapon.  Now, we need to acknowledge that this issue fully illustrates Scott Snyder’s strengths and weaknesses.  His creativity and powerful characterizations are fully on display, however so is his habit of riding a hobby horse until it breaks into a pile of splinters.  One of his strongest themes is the idea of Gotham as a living entity, a violently divided psychic maelstrom whose more colorful denizens are essentially avatars of aspects of its being.  Unfortunately, the dark faculties of the city usually seem to be the strongest, and in effect it acts as a malevolent god constantly demanding human sacrifices, sacrifices gathered by the villains that embody its perverse emotions.  In this characterization of Gotham Snyder often goes to frankly ludicrous lengths even for the Batman mythos.  Gee Gee Heung, a minor villain in the grand scheme of things who only serves to introduce the main plot, kills twenty people before Gordon even arrives, and everyone accepts this as a normal day in Gotham.  Of course, this is a city where the Apocalypse is regularly scheduled every Thursday.

It also has to be said, however, that Snyder also has a very well-developed sense of humor.  He is not afraid to poke fun at some long-standing aspects of Batman and his world, such as Gordon’s moustache or his desire for a Batmobile of his own.  In fact, in this issue he gets his own vehicle, a massive and armored Bat Truck that proves the key to defeating the city’s latest deadly avatar.  True, he destroys it in the process.  But, as Julia observes, they can always make more!  However, Snyder ends the story on a couple of serious notes.  Long-time readers have often wondered just how much Gordon actually knows about Batman and his secrets, particularly his identity as Bruce Wayne.  At the end of this issue, he confronts Julia, saying he knows, somehow, that she worked with Batman.  Julia then explains that all of their speculation about what Batman was and what he meant would have been meaningless to the original hero, who simply was true to himself and his own beliefs, and allowed meaning and myth to arise from that.

We then cut to a youth center run by Julie Madison, last seen as Bruce Wayne’s would-be paramour during Zero Year.  It seems that Duke Thomas is in attendance at the center and assisting Julie is none other than a hirsute Bruce Wayne, calm and happy and insisting that everyone call him by his first name.  Now, we have no idea so far exactly what Bruce’s allies think happened to him.  The public, after all, think of Wayne as a billionaire who lost most of his money to the events of Batman Eternal.  Do Bruce’s Bat allies know he is hiding at the center?  At least one does, because in the final panel, Gordon appears, saying that Batman has come to talk.

Grade

B+

Conclusion

The outcome of all this is, of course, obvious. It is ordained that Bruce will take up the cowl once again. And Snyder would seem to be riding yet another of his hobby horses. As he said at the close of the ENDGAME arc, in his view, the story of Batman has always been a tragedy, a tale of darkness and fate that precludes any possibility of happy endings. Bruce's peace will be disrupted, probably in a violent and bitter way. He will decide that there is no happy ending for one such as him. As was already shown in Zero Year, he will turn his back on all that to protect Gotham. Maybe Snyder will find a surprising outcome to this storyline. But so far, it all seems glaringly obvious. Still, many would say the journey is more important that the destination, and so far, this journey has been very well crafted, indeed.