Do bats make good parents? I honestly have no idea, although I suppose that when you come down to it very few animals treat their children well, humans being no exception. When it comes to Batman, his status as a father is one of the most fraught subjects in all of American superhero comics. As Tom King, DC’s new main Batman writer, has observed, the man is something of a psychopath. During his time as one of the creative minds behind Grayson, King was known to say that there is a Dick Grayson story that writers automatically want to tell (and that some have, in fact, told). It’s the story of how orphaned Dick Grayson was abused and terrorized by the dark, obsessed billionaire who forced him into a pathological life as a vigilante. There’s just something about Bruce Wayne that invites that kind of thing.
King has said that one of his goals is to challenge this view, not with an intention to turn Batman into a cuddly character, but certainly with the aim to explore the Caped Crusader as a social creature, like the rest of us a mortal embedded in a system of obligations and relationships. This is a natural approach, considering the Rebirth project focuses on continuity and legacy. Granted, the particular story in this issue, focusing on Batman saving a crippled jet by attaching a rocket to the fuselage and riding the whole ramshackle contrivance to a water landing, seems to contradict the idea of Batman as anything like an ordinary human being.
King has a rather bad habit of pounding on his themes a bit much, and Batman #1 is no exception. One of his favorite tricks is repetition and mirroring. In this issue, an anguished cry about Gotham from a passenger on board the falling aircraft gets answered near the end of the issue in an unusual, but somewhat precious, development. More importantly, Batman has the habit of engaging Alfred in rather deep and personal conversations at what one would think to be awkward moments, like in the midst of guiding the aforementioned plane into the bay. His paternal feelings for the Robins, expressed roughly but sincerely, are touching. His question as to whether his own parents would be proud, on the other hand, is cringe worthy.
David Finch brings his trademark house style to this issue with good effect. Like Superman, Batman calls for a classic art treatment, being by definition a classic character. Matt Banning provides Gotham with appropriate deep shadows. Jordie Bellaire uses purples and oranges to evoke the look of a nighttime city lit with cruel, garish floodlights. This Gotham is awesome and awful, but strong and defiant. We don’t know yet if it is the evil entity of Snyder’s run, but we can believe this is a city unbowed by threat or tragedy.
All of King's creativity is on display in this issue, as are many of his quirks. Unlike the previous issue, King is now able to clearly present his Batman without cooperation from Scott Snyder. This is a human hero in a great and terrible city. The question, which we are confronted with in very concrete form by the end of the book, is whether being human is enough. Can even a social hero be the defender Gotham deserves. Not to spoil anything, but I am confident that he will do just fine. But we may see a few more wild action rides, and many closer calls than we have had in the recent past. Then again, what's wrong with that?