DC Comics is embarked on an exploration of time and memory. At least, that is one way to consider the current Rebirth project, once you discount it as a purely commercial venture aimed at increasing comics sales, a goal at which it has, so far, apparently succeeded. The meddling of Dr. Manhattan in the timeline of the DC Universe not only provides a narrative backbone for the major books of the superhero line, but also sets up a general theme that each corner of the fictional world can explore in its own way.
Batman as written by Tom King has so far been slow to engage this set of questions. To be fair, the book has had to concentrate on establishing the look and feel of this run. The art of David Finch and Danny Miki is solid but with just a hint of blurring in the lines, suggesting the haze and decay of Gotham. The faces are more defined and mobile than those of Greg Capullo, allowing for greater ranges of physical expression. The structures of this Gotham are more solid as well. This city is not the quasi-living dream of Scott Snyder, but a place lived-in and diseased. Jordie Bellaire carries over the blue-shifted palette with its sickly yellows and lurid reds we have come to associate with Gotham.
The story in this issue begins finally to delve into the wells of time and memory. We learn the possible backgrounds of the new heroes Gotham and Gotham Girl. They were children saved by Batman before the crime of Gotham could make them into orphans. Becoming fascinated by their savior, they trained and planned to become heroes. But unlike their hero, they found a way to accrue superhuman powers. One senses a deep secret and plot twist in the origin of their abilities, the story of which is yet to be revealed.
There is a twist in the present, however. The two new heroes confront a new menace, or by Gotham standards an old one. Dr. Hugo Strange. Strange isn’t accompanied this time by Amanda Waller or Sam Lane, as he was in his cameo last issue. This time he walks with his new “patient,” Roger Hayden, the Psycho-Pirate, telepathic dominator of emotion. Hayden’s appearance places us deep into possibility with regard to the manipulation of time. Once a companion of the Anti-Monitor, Hayden was one of the few whose memory included the original Crisis and the lost worlds that event erased.
Does the advent of the Psycho-Pirate mean there are levels of lost time and vanished memory accessible in this universe, levels once closed by dimensional manipulation? Or is he simply an insane tool of Hugo Strange? Either way, this issue, like those before it, contained more hints than explanations and more setup than meaningful action. King has a reputation for daring and style, but he continues to hesitate and dither, his story never quite beginning. He needs to get moving, and soon, or time will grow very short, indeed.