SPOILER ALERT: This column includes spoilers from this week's new issue of Detective Comics. If you haven't yet read issue #1063 (or for that matter, issue #1062), we suggest reading no further until you have.
Has anyone else been noticing a trend across recent Batman stories? As I’ve been writing this column, I can’t help but notice a reoccurring thread. Last month I noted that Bruce seems to be overlooking big things over in Chip Zdarsky’s Batman run. In addition to that, last year I wrote about how Fear State emphasized how Batman needed to rethink his mission after losing his fortune. As I began reading Ram V and Rafael Albuquerque’s new run on Detective Comics, I caught a similar theme.
Batman has lost his focus. He doesn’t know what’s going on in his city and everyone around him is calling him on it. Talia tells Batman he’s gotten slower and unprepared, Nightwing playfully reminds him he’s getting old, and Harvey Dent straight up says that he no longer knows what’s going on in his own city. Sheesh, is this “Beat on Batman Day?” Over the years I’ve heard the argument that Batman could beat anyone with the proper prep time, but lately he’s been having trouble taking down basic crooks.
“Gotham Nocturne: Overture” opens with Batman challenging himself to take down a group of criminals in 18 seconds. He winds up doing it in 22, which is still pretty impressive, but Batman takes this failure personally. Between this four second delay and some discouraging words from Talia, Bruce decides to give himself a physical. The tests come back normal, but the hero is unconvinced.
“I can feel it,” he tells Nightwing. “Something’s off. Something’s wrong”
Like most people concerned with their own mortality, Bruce doesn’t want to face the fact that he’s aging. Getting older and weaker means that he will no longer be able to function as Batman, which is what he’s based his entire life around. If he can’t fight crime as the Dark Knight, then who is he? It’s not a question he’s prepared to explore, so it’s easier to deny his aging and aggressively shut down Nightwing when he suggests it.
In this week’s Detective Comics #1063, Bruce Wayne confides to an unlikely source: his former enemy Harvey Dent. “I used to know this place,” he says. “I knew where Gotham’s shadows lay. I knew where all the monsters nested.”
The talk doesn’t go the way Bruce wanted it to, mostly because Harvey can see through him. The man formerly known as Two-Face bluntly tells Bruce he’s barking up the wrong tree and accuses him of chasing false leads. At least Harvey gives it to him straight. It's interesting to note that Batman’s unable to hide his true intentions from Harvey. Is it because Dent and Wayne were once close friends, or is this another example of Batman slipping up?
Is Bruce right about something being wrong with him? Maybe that’s the case, or maybe the answer is something he hasn’t dared to consider. Perhaps Batman hasn’t lost his grip on Gotham because he never had it in the first place. All these years he’s assumed he’s in control, but secret societies like the Court of Owls have operated right under his nose. Now that Batman is more aware of what’s going on in his city, it appears to him that he’s lost control, when in reality, he never had it to begin with. You know what they say about ignorance being bliss.
Or perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye. Talia did warn her former beloved about a coming danger. Would it have killed her to be more specific? (Maybe she’s still sore about the events of “Shadow War.”) It’s clear Talia knows something about the power vacuum in Gotham and who is filling it. We’re only two issues into “Gotham Nocturne,” which by all accounts seems to be a lengthy, far-reaching story, so there is still a lot we’re unaware of.
For example, a mysterious figure named Arzen is making his way to the city and he appears to have a sinister purpose. Perhaps he’s the evil force Talia was talking about? We’ve also seen a few criminals turn into monsters before evaporating into ash. All signs point to Arzen being involved, but there is nothing concrete yet. To make matters worse, a group of mysterious villains have ambushed Harvey and reversed the progress he’s made—turning him back into Two-Face. What’s going on here, and what’s the endgame? I am just as clueless as Batman is.
I have no doubt that Batman will eventually take Arzen down, the real question is whether he’ll ever get to the bottom of what’s going on with him. If you think about it, all three theories are terrifying in their own way. If Arzen can manipulate Batman without the Dark Knight noticing him, that makes him a deadlier villain than we all realized. If Batman never had a grip on his city in the first place, that calls everything into question. And if Nightwing is right about Batman getting old—well, that’s a question nobody is ready to face. Keep your eyes peeled on future issues of Detective Comics because the temperature is rising and there’s no telling where this story is going to go.
Detective Comics #1063 by Ram V, Rafael Albuquerque and Dave Stewart is now available in print and as a digital comic book.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.