Gotham City is a busy place, with a lot going down each and every week. In this monthly column, Joshua Lapin-Bertone helps you stay on top of it all by letting you know what you should be paying attention to within the Bat-Family…and why.
Batman: Gargoyle of Gotham might be the most violent Batman comic I’ve ever read. This is a pretty tall order, as I’ve been reading Batman comics since I was a child. However, I was immediately shocked by the brutality of this DC Black Label book. Yes, this comic is more violent than The Killing Joke, Black Mirror and just about every Mr. Zsasz fight set to paper. However, the violence isn’t just window dressing to justify the book’s Black Label branding. The intense violence actually serves the story, playing into its themes.
When you read superhero comics, it’s easy to become desensitized to all the roughness found within the pages. Batman and his allies have been punching crooks for so long, that I’ve forgotten how brutal his lifestyle truly is. Maybe it’s the colorful costumes, or the fantastical settings, but comic book violence almost feels like cartoon violence—it’s so engrained into the DNA that you don’t notice it.
Batman: Gargoyle of Gotham plays things differently. The Rafael Grampá book immediately reminds you how brutal the Dark Knight’s lifestyle is. Batman jams his fingers into a criminal’s eyeballs, as blood splatters out of the sockets. Not long after, a villain bashes the back of the Dark Knight’s skull with a hammer. As the tool makes contact with Bruce’s head, we see blood shoot out from his mouth. It’s a pretty intense fight.
I think our comic-reading brains often disassociate from the violence because the DC Universe is so far removed from our world. I don’t think anything of Green Lantern using his ring to conjure a weapon to smash Darkseid because nothing close to that exists in real life. Witnessing Batman pulverized by a hammer is another story.
This is where I will give some credit to Grampá, who wrote and penciled this comic. He renders the fight scenes in such a way that I was forced to seriously think about my preconceptions when it comes to violence in superhero comics. His brilliant layouts seem to deconstruct the brutality of Batman’s mission in a way I had never considered.
In a sense, Batman: Gargoyle of Gotham explores cartoon violence from two unique perspectives. Batman and the villain Crytoon both internalize the violence in extreme ways. Crytoon embraces it, while Batman disassociates himself by shedding his own identity. Put another way, both the story’s hero and its villain have a hard time coming to terms with it.
Crytoon is a masked criminal constantly seen with tears rolling down his face. The sadistic villain recreates acts of violence he’s seen in cartoons. All that over-the-top violence you saw in classic Looney Tunes episodes growing up? Apply all of that to the real world and you realize just how dangerous Crytoon is.
Crytoon is yet another reminder of how desensitized we’ve all become to cartoon violence. The villain smashes people with hammers and anvils. I don’t think twice when I see Bugs Bunny do something like this, but seeing Crytoon do it—and the damage it does to his victims—is much, much different. It’s hard to watch. And to think, it’s something Bugs and Co. do for laughs!
While Crytoon embraces the violence, Batman does everything he can to disassociate himself from it. He refers to himself in the third person and tells Alfred that he’s planning on publicly killing off Bruce Wayne.
“Erasing his existence and working to clear his memories is the next step I must take to fully commit to my mission,” Batman says.
That might be the reason Batman tells himself, but I don’t fully buy it.
There have been countless debates over the years regarding the relationship between Batman and Bruce Wayne. Different writers have explored the question of if Bruce Wayne is the true mask, or if Bruce Wayne truly died along with his parents, and Batman is his only persona. Storylines like Bruce Wayne: Fugitive have also explored the concept of Batman abandoning his secret identity. The conclusion is that Bruce Wayne is Batman’s humanity. Without Bruce Wayne, the Dark Knight would cease to be human and lose his heart.
So why is Batman trying to kill his Bruce Wayne identity in Gargoyle of Gotham? Well, I’m no psychologist, but my theory is the violence has caused him to feel dehumanized. He’s internalizing these brutal experiences by disassociating his humanity from his Batman persona. Remember, he told Alfred he was going further than killing Bruce Wayne—he said he would be erasing his existence! That’s a very specific choice of words, which betrays Bruce’s mindset. Crytoon is embracing the violence, while Batman pulls away.
There is a lot to unpack from Batman: Gargoyle of Gotham, and we’re only one book into the four-issue series. How will Batman and Crytoon’s emotional journeys intersect? Time will tell, but if this first chapter is any indication, it will be bloody.
Batman: Gargoyle of Gotham #1 by Rafael Grampá with Matheus Lopes is now available in print and as a digital comic book.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DC.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 feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.