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Bruce Wayne: Murderer?
Various writers and artists
June 30, 2002
The Gentleman (exclusive
to Shaking Through)
One has to give the folks in charge of the Batman mythos over at DC some
credit. After all, they've done a remarkable job over the past few years of
fostering the illusion of significant and shocking change in the Bat-titles.
We've seen Batman himself out of commission with a broken back; we've seen
Gotham racked by plague and earthquake, then abandoned and declared a "No
Man's Land" by the U.S. government; and we've seen Commissioner Gordon lose
his wife at the hands of the Joker, later get shot (watching his assailant
walk free) and, finally, resign his post.
That's a lot for followers of the various Batcomics to digest, and it
certainly gives the impression of radical change in Batman's
densely-populated corner of the DC universe. But an impression is all it is.
Of all of those earth-shattering events mentioned above, only the
resignation of Gordon is significantly felt in Bruce Wayne: Murderer?
all of the other cataclysmic events seem to have faded into the mist, as if
they never happened.
In point of fact, BWM is a perfect example of the "illusion of
change" dynamic -- so essential to daytime soap operas and monthly superhero
comics -- in action. Because throughout its 257 pages of story, many things
seem to happen, when in fact, very little actually happens.
The first chapter -- which reprints the successful "10 cent Adventure"
marketing ploy/comic first released last fall -- dutifully sets up the
intriguing premise. The reader spends an evening with the Caped Crusader as
seen through the eyes of Sasha Bourdeaux, Bruce Wayne's bodyguard. (The
influence of Atticus Kodiak novelist and Detective scribe Greg Rucka,
perhaps?) Sasha, hired by Wayne Enterprises (billionaire Wayne's
multi-million dollar company) to safeguard its figurehead, has learned
Wayne's secret identity and, being nothing if not thorough and stubborn in
her duties, now accompanies him on his nightly rounds, the better to keep
him alive. Circumstances force the pair to split up toward the end of the
night, and Sasha returns to the Batcave to find Wayne already there. Almost
immediately, they stumble upon the body of Vesper Fairchild, a hard-driven
reporter and an ex-flame of Wayne's; also as immediately, Gotham's Finest
bust into Wayne Manor, guns drawn, having been privy to a 911 call that
featured Fairchild's last words.
The story continues from there. Wayne and Bordeaux are thus arrested, and
separated by the cops, the better to test their alibis (the old Prisoner's
Dilemma). Sasha has a particularly rough time of it: She's torn between
loyalty to her charge and a nagging doubt (Wayne did, after all, have ample
time to have committed the crime in question before she returned to the
Batcave), clinging desperately to her firm conviction that above all, Bruce
Wayne does not, would not (and hopefully did not) kill -- ever. Meanwhile,
her employer chafes at the liability the Bruce Wayne identity proves to be
in prison: Years of careful, methodical play-acting demand he stay true to
Wayne's image as a layabout playboy, even as the urge to treat his
fellow-inmate tormentors to a Batman-style ass-kicking grows ever stronger.
Denied bail, and thus frustrated at his inability to put this nuisance
behind him and continue with what's important -- his "work" -- Wayne/Batman
finally snaps, laying the serious Bat-smackdown on three bothersome convicts
no doubt looking to enact an episode or two of the HBO prison drama Oz.
Which only fuels speculation that Wayne is capable of the crime of which
he's accused, and further drives daggers of doubt into Sasha's
Meanwhile, the Batman supporting cast spends a lot of time tracking down
leads and doing its fair share of agonizing. Indeed, here is where much of
the real "action" in BWM takes place -- emotionally. Wheelchair-bound
information broker Oracle (Barbara Gordon, the former Batgirl) and Robin
wrestle with doubts similar to Sasha's, while loyal Nightwing (Dick Grayson,
the first Robin) refuses to even entertain such notions.
(Spoiler Alert: Don't read any further if you don't want a couple
of key plot-points revealed. ) Inevitably, Bruce Wayne escapes
(distressingly, off-panel, as it were), and is confronted in the Batcave by
his Bat-family while making preparations to go into hiding. Annoyed and
taciturn, Batman repeatedly ignores or refuses to answer the questions of
his rightfully upset comrades, flatly stating that the Bruce Wayne persona
has become a liability and is thus now discarded. (A private jet has just
taken off, giving the world the impression that Wayne, a fugitive from
justice, has left the country, sealing the issue of his guilt once and for
all.) Grayson reacts poorly to this news -- it's he who, more than anyone
else, feels a kinship to Bruce Wayne as much as to Batman -- indeed, Wayne
has recently adopted Grayson as his son. A fight naturally ensues, but it
proves as unsatisfying as much of what's gone before.
So on the surface, a great deal seems to take place. But tellingly, it
takes over 200 pages of comic book storytelling to churn through a tale that
could have been capably developed in less than half the space. After all,
the quicker the storyline gets resolved, the quicker things return to normal
and readers come to realize that the status quo is never actually shaken up
for very long. Never mind that the story might actually prove more
compelling if compacted: the Bat-creators, more concerned with appearances
than with story, employ a Bat-bellows to pump BWM full of air. By
dragging the story out, taking up much more of the Bat-reader's time (and
money), they create the appearance of change, when we all know that
eventually Wayne's name will be cleared and the status quo restored.
(Although not, apparently, anytime too soon: First, there's the much, much
longer Bruce Wayne: Fugitive storyline to plod through.)
Having just heaped criticism on the various writers and caretakers of the
Batman titles, this writer, ever a gentleman, feels compelled to point out a
few standout contributors. The aforementioned Greg Rucka runs the farthest
with the balls he's given, showing a flair for both the police procedural
and prison-drama milieus in his turns at bat, while Ed Brubaker invests his
chapters with an authentic sense of true noir grit. In fact, the
other writers -- the always capable Devin Grayson, DC warhorse Chuck Dixon
and Kelly Puckett -- also comport themselves admirably.
The artists, alas, are more of a mixed bag, most notably Scott McDaniel,
who brings an admirably street-level feel to the second chapter -- Rucka's
fast-moving "Procedure" -- but pencils the final chapter as if suffering from
a number of progressive neurological maladies; the fisticuffs between Batman
and Nightwing are headache-inducing, and his anatomy starts at deplorable
and descends rapidly from there. Happily, Rick Burchett renders the first
chapter with a stark, stylized feel favorably comparable to the Batman
animated series, and Pete Woods brings a recognizable sense of place and
atmosphere to his contributions.
The ups and downs of the individual creators aside, there's no escaping
the fact that BWM is a lumbering goliath, painstakingly plotted so as
to kill a great deal of time and convey a false sense of movement. In better
days, this story would have taken a lot less time to tell, and been much the
better for it. The fact that it doesn't speaks to a loss of creative
confidence in the Batman's powers that be. If they trusted themselves to
tell more, and more compelling, tales -- and more importantly, trusted their
readers not to be concerned with a static status quo, as long as those tales
were indeed compelling -- such tricks as the one BWM ultimately fails
to pull off would be neither necessary nor missed.
The Dark Knight Strikes Again #1
Knight Strikes Again #3
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