Note: This analysis contains spoilers for several issues of Tom King’s Batman run. While this run includes Batman #39, the events of #39 will not be discussed here.
“How come you don’t fly?”
“I have a plane.”
“It’s not the same.
I mean, you could, right? This world, it’s full of magic and science that’s fiction and all that. And you’re Batman, you could fly.”
“Yeah. I could fly.” – Introduction to Batman #24 (Claire Clover and Batman)
The definition of Batman, what he can do, has for the duration of Bruce Wayne’s existence, centered on what he can’t do. Batman can’t fly, doesn’t kill, doesn’t smile (often), doesn’t work without rules. But who is Batman without his limitations? Who does Bruce Wayne become when he isn’t merely the brooding knight, only showing his true care in quiet, private moments?
King’s writing has shifted the focus (if only momentarily) to what Batman can do-
how he is liberated from the limitations he and others have placed on himself.
Batman’s conversation with Claire reveals that he is afraid of becoming like his enemies. Batman keeps Bruce Wayne from falling into the reckless villainy that killed his parents. “I do this to be happy. I try and I fail.” We see the admission that it isn’t just Bruce Wayne who wants to be happy; Batman wants to be happy. Is that possible?
For many years, readers have seen the proclamation, “Vengeance is the night.” But what is the night without vengeance? To Batman, it’s fear of what he might become. In #38, we see Bruce accused of being the thing he fears most:
“You’re just a sick kid with dead parents!”
“Well, yes, but… but what else is Bruce Wayne?”
Not to Selina Kyle. To her, Bruce is everything.
Bruce proposes to Selina, who accepts not only his proposal, but his fear as well. As usual, the Cat isn’t having it with the Bat’s self-loathing. She reminds him that they love each other, their relationship works well, and that’s all that matters to her.
Of course, Bruce and Selina don’t exist in a bubble. Bruce must contend with what his relationship means for his relationship to his family and his friends.
In “Rules of Engagement” and “SuperFriends,” we see Bruce questioned and confronted: Is he unhappy? Why is being with Selina going to make him happy?
After the battle with Talia al Ghul, Bruce doesn’t run from Damian’s question, “Are you happy?” Perhaps another Batman would have simply grunted or given a terse reply. But that Batman wouldn’t be engaged to Catwoman. He responds, “I’m getting there.” With that, Bruce makes an answer to his family questions surrounding his secrecy and his pursuit of true joy, unironically, the same answer he gave Claire:
he doesn’t know if he’ll make it, but he’s trying to get there.
Perhaps one of the greatest limitations to Batman’s mythos lies in his relationship with Superman. Clark Kent as, “the light” and Bruce Wayne as, “the darkness” creates a chasm in their friendship when Bruce hides his burgeoning happiness. #36 reveals once again what many readers already know to be true: the lasting bond between Superman and Batman lies ultimately in their similar love of justice, and their respect for each other. From there, they begin again.
In #37: Double Date, Clark, Lois, Bruce, and Selina all come clean about their respective relationships. As Clark probes Bruce about what it means for the Caped Crusader to love a criminal, Lois wants to know what anyone could possibly see in Batman. Bruce and Selina’s answers are the same. “When I fall s/he catches me.”
Double Date ends on a striking (pun intended) anecdote: Bruce and Clark have traded jabs over who is better at baseball. Clark- reasonably- claims he can throw the ball faster. Bruce claims he could still hit it. Finally, they get to settle score. Clark reminds Bruce, “You know what you’re trying, it’s impossible.”
Bruce does the impossible and hits it out of the park anyway.
Bruce Wayne will not cease to be Batman, and he will not be magically be rid of his demons. His penchant for brooding, his distaste for crime, his haunting past- all of those things weigh on him. He will endeavor to break free of them anyway.
Batman can’t fly. But what if he could?