Batman R.I.P.? A Dozen Dark Knight Deaths

Batman RIP? A Dozen Dark Knight Deaths

Exclusive Preview: Batman #681
Exclusive Preview: Batman #681
If one can believe comic book hype, Batman dies in this week’s Batman #681, the conclusion of the “Batman R.I.P.” arc by Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel.

The “death” (there’s still speculation as to whether Bruce Wayne is dying, or “Batman” is dying – a fine, but valid point in fans’ eyes) comes at the end of a storyline which has seen Bruce Wayne attacked in all ways – physically, psychologically, even spiritually - and leads into 2009’s Battle for the Cowl miniseries by Tony Daniel, which will apparently see members of Batman’s family duking it out for the right to wear the mask and cape.

But before we put that last shovelful of dirt on the Caped Crusader, let’s take a moment to remember that this isn’t the first time Batman has died – there have been a couple near or in-continuity deaths here and there before this. Hey, he’s no Superman when it comes to dying and coming back to life, but he’s had his run-ins with the grim reaper.

Some notable “deaths” include:

Batman #72 - “The Death Cheaters of Gotham City!”: Wanting to join the “Death Cheaters,” Batman artificially and deliberately stops his heart and was revived shortly thereafter by Robin. Being legally dead for a period and revived was the club’s prerequisite for joining up. You know, come to think of it, the cover of that issue had Batman in a Tarzan-esque over the shoulder number, and Robin (being threatened by a panther) clad in leopard skin briefs. Hey, it was the Golden Age of comics. Anything, apparently, went.

Brave and the Bold #115 - “The Corpse That Wouldn’t Die!”: Batman is killed when he touches the electrified outside of a fifth floor window. In a rather ghoulish move, The Atom shrinks down, enters Batman’s brain, and reanimates him in order to find his killer (within an hour – otherwise Batman’s heart and lungs will cease function). The Atom does the job, and miraculously (or as The Atom thinks, thanks to his jumping around in Batman’s brain) Batman’s noodle comes back online, and he lives to fight crime another day. Seriously – if your awesome meter only goes up to 10, you need to check this issue out to see what pegging the needle at 11 feels like.

Batman #291-#294 - “Who Killed the Batman?” – Batman’s dead! And no one knows who did it. So what do his enemies do? They hold an investigation wherein they try to figure out who killed their nemesis. This one had it all – Ra’s al Ghul as the judge, Two-Face as the prosecuting attorney, with appearances by Catwoman, the Joker, the Riddler, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, the Spook, Mr. Freeze, Signal Man (I know!), oh, and Lex Luthor. Of course, there’s a twist, and Batman really isn’t dead, but still, great, fun story.

Batman: Birth of the Demon - This graphic novel explored the origin of Ra’s al Ghul and was therefore set in the past, but it also had a segment set in the present day, which featured a savage battle between him and Batman. Ra’s gained the upper hand in the fight and drove a shovel (!) into Batman’s chest. With his last remaining energy, Batman grabbed Ra’s and threw them both into the Lazarus Pit. Bingo-bango, cut to the next morning, and Bruce Wayne is up and about, with nary a scratch.

Detective Comics #644-#646 - “Electric City”: During a battle with the third individual to call himself The Electrocutioner, Batman takes a massive jolt to the body stopping his heart. His heart is restarted by Robin, who then tells his mentor that he needs to rest. Batman, being Batman tells Robin no in his warm and friendly way:

Robin: But you died tonight! You need to rest!

Batman: I was technically dead; not clinically.

Hear that? That’s Chuck Norris saying, “Day-um.”

Batman #433 - #435 - “The Many Deaths of the Batman” – Technically, the title is accurate even if it’s not accurate in a specific sense – people dressed as Batman are found dead throughout Gotham City. One of the ones not dead is the real Batman, who deduces that all the dead men helped train Bruce Wayne in some aspect of his “becoming” Batman. Batman finds the killer, saves the day, and stops the Batmen from being killed.

Justice League: The Obsidian Age - Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and others killed in the distant past. Magically returned to life. Whereas Atom driving a brain-dead Batman was 11 on the awesome meter, this was about a 6 on the “meh” meter. For a real 11 on the "meh" meter, see the deaths of Batmen in Countdown: Arena where multiple Batmen from various realities are killed in a somewhat indiscriminate fashion.

Superman: Emperor Joker - In this alternate reality story, the all-powerful Joker captured and subsequently tortured Batman to death every night, only to resurrect him and do it again the next day. After the Joker was depowered and taken down by Superman, the memories of being repeatedly tortured to death were removed from Batman’s mind, and put into the Joker's, where they just added to the problem.

The First Real Batman RIP - “Real” in terms that it stuck. We talked about this back in May - Adventure Comics #461-#463 where the Earth-2 Batman (married to Catwoman, and father of the Earth-2 Huntress) was killed in a rather ignoble fashion, taking up not a full page, but barely a panel. Hey, it was 1978. While Earth-2 has gone away and come back and some of its heroes, once thought dead, have come back as well, Earth-2 Batman isn’t one of them. He’s not just comic book dead, he’s dead dead.

And while we’re not talking about the “main” DC Universe, how’s about…

Superman: Red Son - With Superman recast as the hero of the Soviet Union, Batman was “anarchy in black,” an ever-present irritant to the Man of Steel. Repulsed by the oppression leveled on the people under Superman’s regime, Batman teams with Lex Luthor to take down Superman. The plan ultimately fails, and, rather than face capture and reprogramming as a “Superman Robot,” Batman commits suicide by detonating a bomb in his chest, becoming a martyr for his cause.

An honorable mention:

Batman: Knightfall - Okay, this is admittedly parsing things out – Bruce Wayne lived on (albeit with a broken back) while “Batman” – the Batman died…for a time. Sure, there was the replacement Batman in the form of Jean-Paul Valley (soon to appear in our 12 Times Batman Went Nuts article), but he wasn’t Batman. He was the “be careful what you wish for” Batman, an editorial answer to fan speculation as to why Batman can’t be rougher and more…final in his solutions. Jean Paul Valley was, and he was a bastard and a half. Luckily, Bruce got his back and his mojo back together and took the cowl back from Jean-Paul.

And one last one, just because it’s a classic:

The Dark Knight Returns - At the story’s climactic battle between Superman and Batman, Bruce is giving Clark the thrashing of his life – and enjoying it. But – before Batman can claim total victory, his heart gives out. Flatline. No {bum-bump} to Superman’s superhuman hearing. Of course, it was only a ruse, designed to end the fight, and get Batman back underground (literally and figuratively). At Bruce Wayne’s funeral, Clark hears Bruce’s heart start up again – Bruce wasn’t precise enough with the chemicals that stopped his heart. Regardless, Clark let it go with a wink to Robin, allowing Batman to once again lead a battle against crime. An absolute classic.

So – back to this week’s “death” of Batman and the conclusion of Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel’s “Batman R.I.P.” – will it last? Is it real? Or, sorry – is it “real?”

With apologies to Virginia who believes in Santa, we can be a little realistic here. Batman is more than a character appearing in a comic book. He – as Bruce Wayne – is known to millions around the world as the hero of Gotham City. His movie has almost made a billion dollars this year. The value of Batman/Bruce Wayne to DC Comics and Warner Bros. is beyond measure. We’ll let you figure out what that means in terms of how “dead” Batman may be here, in the broad view.

That’s not to say that (this) Batman won’t be put on the shelf for a while, and that taking him off the stage hasn’t been in the works for some time in DC’s editorial plan. After all, in the Teen Titans arc, “Titans Tomorrow,” Tim Drake met his older self in a dozen or so years in the future. Future-Time had become Batman (and a mean one at that), and claimed that “So many heroes fell during it all. During the Crisis.” DCU Executive Editor Dan DiDio has claimed that the end of Final Crisis will connect with the end of “Batman R.I.P.” – and both stories are written by Grant Morrison, which allows serious synchronization.

Also, in Justice League of America #0, Superman and Wonder Woman are seen on a rooftop, clearly implying that Batman is no more.

Wonder Woman: “So how’d he finally go?”

Superman: “Fighting.”

That’s our bit of history for today. Given that comics are comics, we’re sure we missed a couple (dozen) other deaths of Batman. Got a favorite that we skipped? Think you know how this whole “Batman R.I.P.” is going to work out?

These comments aren’t going to write themselves, people.

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