Spoilers for Batman #49 ahead.
Batman is back.
But in order to get back the tortured, obsessed Batman that readers know and love, the happy, well-adjusted Bruce Wayne who's been starring in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman over the last few months has to die.
In this week's Batman #49 by Snyder and Yanick Paquette, Bruce Wayne demanded that Alfred allow him to utilize that crazy, sci-fi, Batman-making machine in the Batcave to get back his memories and abilities.
First, let's review what that machine is all about. Introduced in Detective Comics #27 in a story Snyder did with artist Sean Murphy, the machine was built by Bruce in his desire to be immortal. Instead of actually taking some supernatural pill to be immortal (hey, this is the DCU after all), Batman uses his brain to figure out a way to re-create Batmen — and ongoing slew of Batmen into the future — by making clones and imprinting them with Batman's memories and skills.
As Snyder explained to Newsarama in August, "what he does is he makes a machine — in that [Detective Comics] story, at least – where there's always a mortal Bruce Wayne. They train the same way, ready to be a new Batman for a new era…. it signifies the depths of our Bruce's desire to remain true as a mortal Batman, but always be there to protect the city."
But when he built the machine, Batman ran simulations to test the process and they failed – the new minds could not withstand the "shock of the trauma he inflicted on it," Alfred explains in Batman #49.
When Bruce Wayne was believed to be dead, then turned up later without his memories, Alfred decided the legacy of Batman should end. After all, Bruce had fallen in love with Julie Madison and started helping Gotham's children in need — and there was a new Batman as Jim Gordon took on the role.
So Alfred destroyed the machine.
In Batman #49, we're shown that — as always — Batman had a back-up copy (of course he does! Doesn't Batman plan for everything?). The memories of Bruce Wayne — all the way up until the moments before his battle with the Joker — as saved and ready to go.
And even though current-day Bruce Wayne is happy in his new life with Julie, he believes that the only way to stop the destruction that Mr. Bloom is unleashing on Gotham is to return to his old, potentially miserable life as Batman.
He gets Alfred to activate the machine.
The process doesn't work well at all, and readers are shown what's happening in Bruce's brain as he tries to re-implant his memories. What follows are a series of panels depicting different types of Batmen dying — from a happy father-mayor Batman to a Batman who teams up with seemingly good versions of his villains. "It won't work," Alfred says after he tries again and again. "The living brain can't handle what Batman was! Each time we smash your mind against it, it tears more of you into shreds!"
So how can this new, amnesiac Bruce Wayne possibly go back to being who he was before?
Unfortunately, the only way is to effectively kill the now-well-balanced Bruce — to bring him to brain death before implanting the memories.
Alfred can't do it, but someone else will. Julie Madison walks into the Batcave and offers to complete the process.
"I've known," she admits, alluding to a knowledge of Bruce being Batman. "Of course I've always known."
She realizes that, in order to save Gotham City, the new happy Bruce she loves must die, and then he needs to be resurrected with the implanted memories of his predecessor.
It's sad. A brand new origin, of sorts, for Bruce Wayne — tragic, as it should be (this is Batman, after all), but a little more sci-fi than in the past.
"You said whoever pressed this button would be Joe Chill…" Julie says to Alfred, "but that's not quite it. Like father like daughter, I guess. The circle needs to close. We all need to play our parts. Goodbye Bruce."
And she does it. Bruce is brain dead. "He's gone," Alfred says.
The machine implants the memories and voila. Bruce is back — his stoic face returning as he says, "Let's go to work."