Batman gets taken on a mind trip in this week's Batman Lost, a one-shot by writers Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, and Joshua Williamson that explains some of the larger questions from the Dark Nights: Metal event.
Spoilers ahead for this week's Batman Lost.
At the heart of the story is the claim by Barbatos that he was the bat outside the window who started Bruce Wayne on his journey to become Batman. In fact, Barbatos claims to have been manipulating Batman's entire history so he would one day become the vessel Barbatos needed to cross into the DCU.
Featuring art by Doug Mahnke, Yanick Paquette, and Jorge Jimenez, the issue shows what is happening to Bruce Wayne in the Dark Multiverse, where he was transported at the end of Dark Nights: Metal #2.
The first three issues of Metal (by Snyder and Greg Capullo) revealed that Batman had been exposed to five metals so he would become a human portal for the evil Barbatos to enter the DCU.
Now, while the creature (and other evils from the Dark Multiverse) are wreaking havoc on the main DC earth, Batman is trapped in Barbatos' home world, the Dark Multiverse, where fears become real.
What did we learn in Batman Lost that's so important?
- Establishes that Hawkman and Hawkgirl were leaders of the Bird Tribe that fought against the Bat Tribe in the pre-historical DCU (and apparently have been reincarnated ever since). Hath-Set was the leader of the Bat-Tribe.
- Indicates that Bruce Wayne has been in the Dark Multiverse for many, many years in his own mind (which explains why he looked so old at the end of Dark Nights: Metal #3, when Superman found an aged Batman in the Dark Multiverse). Time, we assume, is different there, and the issue shows a moment when Bruce finally just gives up.
- Ends with Bruce in the same location where Superman found him on the final pages of Metal #3.
- Implies that all of Bruce Wayne's life - even his decision to become Batman in the first place - was designed by Barbatos, all for the purpose of using Bruce as a vessel to this Earth.
- Explores several possible futures for the Batman universe, none of which turn out well. These have all materialized in the Dark Multiverse, but there's no indication that they will last or be part of the permanent DC Multiverse. (That said, several of the worst of Batman's fears have crossed into the DCU, called the nightmare Batmen or 'Dark Knights' by DC.)
And although the issue's scene-jumping is a little disorienting, it manages to pay homage to Batman stories of the past - particularly those by Grant Morrison and the Peter Milligan story that first introduced the concept of Barbatos - while portraying the ugly truth of both Batman's past and his fears about the future.
So how did this mind trip cover all those bases?
The issue opens with a Bruce Wayne who is 78-years-old and is presumedly retired from being Batman. On the issue's first page, he's sitting in an armchair in his mansion's library.
He looks directly into the "camera"/fourth wall and says, "I see you" (mimicking Morrison's legendary Animal Man breaking-the-fourth-wall story).
But the person he sees is his granddaughter Janet (one of many Wayne grandchildren, apparently), who walks through the door to the room and asks her grandpa to read her a story - specifically, a "Batman adventure."
With a nod to DC's changing continuity, Bruce says he wrote down all of his adventures and that "half of them contradict the other, but they still all happened - I promise you that."
After that nerd moment - they all still happened! - Janet chooses from the shelf "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate," which Bruce says was his first case. (This story is, indeed, the name of the first Batman story by Bill Finger and Bob Kane from Detective Comics #27.) Readers are shown a shelf featuring books that have the titles of several other well-known Batman stories.
Batman says he doesn't want to read that story. He suggests something more exciting, from when he was more experienced at being Batman - "maybe the case of the Long Halloween?" he says - but Janet claims that this story is her favorite.
So elderly Bruce starts reading the story...
Windows and Stairs
The first page of the Batman adventure is a window, which Bruce initially thinks is the wrong beginning, but is convinced by Janet that it's accurate. "It all started with a window…." Bruce says.
(Sidenote here: It all actually did start with a window, as this issue reminds readers. In Batman's comic book continuity, although the scene is sometimes different, Bruce Wayne decided to become Batman after a bat appeared outside his window. More on that later….)
In the story that elderly Bruce is reading to Janet, Batman is investigating the death of Mr. Lambert, and the prime suspect is his son, who says he saw a "shape at the window." But young Lambert says it's a "curious window - it's always covered in blood" because birds run into it.
Batman goes to the window to investigate.
Again, elderly Bruce Wayne stops the story to question whether this is the way the story happened, but Janet assures him that this is the story. "There was always blood," she says.
Batman Lost returns to this story again and again during the issue. Eventually, present-day Batman (who's trying to escape the Dark Multiverse) realizes that the birds who run into the window and hurt themselves represent the "birds" in his own life who are trying to help him (like Robin, Nightwing, Superman, etc.). "I surround myself with them, to remind me who I am," he says.
This Batman Lost version of the "Chemical Syndicate" story also implies that the villain was actually controlled by Barbatos. It was all part of a plot to make Batman into what he would become, the "wagon" for Barbatos to escape the Dark Multiverse.
The blood-splattered window is also important because, as the issue jumps to other scenes, many of them involve windows or glass that can be broken (apparently representing Batman breaking out of the Dark Multiverse).
Several also feature stairs or ladders that take Batman down (apparently symbolizing Batman moving deeper into the darkness).
In the issue's narration, Janet always encourages Batman to go deeper, down the ladder or stairs, but Bruce's dialogue has him wanting to break free, through the window, or the "get higher, get out of this damn place."
More on windows at the end of the issue, but for now, let's explore some of the other scenes shown in Batman Lost.
Readers are shown a pre-historic battle between the Bat-Tribe and the Bird-Tribe. These moments harken back to the Return of Bruce Wayne storyline by Morrison that sent Bruce Wayne back in time.
Bruce is overlooking an ancient, caveman-type battle between a tribe of the "birds" and one of the "bats," and he's told that the leader of the Bat-Tribe eventually becomes Hath-Set (the Hawkman villain) and the leaders of the Bird-Tribe eventually become Hawkman and Hawkgirl.
The issue reiterates that Bruce's trip to the pre-historic past is what caught the attention of Barbatos. He used the Bat-Tribe to enter the world, but Barbatos was pushed back to the Dark Multiverse by the Bird-Tribe.
But then he realized he could make Bruce Wayne his "ultimate vessel."
In the Dark Multiverse, your worst fears materialize, if only for a moment. And in this issue, Batman experiences several of his fears for the future, presumedly shown to him somehow by Barbatos. Batman is aware that none of it is real, but it's difficult for the hero nonetheless.
The first future shows what happened when Damian and other heroes fought with Batman's "codes" - "we fought your way," Damian tells him, "and this is what happened." It appears that this dark future has rebels who dress themselves with Batman symbols and even worship Batman. Damian leads a "Hawk Patrol" that eliminates these Batman followers on sight.
In the next future, a version of the Joker is mayor of Gotham and there are "no rules." In this timeline, Batman "went all in," causing people to rebel and choose the bad guys. A future version of Green Arrow and Batgirl are being pursued by citizens who are dressed like Batman rogues and want to kill the costumed heroes.
In the third future, the heroes have gone to space to "avoid the Justice Wars." In this timeline, the heroes "tried fighting with restraint and without," but they ended up just abandoning Earth.
So in other words, these manifestations of Batman's fears of the future are pretty hopeless.
Another story thread in the issue pays homage to the "Dark Night, Dark City" story by Peter Milligan and Kieron Dwyer which first came up with the idea of a bat god called Barbatos being part of Batman's history.
Bruce is experiencing the scene within the consciousness of Thomas Wayne, the Revolutionary War-era ancestor of Bruce who has shown up in previous Batman stories (with one story saying he eventually became Dr. Hurt).
In this scene, a group of Barbatos worshippers are completing the 'Ceremony of the Bat,' planning to sacrifice a young woman to summon the bat god. But the plan goes awry, and the men leave and lock the door, trapping the young woman to burn to death in the room. The god was summoned, it seems, but he was locked in the fiery ground beneath Gotham City.
But in this Dark Multiverse vision of the scene, Bruce/Thomas is still in the room with the woman, as she tells him the importance of the story.
The nude woman (who looks a lot like Selina Kyle, by the way) speaks directly into the "camera" and tells the story as if in third-person.
The group who tried to summon Barbatos was the Judas Tribe, she says. And the men were traitors to the Bird Tribe. (Reminder from previous issues: The Judas Tribe becomes the Court of Owls.)
She says Barbatos sees Bruce as a window, and the Judas Tribe's actions in Gotham's history created him.
"I see you, just as he did," she says, echoing the "I see you" theme from the first page.
Just as in "Dark Night, Dark City," the woman's voice implies that her sacrifice in the depths of Gotham, below where the city was built, turned the city into a giant mechanism for Barbatos to eventually return.
Down the Manhole
In another scene, Bruce takes the consciousness of another Wayne ancestor, Alan Wayne. In the moment Bruce is experiencing, Alan looked through an owl-shaped telescope at the city he'd built, but he saw that the metals in the buildings of Gotham were "laced with something terrible" by the Bat-Tribe. And he was attacked by the Court of Owls upon this realization.
Alan/Bruce ends up on the streets of Gotham, screaming to everyone that the walls and stones in the buildings "call to the dark horned god! The bat!"
He sees Wonder Woman, and it's apparently in this moment that he determines that maybe he can "call to them" (as seen in Metal #3). But he falls into a manhole - oops - and side note: dying by falling in a manhole was the eventual fate of Alan Wayne established in previous Batman stories.
OK, so we're starting to get the idea that, despite Bruce trying to get out the window to higher ground (and out of the Dark Multiverse), he keeps falling down lower.
Back to that Window
After all these stories are kind of dispersed through the issue, we return to the framing story - the one where grandpa Bruce Wayne is reading a story to Janet.
But this time, Janet's not too happy with her grandfather. He has changed the story. And - yikes - she morphs into some type of demon.
Bruce calls out to Barbatos: "Where are you?"
A voice instructs him to look behind it all and see:
- All the past scenes show him "dark birds and bats working together to shape you from your first case."
- All the future scenes reveal to him that he will "fail at fighting as you do now, fail for doing more and fail for doing less."
This is the dark, empty truth of Batman, the voice says.
The elderly Bruce looks into the window of his library and sees that the voice is coming from a reflection there - a younger version of himself. But Bruce recognizes the reflection to be Barbatos.
The creature calls himself the "father," and he says, "I made your story. I've always been right here at the window."
Then the young-Bruce reflection turns into a bat, flying just outside the glass.
"I am the bat," Barbatos says, peering through the window - referring to the bat outside the window that inspired Bruce to "become a bat" in comic book continuities.
Bruce refuses to believe it. He can't accept that his entire life was crafted to just bring Barbatos to Earth. He wants to escape. He jumps through the window and...
In a two-page spread, Bruce floats before the great Barbatos and he's show that there are infinite possibilities for the future of Batman - all dark. "This place, my realm," Barbatos says, "is full of worlds created from fears and failings, and you have more than any other hero, my son."
Barbatos says there are thousands of worlds that are "built by the unspoken terrors in your heart." Readers see various planets and different versions of Batman. None of them, frankly, look all that inviting.
"This is who you are without my help," Barbatos says. "They are the real you."
He shows Batman that, right now, there are dark versions of Batman fighting on Earth - scenes from Dark Nights: Metal #3 and other tie-in stories - and tells Bruce that "they are you, and they have won."
A bat creature yells at Batman, "Look at me! Look at me!"
Bruce finally snaps. "No, please! I don't want to know anymore!"
Batman desperately screams, "I give up."
Back in the Library
Sweet Janet is back on grandpa Bruce Wayne's lap, and he starts the story over.
But as ensuing panels focus in on Bruce's eye, reading the book, it then backs away to reveal…
The elderly, gray-haired Bruce Wayne is trapped in a daze on that power tower where Superman found him at the end of Dark Nights: Metal #3. (Reminder: There are towers like this all over Earth right now, and readers were told that the humans who are stacked within the tower are reliving horrors within their minds - something both Superman and Wonder Woman experienced.)
The issue ends with Batman seemingly lost to the dark, with the story slated to continue December 20 with Dark Nights: Metal #4.