|Synopsis||In a dark future, Bruce Wayne is presumed dead and Gotham is a totalitarian state. Jace Fox, son of Lucius Fox has taken up the mantle of Batman and patrols a Gotham under high-tech surveillance and ruled by fear.|
|Artist||Travel Foreman (#0), Olivier Coipel (#1), Stephen Segovia(#2 and #3), Christian Duce (#3) and others|
|Genre||Science Fiction, Superheroes|
|Length||Roughly 24 pages per issue|
|Release Date||August 10, 2021|
How did we get here? Several weeks ago, I walked into a comic book store on a whim. I read comics enthusiastically as a teenager. As an artist, I learned how to draw the human figure from comics, to the extreme frustration of every art teacher I’ve ever had. I had mostly abandoned reading regular issues in a series as an adult. I read the occasional graphic novel, but I was mostly oblivious to the current goings on of the various comic universes.
It was while perusing the current issues all those weeks ago that I noticed a new Batman title, and thus began my meandering descent back into the episodic depths of the DC universe.
Violence: Standard comic-book fare with lots of fighting. We do see characters shot and killed. We occasionally see blood but nothing gratuitous.
Sexual Content: Nothing explicit so far. One male character is shown without a shirt while changing.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Reference is made to Fear Toxin and Joker Toxin having been used on Gotham in the past.
Spiritual Content: An old friend/potential love interest of Jace wears a hijab and is presumably Muslim.
Language/Crude Humor: Profanity is censored and left to the imagination.
Other Negative Content: The Fox family engages in some morally questionable behavior such as lying and manipulation.
Positive Content: Jace is committed to atoning for his past sins.
I Am Batman is part of DC’s Fear State event, which serves as a prequel to its Future State event, and follows the larger Infinite Frontier relaunch of the DC Universe. Confused? Just wait.
From time to time, both Marvel and DC acknowledge that decades of stories have made their respective fictional universes extremely complicated. To help with this, they do reboots every so often and take classic characters in new directions. The general justification for this is the concept of a multi-verse, where infinite versions of everyone and everything exist across all time and space. In perhaps a stroke of genius, or the thing that will drive everyone mad, DC has chosen to reboot again and embrace all things. All versions of all characters and all storylines are canon. This means multiple characters can bear the same title, like Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman. It also means DC can run dozens of titles simultaneously. To make things really fun – and expensive for readers – they run events across multiple titles. Imagine a crossover television show encompassing dozens of different series.
All this to say, when I picked up I Am Batman issues #0 and #1, I had no idea what I was in for.
Infinite Frontier and Future State
In 2020, our DC Heroes saved the Multiverse and glimpsed a possible future for the DC Universe. This Future State showed a dark future for Gotham City, which has become totalitarian. The city is controlled by The Magistrate, a private police force armed with advanced weaponry, armor, and surveillance technology. Bruce Wayne is missing and presumed dead, and a new Batman has arisen to take on the mantle of the Dark Knight.
While the Future State series explores a possible future for the DC Universe and its characters, Fear State explains the events leading up to that future, as they pertain to Gotham City and the various heroes and villains associated with Batman.
Jonathan Crane, AKA scarecrow, is visited in Arkham Asylum by Simon Saint, CEO of Saint Industries. Saint is interested in Crane’s Fear State Theory, the notion that a society can be forced to evolve through a collective trauma. Saint thinks Gotham can be “helped” to evolve. In order to facilitate this he agrees to help Crane leave Arkham and unleash his plans on Gotham City as a test subject.
Arkham Asylum is bombed by the Joker, releasing Joker Toxin into the air, killing a number of inmates and staff, and providing the perfect cover for Crane to escape. It also creates the impetus for harsher measures in Gotham to supposedly control crime, but in reality limit freedom.
In the Future State titles we saw that Gotham is under the control of the Magistrate, a private policing organization created by Saint, and given a wide berth by Christopher Nakano, Mayor of Gotham. Masked vigilantes are to be shot on sight, which makes things a bit difficult for our heroes. Gotham is under constant, high-tech surveillance, from drones and the Magistrates human Peacekeepers and robot patrols.
Bruce Wayne is missing and presumed dead, having been shot by the leader of The Magistrate, Peacekeeper-01, in an alley.
Lucius Fox has taken over Wayne Enterprises. His son Luke is Batwing and working with the rest of the Bat family to protect Gotham. Lucius’ prodigal son Timothy has also recently returned to Gotham, having change his name to Jace.
Throughout Future State, after Bruce’s disappearance, a new Batman was seen, shrouded in mystery until now.
The limited series The Next Batman: Second Son revealed that the Future State incarnation of Batman is Jace Fox. Sent abroad as a teenager to avoid prosecution for vehicular manslaughter, Jace is summoned home by Lucius. Unbeknownst to any of his family, Jace has been training with Katana and fighting crime in his own way for some time. Family tensions abound upon his return, given Jace’s carefree and reckless past. The discovery of a Batsuit buried deep beneath Wayne Enterprises sets him on a new path toward redemption.
I am Batman
Jace has been tracking the movements of Tyler Arkadine, a philanthropist with shady dealings. Arkadine is part of a complex plot to destabilize Alleytown, the lower income east side of Gotham, via carefully planned violence amidst protests. This is part of Saint’s larger scheme to bring Gotham under the full control of the Magistrate.
Meanwhile, Renee Montoya, now Commissioner, attempts to uphold new laws banning masked vigilantes, while also looking out for her officers and the vulnerable citizens of Gotham. The attack on Arkham killed a large number of the GCPD, and Montoya has to oversee a department short-staffed and full of inexperienced, recently promoted officers and detectives. Among these are new Detectives Chubb and Whitaker. Chubb is willing to do as she’s told, while her partner Whitaker sees the value in masked vigilantes like Batman and is uncomfortable with the new laws against them.
The Fox Family is in turmoil. Lucius is providing technology to Saint. Tanya, a powerful attorney, is pursuing her own personal vendetta against masked superheroes, whom she blames for the poisoning and ill-health of her daughter Tam. Their son Luke, the current Batwing, is trying to find the cure for Tam’s condition, while also working through bitterness toward Jace for his prior mistakes. Finally, youngest Fox child Tiff is keeping Luke’s secret and working through her own anger and frustration at the state of affairs in the family and Gotham as a whole.
Adding to the chaos is the Seer, a shadowy figure controlling communications within Gotham and deliberately spreading misinformation. The Seer has legions of followers broken up into factions collectively known as the Moral Authority. The Moral Authority are armed citizens, patrolling Gotham and waging war on anyone who gets in their way–police, government, and masked heroes.
I Am Batman explores Jace’s attempts to take up the Batman mantle and discover the true nature of the powers controlling Gotham, all while trying to balance complex family dynamics.
John Ridley, writer of 12 Years a Slave, takes the helm writing this new Batman narrative. It was reported for some time that DC was relaunching and had plans to retire its major heroes, including Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, and replace them with younger characters taking up the titles. Ridley was intended to take over writing Batman, with the introduction of a Black character (finally) taking over the title. Internal shake-ups at DC (read lay-offs) saw this plan scrapped, and a new one hatched that became Infinite Futures. Infinite Futures apparently retains some of the original ideas of the prior, scrapped relaunch, albeit paired down. In this new narrative all aspects of the DC universe are valid, the original characters continue in their roles, while other characters take up the same roles in other timelines, and sometimes concurrently. That the new line-up features minority and marginalized characters, one has to question why this idea was essentially pushed to the sidelines. I digress.
I’m pleased the story is still being told, and I hope that it’s given its fair due. I was concerned this would end up being a limited run, as there was little information beyond a release date for issue #5 in January of 2022. However, a recent press release from DC Comics indicates the series setting will shift permanently to New York City with issue #6. Which sounds like the series is here long-term, though I wonder what this means for the Dark Knight in Gotham. It’s hard to imagine Gotham without Batman. Does this mean Bruce Wayne will return? Or perhaps the rest of the Bat family will be watching over the city.
Ridley has been announced as the writer of Marvel’s Black Panther. I wonder if that means his tenure on writing Batman is limited. He has commented that shifting the series to New York next year will allow for new opportunities in world-building, allies, and villains. Perhaps this is an opportunity for Ridley to bring his vision for Batman to fruition, at least in part. It would have been interesting to see Jace continue as Batman in Gotham, in the world we already know and love, as the prime carrier of the title.
Ridley’s Batman is flawed and in these first issues often makes huge mistakes. Like Bruce, he is born to immense wealth and privilege. Like Bruce, Jace’s defining moment is a murder. This time, however, it is Jace who is the killer. As a careless, self-absorbed teenager, Jace accidentally killed a man while driving and talking on his cellphone. His parents, Lucius and Tanya Fox, immediately used their wealth and influence to cover up the crime, tarnish the reputation of the victim, and get their son away from Gotham and any potential consequences.
Horrified at his parent’s actions, Jace nevertheless goes along their plan and is sent to a boarding school. There he learns to fight, and eventually finds his way to Japan and trains with Katana, a Samurai warrior. When he is summoned back to Gotham to face the mistake he made so many years ago, Jace resolves to do something to make amends.
This series is dark, though not as dark as some other Batman stories. That said, be prepared for violence and some moral ambiguity. Jace has a different outlook than Bruce Wayne and threatens others with death, though he has yet to follow through on that. Bruce was a “tortured soul” from childhood trauma inflicted on him by another. Jace is tortured by his own mistakes and tries to make amends. So far, he has yet to fully own the consequences of his actions that led to a man’s death. He’s also in direct conflict with most of his family, either as Jace or as Batman.
The series tackles a variety of current events, albeit remixed slightly through the lens of the fascist state into which Gotham is descending. Racism, police brutality, masking, conspiracy theories, and government overreach are all at play in I Am Batman. Ridley explores each of these within the context of simple human beings making choices based on fear, separate from cliché and stereotype.
It would be easy to riddle this incarnation of Batman with cliché’s and a very specific narrative. So I appreciate that Ridley’s social commentary here is more than skin deep. Power and privilege follow wealth, while the poorer citizens of Gotham wrestle with oppression and crippling poverty and injustice.
What Are We Afraid Of?
It’s hard not to miss the links to current affairs. A young member of the Moral Authority kills a masked vigilante in cold blood and sees nothing wrong with his actions. He’s been indoctrinated by the Seer and sees himself as special, a hero protecting his city. Lucius and Tanya use money and privilege to help Jace flee the consequences of his actions. They actively work to assassinate the character of the man Jace killed – painting him as a villain and turning public opinion against him. They use their money and Tanya’s legal prowess to silence the man’s family and any dissenting voices. The citizens of Gotham wear masks to try and protect themselves from the residual toxins released at Arkham, bringing them into direct conflict with the city’s agenda against masked vigilantes. The truth is up for debate as the powers that be work to spread misinformation and radicalize a city of people already on the brink from fear.
A cursory glance at the news these days will see all of this playing out in some form another. Ultimately, like Gotham, we as a nation, a species, a planet, are wrestling with fear. It’s different for each person, each demographic. For some it’s fear of a corrupt system that has proven time and again that there is no justice. For others, it’s the fear of the loss of power and control as society shifts to address gross inequalities. For others, it’s the fear of disease and death, and for others still it’s the fear of being controlled by shadow figures pulling the strings of the world.
The Bible is full of the horror mankind is capable of inflicting upon itself. The capacity of humans for evil is on full display from beginning to end. And yet, we are told not to be afraid. Fear short circuits rational response and leads us to make all sorts of mistakes as we seek to protect ourselves and whatever we love. In I Am Batman fear is literally killing people. How many real-world lives have we lost, and continue to lose, because of fear? How many wars have been fought out of fear? How many split second fear-based decisions have cost a human life?
There’s a lot of groundwork leading up to this title, and not all of it is finished as the larger DC events are still unfolding.
The Next Batman: Second Son, will be helpful reading for the events just prior to this storyline. Other helpful compilations are The Next Batman, and Future State Batman: Dark Detective.
The plot threads crisscross titles: Batman, Catwoman, Nightwing, Harley Quinn, Joker, you get the drill. Even after a good amount of time reading on the internet, and checking out graphic novels from my library, I still have questions and things I don’t quite understand.
Still, I’m enjoying this series, and I think its a worthwhile read.
+ Engaging new take on Batman
+ Diverse cast
+ Solid art
+ Characters stand up for what is right, no matter the cost
- Sometimes confusing plot elements due to the title's interconnectedness with a larger DC event
The Bottom Line
This is an engaging read that is laying the groundwork for what will hopefully be a long-term series. Ridley turns a lens on current issues and explores them with a fresh take.