A Modern Batman Guide

Batman is invariably one of the biggest and most significant franchises in comics at any given time. However, this fall is a particularly noteworthy time for the Caped Crusader. Grant Morrison is wrapping up the current phase of his extended Batman saga next month as Batman: the Return of Bruce Wayne draws to a close. When the dust settles, Bruce Wayne will be back as Batman and a new era for all the Bat books will begin.

No doubt there will be some new readers attracted by all the hype behind the launch of Batman Inc. and the changes to the many other Bat books on the stands. Also, there may be many readers who haven't followed every one of the 60+ issues that make up Morrison's story so far. In this guide, we summarize the major storylines and conflicts that have defined Batman's career in recent years. Beginning with Batman and Son and leading to the present, we trace the path of Bruce Wayne's fall, Dick Grayson's rise as Batman, and the many friends and enemies that have appeared along the way. We also provide notations so interested readers know exactly what trades to pick up to read these stories for themselves. (It's worth noting that most things marked "HC" - or hardcover - are also available in "TPB" - or trade paperback/softcover - and vice versa.)

Following the events of Infinite Crisis and 52, Batman and Robin returned to Gotham City re-energized and ready to wipe out crime for good [Batman and Son - TPB]. Initially this renewed mission went well. With most of Gotham's criminal leaders locked away in Arkham, Batman faced the unusual prospect of having extra time to devote to being Bruce Wayne.

Several strange events served to complicate Batman's life during this time. First, he came face to face with his previously unknown son, Damian al Ghul. Second, a GCPD officer in a Batman costume shot Joker in the head, grievously wounding him. Third, Bruce struck up a relationship with African royalty/fashion model Jezebel Jett.

After a brief attempt at playing father to young Damian, Batman sent the boy back to live with his mother. He then battled a resurgent Joker, now in the grip of a new personality known as "The Clown at Midnight". As for the impostor Batman, Bruce came to learn that he was but one of three stalking the streets of Gotham. The second was a gigantic killer hopped up on Venom and Monster Formula, one who nearly killed the real Batman before being dispatched by his fellow police officers.

More troubling still was the surprise return of Ra's al Ghul [Batman: The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul – TPB]. Now inhabiting the body of his son, al Ghul's vendetta against the Dark Knight continued anew.

Amid all these strange events, the romance between Bruce and Jezebel continued to grow. The tabloids even predicted marriage for the perennial bachelor and ladies man.

His encounters with the first two "Ghosts of Batman" showed Bruce that a larger, shadowy enemy was preparing a major strike against him [Batman: The Black Glove - TPB]. That enemy revealed itself to be an organization known as the Black Glove. A reunion with the Club of Heroes, a group of international heroes inspired by Batman and Robin, turned deadly when the Black Glove's minions struck. The organization gathered the enemies of each hero into a new group called the Club of Villains. In the end, John Mayhew, the original founder of the Club of Heroes, stood revealed as a Black Glove member.

Back in Gotham, Batman finally came face to face with the third and final Ghost of Batman. Another ex-cop named Michael Lane, this third Ghost attempted to torture and kill Batman. He revealed the true nature of the program that birthed the three Ghosts. Years previous, the GCPD partnered with the federal government to mold a group of officers into replacement Batmen for the eventual day when the real Batman died in action. Doctor Hurt, leader of the experiment, realized that the key ingredient in building an effective Batman was personal tragedy. Lane was driven insane by the deaths of his family members, making him a perfect candidate for Hurt's brutal indoctrination. Hurt had previously assisted Batman in undertaking an isolation experiment.

Batman escaped this final replacement, but he knew it would be only a matter of time before Doctor Hurt and the Black Glove resurfaced for their final strike. Even so, his love for Jezebel had grown to the point where Bruce was seriously considering a different path in life. Even after discovering his extracurricular activities, Jezebel remained devoted to Bruce.

The Black Glove finally unleashed its master stroke against Bruce and his allies [Batman R.I.P. - HC]. Robin and Nightwing were attacked by the Club of Heroes. Doctor Hurt and the rest invaded the Batcave, knocking Alfred unconscious and kidnapping Jezebel. Doctor Hurt used a special code phrase implanted in Bruce's mind - "Zur en Arrh" - to destabilize the Caped Crusader and send him into the streets of Gotham with no memory. Simultaneously, faked documents and photos leaked to the press suggested that Bruce's parents had a secret, sordid past and that Thomas Wayne may actually have faked his own death.

Though this hypnotic suggestion had been implanted during Batman's isolation experiment. Hurt underestimated the true depth of Batman's self-induced psychological conditioning. He fashioned himself a new costume out of rags and became the "Batman of Zur-en-Arrh." This unbalanced but effective Batman took down the members of the Black Glove one by one.

The final confrontation between Batman and the Black Glove took place in Arkham Asylum, with Joker seated as guest of honor. Hurt intended to destroy Bruce's mind once and for all with the revelation that Jezebel was also a member of the Black Glove. But even this had been deduced and accounted for. With Batman triumphant and Joker making short work of the Black Glove, Hurt fled into the night with Lane at his side. He claimed first to be a vengeful Thomas Wayne and then the Devil himself. His last promise to Batman before disappearing into Gotham River was this - the next time Batman donned the cape and cowl would be his last.

His body bruised and his public reputation in tatters, Bruce returned to Wayne Manor ready to pick up the pieces of his life and repair the damage caused by Hurt. He also had a new mystery to contend with. A hidden room in Wayne Manor concealed a Batman cowl dating back to prehistoric times. Scrawled on the walls was the word "Barbatos" and the name "Thomas" [Batman #701].

But Batman had no time to devote to these troubles, as Justice League matters soon called his attention [Final Crisis - HC]. The New God Orion was found shot dead in Metropolis. Batman turned his attention towards solving an extraterrestrial murder mystery. The killing soon proved to be the tip of a much larger threat. A war had been fought between the New Gods of Apokolips and New Genesis. Darkseid and his minions were now on Earth, disguised as humans and quietly building an army to enslave the planet.

Batman discovered the truth too late to warn his allies. He was imprisoned and taken to the Command-D bunker in Bludhaven, where Darkseid's scientists embarked on a quest to clone an army of Batmen. Once again, twisted doctors sought to weaponize the world's greatest warrior. Over the course of a month, Batman slowly freed himself from the influence of his mind control. The clones proved ill-equipped to handle the pain and suffering that drive the original, and all were destroyed in the psychic backlash [Batman #672-673].

Batman emerged from his prison just as Darkseid was closing his grip around humanity [Final Crisis - HC]. He retrieved the gun that killed Orion and confronted the god of evil. Making a one time exception to his rule against firearms, Batman mortally wounded Darkseid. In return, Darkseid blasted Batman with the Omega Sanction, "the death that is life." Like so many of Darkseid's victims, Batman was doomed to experience an endless cycle of deaths, each more terrible than the last.

A glimpse of this terrible cycle may have been seen in the pages of Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?. In this story, the disembodied soul of Bruce Wayne watched as his friends and enemies gathered at his funeral, each one telling a different tale of how Batman met his ultimate end. Though officially presented as an out-of-continuity tale, Whatever Happened could easily be seen as an exploration of Batman's ordeal in the Omega Sanction.

With Batman apparently dead and the world still reeling from Darkseid's attack, Gotham City was in worse shape than ever [Batman: Battle for the Cowl – HC]. A new Black Mask was quickly exerting control over Gotham's underworld. Gotham needed a new Batman, and so his former protégées – Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and Jason Todd – battled for the right to wear the cowl.

In the end, it was Dick who earned the right, while Tim donned the costume of Red Robin and Jason became the new Red Hood. Dick took on Damian as his Robin, and the two began a campaign to clean the streets of Gotham just as Bruce had done months earlier. This new Dynamic Duo found it difficult to work as a team, but an early battle against Professor Pyg and his mind-controlled Doll-o-trons cemented their partnership [Batman and Robin Vol. 1 - HC].

Dick also settled into a solo career as Batman. Countering Black Mask's attempts to rule the Gotham underworld, Penguin and Two-Face launched their own campaigns of destruction [Batman: Long Shadows – HC]. Following thes eearly battles, Dick battled Black Mask himself [Batman: Life After Death - HC]. This villain was revealed to be none other than Jeremiah Arkham. Arkham is now imprisoned in the same facility he once supervised, suffering from severe disassociative identity disorder. Dick has also struggled to take on Bruce's role within the Justice League [Justice League: Team History – HC].

The second major team-up between Dick and Damian proved a bit more difficult [Batman and Robin Vol. 1 - HC]. Jason Todd re-emerged as Red Hood. His sidekick, Scarlet, was a former victim of Professor Pyg. As a darker counterpoint to Batman and Robin, Red Hood and Scarlet executed criminals and made a public campaign out of their pledge to "let the punishment fit the crime". Matters were complicated further when El Penitente, a mysterious European crime lord, dispatched an assassin named Flamingo to eliminate both Dynamic Duos.

In the end, Flamingo was defeated and Red Hood arrested. However, Damian was seriously injured and paralyzed in the battle. As he was dragged away by the GCPD, Jason taunted Dick with a hard truth. Dick had access to Bruce Wayne's corpse. He had the means to bring him back to life using a Lazarus Pit. Why wasn't he doing everything he could to bring his mentor back to life?

Just prior to the events of Batman R.I.P., another enemy of Bruce Wayne was plotting his destruction [Batman: Heart of Hush – TPB]. Tommy Elliot, former childhood friend and now the villain known as Hush, sought to destroy Bruce Wayne before the Black Glove had it chance. Hush first targeted Catwoman to strike at Bruce. He then revealed that he had surgically altered his own face to resemble Bruce's. Hush's true goal was to steal his former friend's identity and reclaim a lost life of power and luxury. In the end, Catwoman herself is the one to apprehend Hush.

This Bruce Wayne doppelganger was locked away in Wayne Tower. Of the Wayne family, only Damian found Elliot's presence agreeable, finding in him an indirect way of experiencing life with his father. Elliot soon escaped his captivity and reentered Gotham's public life. While troubling, Elliot's actions had the benefit of convincing the world Bruce Wayne was still alive and well. Dick and his friends were faced with no other choice than to allow Elliot to continue his masquerade, so long as he only waged war Bruce Wayne's bank account [Batman: Streets of Gotham Vol. 1 – Hush Money – TPB].

Naturally, it wasn't long before Hush began more actively antagonizing Batman and Robin. He attempted to form an alliance with Ra's al Ghul when the Demon's Head arrived in Gotham, but Red Robin countered Hush by activating one of Bruce's failsafe plans. Elliot now faced no hope of gaining control of the Wayne empire [Batman: Streets of Gotham Vol. 2 – Leviathan - HC].

Currently in the "House of Hush" storyline, Elliot is attempting to abuse his position even further. He hopes to use his standing in Gotham to cause as much unrest and disorder as possible. Should Batman and Robin finally be forced to kill him and end his scheming, Hush will have gained true victory over his enemies.

The corpse of Bruce Wayne was briefly reanimated during the events of Blackest Night. This, along with Jason Todd's lingering words, influenced Dick to bring Bruce's body to England and attempt to truly bring Bruce back to life [Batman and Robin Vol. 2: Batman vs. Robin - HC]. Along the way, Dick teamed with the Knight and Squire, England's own Batman and Robin. Complicating the hunt for London's hidden Lazarus Pit was the growing mystery of the Domino Killer. Some mysterious assassin was targeting various rich and powerful figures throughout the world, leaving only dominoes at the scene as clues.

Dick succeeded in placing Bruce's body in the pit. However, he discovered too late that it wasn't truly Bruce's body at all. Instead, it was the corpse of one of Darkseid's failed Batman clones. Traveling back to Gotham, Dick and a revitalized Damian defeated this Bat-monstrosity. Despite the failure of his mission, Dick had a newfound source of optimism. If the corpse didn't belong to Bruce Wayne, then Bruce must be alive somewhere.

Further evidence for this theory surfaced as Dick and Damian explored the hidden recesses of the Batcave. Rearranged portraits, architectural oddities, and the discovery of the hidden Barbatos chamber all suggested that Bruce was alive and stranded somewhere in time. But before Dick could complete his explorations, Damian's mother Talia activated a mind-control chip embedded in her son's new spine. Damian unwillingly began to attack his companions. After regaining control of his body, Damian accompanied Dick on a trip to visit Talia. He made his intentions very clear – in a choice between the League of Assassins and the Batman family, Damian's loyalties lay with the latter.

The Dynamic Duo were now joined by Oberon Sexton, a costumed detective investigating the Domino Killer. Dick was none too pleased to learn Sexton's true identity – none other than Joker enjoying his latest personality shift. As Sexton, he wasn't investigating the Domino Killer; he was the Domino Killer. His victims were all members of the Black Glove.

As currently seen in the Batman and Robin story arc "Batman Must Die", the Dynamic Duo find themselves uneasily teamed with Joker. El Penitente stands revealed as Doctor Hurt. Hurt has returned to Gotham to finish the campaign of destruction he began against Bruce Wayne. Joining him are the surviving members of the Black Glove and Professor Pyg. With Hurt once again playing every angle against Batman, perhaps only the Joker's involvement in the fight offers the wild card Batman and Robin need to survive.

While Bruce Wayne's allies have been fighting and bleeding to carry on his legacy, Bruce has been undergoing his own strange journey. At the end of Final Crisis, Bruce had escaped the cycle of the Omega Sanction and found himself stranded 11,000 years in the past. With only the faintest memories of his old life, Bruce has begun a long quest to return to his own time [Batman: the Return of Bruce Wayne #1-6].

So far, Bruce has battled Vandal Savage's tribe in Paleolithic Gotham, hunted witches and battled demonic monsters in the Puritan era, escaped the custody of Blackbeard the pirate, and again battled Savage and Jonah Hex in the 19th Century. Each time, Bruce was pulled forward into the future moments after completing his current quest. Along the way, Bruce has inadvertently influenced the growth of the Wayne family line and the legend of the Batman. His discarded cowl is the same one now concealed within the depths of Wayne Manor. His actions as Batman inspired the Miagani Tribe to adopt the symbol of the bat.

It seems only a matter of time until Bruce returns to the 21st Century. However, his return also spells certain doom for mankind. Superman and the Justice League have discovered that Darkseid's attack turned Batman into a living weapon. If he makes it back to the present, a great disaster will befall humanity. Superman, Rip Hunter, and Booster Gold are desperately trying to track down Bruce in the timestream [Time Masters: Vanishing Point #1-6]. So far, their efforts at averting disaster are proving unsuccessful.

As both Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman and Robin's "Batman Must Die" arc draw to a close in October, one thing is clear. Bruce Wayne will return to his own time and reclaim the mantle of Batman. With a new costume and a new mission in mind, Batman will emerge triumphant in the DCU once again.

This new era of Batman will be explored in many different books. Batman: The Return, a one-shot due at the end of October, will lay the groundwork. In the new ongoing series Batman Inc., Bruce's mission truly begins. Dick and Damian will be left to defend Gotham as Batman and Robin. Not only will Bruce see the wisdom in having multiple Batmen active, he'll begin the process of actively recruiting and training new heroes in different countries. John Mayhew's original vision for the Club of Heroes is alive and well. In Batman, Inc. Bruce Wayne will travel to Europe, Asia, and other destinations to grow his network of allies.

Plenty of challenges will face the Dark Knight along the way. He still faces the arduous task of restoring the Wayne family name after the damage done by Doctor Hurt and Hush. Once Joker's temporary alliance with the Dynamic Duo ends, he'll likely pose a great threat to Gotham once again. Batman also faces danger from both Ra's al Ghul and his estranged daughter Talia. Though father and daughter work separately, both have goals that run counter to Batman's mission to defend the innocent and keep Gotham safe.