On the pages of Batman, James Tynion IV's recent "Joker War" arc offered up what was meant to be the ultimate showdown between the Dark Knight and his arch nemesis, the Joker in dark, gritty battle for the very soul of Gotham City. It was meant to be an unprecedented story with very high stakes for Batman with the Joker not only getting the upper hand but taking control of not just Gotham City but all of Batman's tools, Bruce Wayne's fortune -- everything. This, of course, on the heels of another "unprecedented" conflict for Batman, with Tom King's "City of Bane" seeing another major nemesis taking control of Gotham City. While the stories did have notable differences, they both capitalized on the dark and gritty aspect of things even while dangling the idea of something better and brighter. With both conflicts resolved -- Batman took Gotham back from Joker, who lives to scheme another day, at the end of Batman #100 -- it feels like now is the right time for a major tonal shift. It's time for Batman to leave "dark and gritty" behind as we head into the vigilante's next chapter.
One of the major reasons now is the right time for a tonal shift for Batman is that, while "Joker War" and "City of Gotham" are distinct stories with their own elements, in many ways they are the same story. A major villain takes over the city, putting Batman at a disadvantage and making him an outsider, both of which are facilitated by a nemesis who knows Batman in a way that makes such a disadvantage possible. Bane had Thomas Wayne, aka Flashpoint Batman, as part of the mix while Joker had the keys to the kingdom through not only years of being Batman's primary antagonist, but also through Catwoman and her previous life of crime. Both stories saw Gotham the innocent bystander in the machinations of the villains and both stories wrapped up pretty tidily with Batman facing off with the antagonists and taking back control... at least until the next villain tries their hand. Both stories were dark and grim -- Alfred's murder factors heavily, as does Batman's mental state -- and it just feels like the story's been told. We get it: Batman's world is bleak, bad guys are taking advantage of this and finding weaknesses in the hero. We've gotten the same story twice, just with different players. It's time to move on.
Another aspect of "Joker War" and "City of Bane" that factors into why it's a perfect time for a tonal shift is that they dealt in the idea that Batman no longer serves the role he intended to. Batman is no longer someone that villains fear. He's not even someone that civilians necessarily look up to anymore, either. In Batman #100, Batman confronts Clownhunter who very clearly notes that Batman could have stopped all of the chaos in Gotham a long, long time ago -- including the chaos that led to the Joker killing his parents. If the villains aren't scared and the citizens aren't safe, it's well past time for Batman to take a different approach to things.
And it isn't like Batman -- and readers -- haven't gotten a taste at what a brighter tone for the vigilante might look like. In Batman #96 readers got a glimpse of "Gotham City, years from now" which saw a brighter, cleaner, and much safter Gotham with Batman able to handle things a bit differently, more as a symbol of continued hope than a dark specter of vengeance haunting the night. We even get to see Bruce about to take a bit of time off and while it's ultimately a hallucination, even in that brief fever dream of sorts it's pretty clear that there's room for interesting stories to be told even in a lighter take on things. After all, even in Batman's perfect Gotham, he still has to deal with Mr. Freeze.
Outside of the pages of Batman comics, though, there's another compelling reason why now is a good time to sort of shift away from dark and gritty. The brutality of Batman is one that could be seen as something of an outdated concept, especially considering the current state of the world. With the current growing unrest regarding police brutality and racial inequality not to mention income inequality, the idea of a brutal, above the law vigilante powered by a billionaire on a quest for his own brand of law and order in a city that he claims to love and want to "save" but hasn't actually helped in any meaningful way feels extremely outdated. Times have changed. It's time for Batman to change, too.
And, ultimately, Batman is in a position to do just that. Over the past 100 issues of the main Batman comics title, Batman (and Bruce Wayne) has had to confront a lot of his emotional baggage and his trauma. He's had to face down some of his worst fears, and deal with his greatest weaknesses. With the Joker out of the way -- for now -- and the aftermath of two of what could arguably be considered his biggest failures with "City of Bane" and "Joker War" to be dealt with, now's the perfect time for Batman as a character and a comic book title to step away from the dark and the gritty and lean into the light.
What do you think? Let us know what direction you think Batman should go in the comments.