DC has revealed a new version of the Batman Universe... one that doesn't have any trace of Batman in it!
The main Batman comic series by writer Chip Zdarsky revealed a game-changing storyline called "Failsafe" in 2022. That story arc served as a sequel to the classic Justice League story "Tower of Babel" by revealing that Batman had built a contingency against himself – an unstoppable robot called Failsafe, that was built to take down Batman if he ever got out of control. In the end, after a globe-spanning battle and every chess move possible, Batman lost the fight to Failsafe and was seemingly disintegrated by the mechanical menace.
However, Zdarsky's new story arc "The Bat-Man of Gotham" confirms that Bruce Wayne definitely did not die at Failsafe's hand – after all, a robot programmed by Batman also came with a strict non-lethal mandate. instead, Failsafe's ultimate answer to stopping Batman was simply displacing him in space-time, depositing Bruce in an alternate reality where Gotham City evolved and grew without Bruce Wayne and/or there to shepherd it.
Bruce arrives in this new reality with his brain in a bad state, with obvious hallucinations coming in the form of a skeletal Commissioner Gordon who haunts him. Even knowing that this world is not his own, and his brain isn't working right, Bruce still feels compelled to do his Batman thing – only to quickly discover that this version of Gotham may not have room for The Batman!
In this first chapter, we learn that this world has a version of Harvey Dent, a lawman called "Judge Dent." Harvey's dual personality takes the form of judgment and punishment, based on whether or not he deems someone "sane" or "insane." Judge Dent is also pumped full of Bane's Venom formula, suggesting that the archvillain may have a much deeper foothold in this world. Judge Dent is also backed up by Firefly, with both Batman villains now part of the Gotham City Police Department.
The rest of Batman #131 teases other developments – like Selina Kyle serving as a major Gotham crime boss, and working for a villain named Red Mask. DC has a villain named Red Mask who was introduced by Grant Morrison in the late 1980s – a man with a "Fatal Touch" power granted to him by a radioactive meteor. Presumably, this Red Mask from the alternate Earth will turn out to be the alternate version of someone that Bruce Wayne/Batman knows.
This is not the first time that Bruce Wayne has been displaced in space/time after his apparent "death": the character suffered a similar fate during the Final Crisis story arc, where Darkseid blasted Batman with his Omega Beams, only to send him back to the ancient days of the DC Universe. This is hardly a re-tread, though: the backup story for Batman #131 focuses on how Nightwing and Robin (Tim Drake) are dealing with Bruce's absence, with Tim keeping the faith that Bruce was thought dead once before (fighting Darkseid), only to have been lost. As Batman himself notes, Zdarsky's story is exploring the idea of Bruce Wayne getting what he really wants: a Gotham City he can save. One that will keep him "happy" and occupied fighting the fight he needs, to give him purpose.
Batman #131 is now on sale.