“I am vengeance!”
Except that by 2010, after the Near-Apocalypse, you’ll be denying that, and claiming to be justice. But really, they’re the same thing, and neither is the truth of what you are.
“I am the night!”
This is much closer to the truth. “Chill of the Night!” was about putting characters and concepts in pairs: Phantom Stranger and Spectre, justice and vengeance, Batman and Thomas Wayne, origin and destiny, not to mention the Brave and the Bold. Who, then, is the partner for the titular Chill, Joe Chill, if not the one who has become the Night, little eight-year-old Bruce Wayne? He is, as we have observed, the night and The Night, the generic and the one specific night on which his identity was shattered. His own near-apocalypse, and like all near-apocalypses, he returns to it again and again, gnawing at it, desperate to discover why it wasn’t complete.
“I am Batman!”
It’s November 9, 1992, two days before “Moon of the Wolf,” so see that entry for charts and news.
On BTAS we have “I Am the Night,” which is another return to Batman’s origins. As we have observed before, Batman–and the figure of the Superhero more generally–is born in and from trauma. Mainstream superhero comics, as Phil Sandifer has observed, are structured more like memory than a continuous, coherent narrative: the past is treated as if it has solidity, but it is ever-shifting, subject to constant retcons based on the mood of the moment, constantly returning to and revisiting the most beloved events–and the most traumatic.
That, after all, is the nature of traumatic memories. They return, unbidden, again and again. Batman’s origin is both his most traumatic moment and his most retold and revisited story. Indeed, Neil Gaiman’s “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” posits that his existence is inherently circular, that the reward (and the punishment) for being Batman is to be continually reborn as new iterations and interpretations of Batman.
So, as the death of his father led young Bruce to create the Bat as a defense from both the terrors of the world and his own survivor’s guilt, so does the near-death of another father figure lead Batman to try to give up the Bat for good. And Gordon is, explicitly, a father-figure: Batman even makes a point of mentioning that Gordon is the same age his father would have been, had he lived. Once again, Batman blames himself unfairly: he had no way of knowing what the Jazzman was going to do, no way of knowing that the police and Jazzman’s gang were going to get into a firefight early, and certainly no way of knowing that Jazzman was going to double back to try to kill Commissioner Gordon.
Unsurprisingly, it is up to Robin to pull Batman out of his funk and back to action. Equally unsurprisingly, his attempts at persuasion have no effect. It is only when he tries to act, tries to put himself at risk, that Batman steps up; the protective instincts of the Bat cannot be put aside as easily as the costume or the equipment in the Batcave, after all. The long, slow arc of the Batman/Robin relationship has focused on Dick’s frustration at Bruce’s difficulty in seeing him as anything other than a child in need of protection, but here that same difficulty works out for the best, rousing Bruce from his torpor and getting him back into his costume and into action.
In the midst of this action, there are hints of things to come: Barbara Gordon clings to her father’s side, seemingly the only other figure in his life, and her pain and frustration are evident. It is easy to see the line from here to the next time he is endangered, when she chooses to take on the mask of the Bat herself–but her story is very different, her defining trauma one that never actually occurs, and it is not yet time for that tale to be told.
Instead, we end on the Bat renewed, revived. Paradoxically, this ritual reenactment of his trauma has brought him out of depression, instead of plunging him deeper into it. But perhaps it is not such a paradox after all. The Bat is an act of desperation, an escape from the reality of what happened to him. His depression has not been cured, but shoved down, pushed away, just another thing for the Bat to protect him from. Only when he truly does put down the mantle for good will it be possible for him to start to heal, to move past his trauma instead of returning to it endlessly.
But as this episode makes clear, he cannot do that so long as he is able to fight, because the Bat doesn’t just protect him. It doesn’t matter how many young allies, how many Robins and Nightwings and Batgirls he trains, how big of a Justice League he joins, he knows the Bat is necessary, and so long as only he is the Bat, he will remain trapped. Only when “I am Batman!” is no longer true, when there can be a Batman beyond Bruce Wayne’s rage and fear and pain, will he cease to be the Night. Then and only then will it be possible for him to see the dawn, to integrate and heal, to let that eight-year-old boy out and begin to grow up.
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