Batman: Absolution |
by J.M. DeMatteis, Brian Ashmore
(DC Comics, 2002)
Ten years ago a terrorist set off a bomb at Wayne Enterprises. The elusive terrorist who masterminded the bombing turns up in a religious order in India. Batman tracks her from the Taj Mahal to the temple of a much-revered holy man and there confronts the ultimate challenge of human morality: can a person truly be absolved of the sins of their past? Is there a repentance sincere enough, or real enough, to create a circumstance for forgiveness?
For a hero with such definite ideas about right and wrong, the world can seem like a very black-and-white place. But when confronted by a terrorist who appears to be truly repentant for all the harm she's caused, his world is turned upside down. Is it possible for a murderer to truly understand the damage done? Batman doesn't seem to think so. "No miracles, no mercy, and above all, no repentance."
A man who has the courage to live in the sewers of human existence might not be wrong at all to have such a view, yet this pessimism seems unnecessarily dark. His refusal to capitulate to any other possibility is a rather transparent defensiveness about having to perpetuate his own lie, the myth of the terrifying Batman, in the name of justice. As far as Batman is concerned, justice is our only saving grace in this or any other world. He has little time for religious philosophies that preach forgiveness for those who can never be forgiven for the lives they have taken.
It's an interesting dilemma, and one uniquely suited to an icon of justice and darkness such as Batman. Yet the story falls flat halfway through. J.M. DeMatteis brings the hunter and the hunted together, even places Batman's life in the hands of the very terrorist he believes irredeemable; yet somehow the true questions, those of sin and repentance, crime and justice, go unanswered. The meeting seems contrived. The ending is Hollywood predictable, giving a lot of interesting action scenes but never really coming close to the book's central theme. What would Batman do with Blake if she were proven repentant?
There are enough fascinating moments, especially when DeMatteis draws uncomfortably close parallels between Batman and the mind of a killer, but it's rather easy to answer that question for oneself, without having to plumb the depths of the human soul or travel halfway around the world. Some of us turn our hatred and anger into something fine, something productive and helpful; some of us choose chaos. But the parallels become the point of the story, rather than the background to a more titillating debate on the moral and philosophical implications, or even just the possibility of true redemption. Instead, the issue of divided identity takes on more and more prominence until, at the end, we are left with an almost completely different story than what was promised in the beginning.
The ending arrives rather abruptly and with little resolution. Batman comes off as a hard-headed, by-the-book voice of morality. It's as if he learned nothing from the experience.
The artwork is beautiful. Brian Ashmore's painting are very lifelike and fluid. His action scenes are well though out and well paced throughout the book. His realistic eyes helps move the rather slow story along.