Bruce Wayne: Fugitive #3
by various writers & artists
(DC Comics, 2003)

As Volume 3 of this series opens, Bruce Wayne has "returned" after having escaped from prison and supposedly fleeing the country. The real killer's confession has persuaded the DA to overturn his conviction. He returns to Wayne Manor for an emotional homecoming and sets about trying to secure the release of Sasha Bordeaux, who remains behind bars. Unfortunately, Sasha is killed by a prison inmate.

Batman refuses to believe that she is dead. Convinced that someone is hiding something from him, he digs up her grave and finds it empty. Months pass. He hassles members of the covert group Checkmate, certain that they know what happened to Sasha.

Meanwhile, he has the unenviable task of keeping the real killer from being murdered by the assassin, Deadshot. And Bruce Wayne has to come to terms with his family and the consequences of his decisions, most especially where Sasha is concerned.

Turns out that Sasha isn't really dead. Checkmate revived her, giving her a new identity and a place in its ranks. Batman pursues the group until a rather fateful meeting is arranged between him and Sasha.

It's hard to know what to do with this story arc. It's not a complete failure and yet it can hardly be called a success. The afterword to the graphic novel only fogs the mirror even more: Rucka states that his purpose in writing the story was to bring Bruce Wayne to the realization that he had lost his compassion where his friends and family were concerned. Rucka says his objective was to change all that, and "the best way to drive that message home for Bruce was through Sasha. More precisely, through losing Sasha."

Fair warning: if an author feels compelled to explain exactly what is was he intended to achieve and why he executed it in the way he did, it's a good bet that it's not the story's strongest point. It's easy to see why: Sasha's death was more or less the result of Bruce's negligence (remember, he saw her beaten up by the same gang in Vol. 2, so he knew that she was in danger when he broke himself out of prison and left her there). Rucka did indeed want his hero to face up to "how much damage he was doing to himself with his zealotry, see the hurt he caused those who love him."

Though Bruce does admit that he caused her pain by trying to control her because of his love for her, he never once acknowledges that he had anything to do with her death. Sasha brings it up, reminding him that she's "the one you threw out with the trash," but Rucka's battle plan for teaching Bruce to face the consequences of his actions doesn't include Bruce going anywhere near the vicinity of an apology for what he did.

Though Rucka states that it's Sasha's death that was supposed to bring the message home to Bruce, Bruce says that "it took Vesper's death and running from the real me to realize just how much damage I'd done to the people I cared for ... to realize just how cold I'd become." Only Vesper's death is mentioned, which puts Rucka's statement, and his story's logic, on rather shaky ground.

Rucka's love for the character is very clear. He made a genuine attempt to bring him down to earth. But there's the whiff of calculation that comes from the drama that is Sasha's death. Rucka's Batman is daring and complex, but while the scope of the character was widened, the depth may have been lost. It's patently ridiculous to expect that Batman left a woman to die because he was having a bad day. Quite frankly, at this point a scenario involving multiple personality disorder would have been far more plausible than him simply turning his back on someone.

The finale with Cain is the meatiest and most believable part of the story, a drama involving loads of well-placed action and some memorable scenes involving Batgirl and Cain. This section of the arc is so good it could have stood up well enough on its own, without being connected to the overly long Murderer/Fugitive saga. The art is average to excellent in some places, with the fight scenes between Batman and Deadshot quite well-scripted.

It's not easy to work with icons. They tend to have a number of rules and images associated with them. It's very difficult to get them to move outside of those rigidly fixed lines. Rucka did his best to work with the most iconic of all characters, and did a good job of setting up a complex story. At the end of the day, M/F doesn't really seem to have caused any major changes in the lead characters. This isn't helped by huge plot holes and an overly long deployment over too many issues. This might have been one of the truly legendary stories about Batman but it stands now as something that's more of a lesson about what not to do. There are some very fine dramatic moments, and a sense of suspense that doesn't quite peter out until the last few chapters. Still, Batman and his legend have been better served than this overreaching melodrama.

- Rambles
written by Mary Harvey
published 29 November 2003

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