Batman: Bruce Wayne, Murderer? |
by various writers & artists
(DC Comics, 2002)
There are spoilers in this review.
The beginning of this colossal crossover started with a marketing ploy: the introductory issue, The Ten Cent Story, was sold at a cover price of 10 cents. Its purpose was twofold: to reintroduce as many readers to Batman as had a dime to spend on the book, and hopefully pull them into the eight-part crossover event that took place in most of the Bat-books over the next couple of months.
It did its job well, presenting a neat, tightly written murder-mystery and Batman history lesson by Greg Rucka and Klaus Jansson, the artist of The Dark Knight Returns. A great deal of history was neatly packaged for all the readers who needed to be brought up to date on the latest developments in Batman's world. The story ends on a cliche-ridden but ultimately fascinating cliffhanger: Bruce Wayne is arrested for the murder of his former girlfriend, radio reporter Vesper Fairchild, who was close to discovering the identity of the mysterious crimefighter and urban legend known only as the Batman.
The setup is a beautiful, stark portrayal of an obsessed crimefighter who is starting to slip, and not just a little bit. Wayne's alter ego, Batman, has either distanced himself from all who care for him, the various Robins, Oracle and Dr. Leslie Thompkins, or has been left behind by those he loved: Police Commissioner James Gordon and Wayne's faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth, have both retired, leaving Batman on his own. The closest person to him and his only supporting character as the story opens is his bodyguard, Sasha Bordeaux, who narrates The Ten Cent Adventure from her unique perspective as someone who knows Wayne better than he knows himself, yet cannot get close enough to him to help him. There's a hitch, of course: she's in love with him, which explains why she joins him in his nightly outings.
All signs are pointing to a psychological breakdown in her employer. Batman is talking to himself, experiencing blackouts and becoming increasingly withdrawn. Is he driving himself to psychosis? Is it possible that he killed Vesper? Will he reunite his fragmented, demented bits and become a whole person in time to solve the murder? How much pain can one man stand to experience?
DC wants to offer a solid whodunit as well as a clear profile of a man driving himself over the brink while trying to find his way back to the light. Armchair detectives, take note: there are genuine clues in the book for readers to puzzle through, if one has a mind to try and solve the murder before Batman does.
The mystery gets off the ground very quickly. Wayne's case goes to trial, and he and Sasha both end up in Blackgate prison, a fascinating twist on a complicated, compelling murder case that will hook the reader in no time. By the end of the book the reader is burning to know the answer to the inevitable question: Did He Do It? Could a man under as much pressure as Bruce Wayne snap and do the unthinkable?
Although some of the details of the story are clearly twisted around to serve the mood of the plot, there is enough to create a believable aura of mystery and suspense. The attention to police procedure and prison drama is excellent and goes a long way in establishing a believable context. The dark, moody artwork throughout the stories perfectly outlines a man sinking into despair and desperation. The characterization, especially of Sasha, is taut and realistic. There is a creepy sense that the Batman persona has taken on an identity all his own. One wonders who is really calling the shots. Bruce Wayne verges on becoming a liability for the Batman. It becomes quite clear early on that the real story is the battle for the soul of the boy whose parents were murdered in a dark alleyway a lifetime ago.
Of course Wayne has no intention of remaining in prison. His solution to his dilemma provides us with another cliffhanger ending and a lead-in to the next trade paperback, Bruce Wayne: Fugitive. The title is of course a bit of a dead giveaway (No pun intended!) as to what occurs at the end of this collection.
It's not always easy to warm up to DC's mega-crossover events. This one, however, is a fulfilling read. It's almost impossible not to wonder what happens next, and while some parts of the story are clearly sacrificed for the benefit of the plot, the book remains a worthwhile tale.