Since 2006, DC’s Batman series has been a place for the company’s biggest writers to take their biggest swings — to write The Batman Story, not just a Batman story. And so from Grant Morrison to Scott Snyder to Tom King to James Tynion IV, the cowl has now passed to writer-artist Chip Zdarsky, who kicks off the new era in partnership with artist Jorge Jiménez.
The co-creator of Sex Criminals and writer of comics like Daredevil, Howard the Duck, and Jughead, Zdarsky has said that his first six issues of Batman, an arc entitled “Failsafe,” are only the beginning. And this May, Polygon chatted with Zdarsky via email about all that beginning entails — namely, a mysterious new villain who hails from the abandoned seat of Batman’s power, the Batcave itself.
[Ed. note: This article contains spoilers for Batman #125.]
Failsafe doesn’t appear in this first issue until a classic final-page reveal. But we get some hints as to their origin in the opening scene set sometime in the past, in which a silent Alfred notices a strange beeping and a red light in the depths of the Batcave. In the final pages we return to the present and the dusty and shuttered Batcave, where that dang beep is happening again.
A black-and-red obelisk rises from the ground and opens to reveal a robotic humanoid form with a menacingly reflective faceplate, as a computerized voice ominously declares, “Failsafe online.”
In initial announcements of his run, Zdarsky described Failsafe as “Batman’s Doomsday,” referring to the alien monster editorially engineered to kill Superman in The Death of Superman. That’s... pretty vague, which is reasonable for an announcement. But now that we’ve gotten our first look at Failsafe, it begs the question: What does “Batman’s Doomsday” even mean?
“Hats off to Bane, Batman’s original ‘Doomsday,’ who I love,” Zdarsky answered, referring to a character editorially engineered to maim Bruce Wayne in such a way he could no longer be Batman in The Death of Superman’s contemporary series, Knightfall. “But what Jorge and I are going for with Failsafe is a cold, unstoppable villain. Something fast and intense and otherworldly. They have connections to Batman’s past and are very single-minded in their mission: to kill Batman.”
The writer said his previous contribution to Batman’s canon of villains, Cheer — a villain who killed and incapacitated with drugs that put victims in a state of addictive euphoria — “felt like a classic style of Batman villain. Failsafe isn’t that.”
As to why Failsafe is emerging in an empty and unguarded Batcave, that has its roots in events before Zdarsky’s tenure. During James Tynion IV’s Joker War arc, the Joker stole all of Bruce Wayne’s money — and then Catwoman stole it back but, for pretty legitimate reasons, couldn’t give it back. Since then, Batman’s still rich, just not megarich. He’s had to tighten his bat-belt, moving out of Wayne Manor and into a Gotham brownstone and replacing the Batcave with a series of mini caves in Gotham’s utilities tunnels that he dug himself.
And if Failsafe is on one side of Batman #125’s villain coin, money is on the other. A dying Penguin, angry that his own hefty pile of lucre was never able to buy him acceptance by Gotham’s upper crust, promised to to kill every Gothamite who has inherited more than five million dollars, unless they gave the money to charity immediately. And then, to pin his nemesis to the wall as well, the Penguin constructed his own death in such a way to implicate Batman as his murderer.
According to Zdarsky, it’s not an accident that Batman’s cash flow is central to the issue.
“I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s definitely one of the themes [of the arc]! It’s part of a bigger idea about how Batman can be the best Batman and what that looks like. Is it rebuilding his wealth? Building his army? Focusing on Gotham? [...] I like that the past few years of Batman books have left the character a bit reduced in his bat-bucks and also older. When you’re a billionaire you can cheat aging more than you or I can. So how essential is money to Batman?”
But what is the connection between Penguin and Failsafe? We’ll have to see. But Batman is a guy who famously assembled a “failsafe” for every member of the Justice League in case they went rogue. It’s not a stretch to imagine he’d do it for himself — or that it would be set to trigger after widespread media reports of Batman committing murder.