Batman and Catwoman’s summer wedding wasn’t what fans of the duo or even one of the book’s creators expected, and writer Tom King’s next arc in the series was a chance to show us where Batman — and his Batman run — went after that singular event.
In the end, the first post-wedding arc of Batman, “Cold Days,” may have marked another huge turning point for the Dark Knight, one that could be just as significant as proposing to one of his oldest villains.
[Warning: This post will contain spoilers for this week’s Batman #53.]
When first advertised months ago, “Cold Days” seemed like a return to form: Batman faces the latest machination of Mr. Freeze. But even if you simply describe the surface arc of “Cold Days,” you can see that it’s a twist on an old standard.
In the arc, our hero uses his advanced detective knowledge to discover that Mr. Freeze is responsible for a string of untimely deaths: Three women, all unconnected, each of whom died of a blood clot in their brains. Batman tracks down Mr. Freeze. He beats up Mr. Freeze. Mr. Freeze gets arrested, he confesses and he goes on trial.
Then the classic Batman beats take a sharp turn
“Cold Days” Part One actually opens with Bruce Wayne reporting to Gotham’s South Courthouse for jury duty. Cute, right? It almost had to happen at some point. Bruce got a jury summons for a crime that Batman had a hand in, and OK, it certainly presents some ethical difficulties, but he’s going to do his civic duty.
In the last three issues of Batman, we’ve learned that that’s not really what’s happening here either. Bruce is actually on the jury because he bribed a city official into making it so. Because he’s realized that he may have made a mistake.
His zeal — no, let’s call it what it is — his brutality in bringing in Victor Fries has slanted the case. Fries says on the stand that he confessed to police simply because, this time, even after all the other times he and the Caped Crusader have gone head to head, he was afraid Batman would actually kill him if he didn’t admit to a crime he hadn’t committed. Bruce is no longer even certain that the connection he discovered between the women and Fries is a sound one — police coroners were unable to replicate it.
And Bruce knows that Batman’s reputation as an infallible force of justice means that jurors will believe that if Batman says a criminal did it, that criminal did it. They’ll certainly believe it over the word of a known criminal.
In order to undo his mistake, Bruce Wayne decided to pay his way into a room where he must try to — without blowing his secret identity — convince 11 people that Batman is not infallible. This is his 12 Angry Men.
Batman doesn’t always win. Batman isn’t always righteous. Batman isn’t perfect. Always be yourself, unless you can be Batman, then ... still always be yourself. It’s a reversal of everything that the broad pop-culture idea of Batman has been built up to be over the past decade, the growl-voiced, emotionally stunted deus ex batchina that found its intentional nadir in The Lego Movie, of all places.
The message is coming from the mouth of Bruce Wayne himself, and what he’s saying is: There isn’t really that much separating him from a guy wearing hockey pads.
But wait, there’s trauma
Batman’s parents were killed in front of him when he was a kid, and in order to survive that pain he used to to fuel a life of fighting crime, so that nobody else would have to feel it ever again. That’s the story of Batman that we all know.
So it makes sense that the first thing Bruce Wayne would do after his wedding was a disaster is to throw himself into being Batman — it’s his coping method.
Except in “Cold Days,” Bruce can see that his coping method is flawed. Going out into the city and brutally apprehending a criminal wound up hurting someone who didn’t deserve it. His time with Selina — of feeling like a life where he can be Batman and be happy was possible — has fundamentally changed his relationship to Batman.
In the deliberation room with 11 other jurors, Bruce is putting on what could be considered an act, but as the reader, we know the truth of what he’s saying. We know why he tears up when he talks about losing faith in Batman’s abilities — losing faith in himself, and in his way of life.
“I got ... I was hurt. Recently.” he tells the other jurors.
And this time, when he turned to Batman and expected him to save him, it didn’t work.
“[Batman] does not provide solace from pain,” he says to his peers, “He cannot give you hope for the eternal. He cannot comfort you for the love you lost.”
He’s reached a classic stage in any therapeutic journey. First, he learned to get by without his destructive coping method. Then, he was re-traumatized and attempted to return to his destructive coping method ... only to find that he’s made just enough progress that it doesn’t work for him anymore. He’s left with nothing.
“I need to remember who I am,” he says to Alfred, in the final words of the issue, after changing up his costume to the original design. It’s just as much of a “what happens next” moment as it was when Catwoman left him at the altar.
So what is next for Batman and Batman? At his spotlight panel at San Diego Comic-Con, King described his next arc as coming from “the moment when you break up with your loved one and your best friend moves in and sleeps on your couch to try to comfort you.”
Dick Grayson, the original Robin, already appeared in “Cold Days,” wearing the bat-suit and fighting crime while Bruce was sequestered for days with the rest of the jury. In Batman #54, he’ll be moving back into the manor to give his mentor some much needed emotional support. According to King, Bruce taught Dick a thing or two about how to ask for help when you’ve been hurt — and now it’s time for him to return the favor, no matter how much cajoling it takes.