Batman is broke, and it’s the best thing that could have happened to him! Well, okay, he’s not broke but recent events have left Bruce Wayne cut off from the vast fortune afforded to him by his role within Wayne Enterprises and heading into 2021 he’s had to adapt to a new way to be Batman. While it seems like this might be another setback for Batman to overcome, it’s actually helped breathe new life into the Caped Crusader by scraping away decades’ worth of storytelling crutches and helping the character get back to basics.
Bruce Wayne lost his fortune at the start of the “Joker War” story which encompassed the Bat-Titles for the majority of last year. Joker was able to perform a hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprises, mostly due to a vulnerability built into the system that was necessary for Bruce to be Batman. See, Bruce Wayne has actually never been that rich but rather a collection of off-shore accounts in the shape of a person named Bruce Wayne and whoever controls that controls the money and the company.
This allowed Bruce to use the Wayne fortune to fund Batman and his family of vigilantes with little financial oversight. However, thanks to the financial maneuvering of a new villain known as The Underbroker, Joker came into the possession of not just one-hundred billion dollars and not just Wayne Enterprises, but all of Batman’s technology. Armed with more money and weapons than god, Joker armed an army of clowns to wreak havoc on Gotham City in order to send a message to Batman that the city is beyond saving.
Batman defeated The Joker as he always does, but in many ways it was Joker that came out victorious from his eponymous war. Catwoman was able to recover the money but Bruce Wayne can no longer access it as his board has decided he can’t be trusted with it, lest something like “Joker War” ever happen again. Going forward, Bruce needs to figure out a new way to be Batman without an infinite fortune and that means he needs to get leaner and learn to live among the people he’s protecting.
What’s really striking when you go back and reread Tynion’s first year on Batman, is that he sets up this fall from grace throughout the prelude to “Joker War”, a nine-part arc with Tony Daniel, Rafael Alburqueque and Jorge Jimenez titled “Their Dark Designs.” This opening story to Tynion’s run is really Batman operating at absolute peak performance with a fully stocked arsenal of new toys to play with and assist in his fight against crime.
We’re introduced to new vehicles like the Nightclimber and new weapons like the Batswarm, manufactured in the Hibernaculum, an autonomous factory floor capable of printing and assembling machine parts at short notice. Tynion and his collaborators give us a Batman story that is the most Batman story he could tell, knowing that this would be the last time this type of Batman story could be told for some time.
Of course, it’s not just the loss of the Wayne fortune that’s changing how Bruce operates as Batman, there’s also the loss of Alfred Pennyworth. The faithful butler was killed by Bane in late-2019 but Bruce has been so busy since Alfred’s murder that he hadn’t had time to really process it until recently. In the early days of Tynion’s run, Bruce was leaning on Lucius Fox to occupy that Alfred role without ever asking Lucius if he was okay fulfilling it. In the wake of “Joker War” Lucius is in control of the Wayne Enterprises fortune and Bruce is ready to figure out how to be Batman without a man in the chair.
Batman isn’t alone though and one of the biggest positives to come out of “Joker War” is that the Bat-Family is more united than it ever has been. Dick Grayson has recovered from his amnesia and is once again Nightwing; Tim Drake has given up his shitty brown costume and is Robin once more; Barbara Gordon serves as dual role as Batgirl and Oracle, with Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain working alongside her, not just as Spoiler and Orphan but as Batgirls in spirit if not in name.
Batwoman, The Signal, Huntress, Red Hood and even Harley Quinn all have roles to serve in this new era of Batman and most importantly, Bruce is ready to ask for help. So much of 2010s Batman stories can be described as Bruce being unwilling to ask for help even when he needs it. I recently replayed the Batman Arkham series of video games and the amount of times Bruce refuses help from Oracle, Nightwing and Robin reaches comical levels by the end of the last game. People want to see Batman interacting with the larger Bat-Family and this new era has been set up perfectly to take advantage of that.
Along with old allies, the real highlight of Tynion’s run has been the amount of new characters introduced over the past year; The Designer, Punchline, Underbroker, Clownhunter, Ghost-Maker — all have fleshed out Batman’s position and place within Gotham City. These new perspectives on Batman’s mission — whether they be allies, enemies or in-between — go along with the new focus of a ground-level Batman to make the title and the character feel new and relevant eighty years into their existence.
Spinning out of Batman and into the new ongoing The Joker comic, Tynion and Sam Johns seem to be telling a larger story about the way young men are radicalised online with Harper Row’s brother Cullen sympathising with Punchline’s message. Elsewhere, the fallout from “Joker War” notes that many of the clowns who ransacked Gotham put away their masks and faded back into regular society. These aren’t usual Joker thugs, they’re mailmen, lawyers, accountants and business owners and when you look at the kinds of people that got arrested for the January 6th attempted insurrection, that feels particularly timely.
Bruce is still richer than most of us will ever be but he’s a millionaire now, rather than a billionaire. We’ll still eat him when the revolution comes, but until then he needs to be a bit more careful with where the money goes when it comes to financing the operation which is Batman. Joel Schumacher’s classic Batman and Robin famously gave Batman a credit card which was “good thru forever” but that’s not the case anymore and it’s going to make for some great stories.