WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for Batman #81 by Tom King, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, Mitch Gerads, Tomeu Morey and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
After being brought to an emotional low by Bane and his allies, Batman has pulled himself together, returned to Gotham and is finally fighting back in earnest. Previously, his closest family believed him to be broken, and when he was found by Catwoman after another loss, Batman seemed all but defeated. His city was taken from him, his family had lost faith in him, and the Dark Knight had every reason to feel emotionally broken.
But now, all of that just seems like part of Batman's latest plan to take down Bane, as Tom King, John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson's Batman #81 questions what readers thought they knew about Batman's rattled state of mind.
I Meant to Do That
According to Batman himself, his frail emotional state was simply a ruse, stretching back to the aftermath of his psychological torment at the Scarecrow's hands. After rounding up members of the Bat-family, a strange non-encounter with Bane at Arkham made his allies question his very sanity. Batman later went to face Bane alone in Wayne Manor, and that didn't go very well, either. Batman was seemingly in no emotional shape for a fight, and suffered a solid beating as a result. Bane even put an exclamation point on Batman's defeat by breaking his spine -- for the second time.
All of those very deliberate actions had the exact effect that Batman says he wanted. He made everyone, even his closest allies, think that maybe he really had gone crazy.
By allowing the Bat-family to believe he was becoming unhinged, it made Bane believe that Batman was truly broken. And by allowing himself to be defeated, and broken physically, it allowed him to convincingly take himself off the field of play, and away from Bane's watchful eyes.
Was Batman insane? Was the Dark Knight finally broken? Those are precisely the questions he wanted everyone to have.
Bruce's alternate-reality father, Thomas Wayne, subsequently used his medical background to mend his son's body. But Bruce's mind didn't need any mending, contrary to what most everyone around him believed. After being defeated -- or allowing himself to be -- by his father in the Nain Pit, Bruce eventually emerged, but didn't immediately return to Gotham.
Instead, he went into seclusion with Selina. He wasn't running from Bane, though. Thiswas merely a strategical retreat. that allowed him to turn his weakness against Bane into a strength that would in turn allow him to better plan his latest coming confrontation against him. All after, Bane had stopped watching, believing Batman to be defeated once and for all.
I Want You to Hit Me as Hard as You Can
After the Bat-family's aforementioned fruitless trip to Arkham, their concern for Batman's state of mind was never greater. The team had referenced Bruce and Selina's recent breakup as a potential cause for Batman's seeming instability, but Batman angrily denied the connection. When Tim Drake -- Red Robin -- stepped forward and offered to help Batman with his emotional troubles, Batman did the unthinkable. He lashed out and struck Tim -- someone who is like a son to him.
But, as Batman now also reveals, all was not as it seemed here, either. Batman wasn't simply a broken man taking out his frustrations on those closest to him. Instead, he was a decidedly driven man sending a warning. He wasn't warning his aghast family to stay away from him, but that going forward, they needed to change their approach against Bane.
Batman reveals a previously unknown method of coded communication embedded in his allies' fighting capabilities. Knowing they were all being watched by Bane, the blow suffered by Tim was in reality a message by Batman to the rest of his family. A message that told them to switch from open communications to quieter, less noticeable ones. The revelation explains how Batman has been able to secretly communicate with his allies from afar, without Bane or anyone else noticing.
While Batman denies ever "hitting his kid," as Selina puts it, the truth is, he did hit Tim -- he just had a reason for doing so that few knew of. Tim's an adult, though, so hopefully he understood the need to take a punch from his mentor.
What About That Other Punch?
The revelation of that fateful punch also shines a potential new light on a similar moment between Batman and Jim Gordon in Batman #59. In that issue, Batman had confronted Bane in his cell at Arkham, and appeared to beat his foe senseless. Of course, the ever-scheming Bane was feigning helplessness, fooling the fair-minded but unknowing Gordon. When Gordon stepped in and tried to stop Batman from beating someone he believed to be defenseless, Batman threw another punch -- at Gordon.
Batman seemed to regret his impulsive response, but the damage was already done, and Gordon and Batman have been on the outs ever since. But was there also more to this punch or was this another coded message between these longtime friends and allies?
Right now, that doesn't seem likely. Gordon was none too pleased to see the Dark Knight in Batman #71, and was especially displeased with Batman's own modifications to the Bat-signal. However, Gordon has been absent since Bane took over Gotham, so it's possible that he might still be an ally, lying in wait to help Batman take the city back, much like Batman's other allies did. Unlike Batman and Tim, though, Batman and Gordon have to patch some things up before they take back Gotham.
"City of Bane" continues in Batman #82, on sale Nov. 6.