SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Batman #53 by Tom King, Lee Weeks, Elizabeth Breitweiser and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
The trial of Mr. Freeze, and Bruce Wayne’s jury duty service, concludes in part three of “Cold Days” by Tom King and Lee Weeks in Batman #53. While it’s the legal fate of Victor Fries that the jury holds in their hands, Bruce essentially puts Batman on trial as much as he does his foe. And in doing so, King builds up the legend of Batman but then immediately deconstructs it, ending the tale that doesn’t define Batman’s legacy, but ultimately questions it. That question is one not directly asked by Bruce, but one certainly alluded to: is this another step towards Bruce eventually giving up the mantle of The Bat?
The idea of Bruce potentially hanging up the cape has been a possibility continuously hinted at throughout King’s run, and the conclusion of “Cold Days” certainly heightens the probability. As readers have seen in past issues, Bruce has been the sole holdout on the jury, the rest of whom are ready to pronounce Freeze guilty. In Batman #53, Bruce lays out his reasoning, citing how Batman has been all but deified by Gotham’s populace, including Bruce himself. But he then also puts forth the flaws behind that presumption, making his case on why those weaknesses point towards Freeze’s innocence.
Batman is God
Bruce plays up the notion of Batman’s supremacy by first citing his disbelief of the concept of a real God – a belief his parents held, but one that didn’t save them from their fates, according to Bruce. A young, traumatized Bruce, of course, found a different calling – or rather, one found him, in the form of The Batman. Where no supreme being could save Bruce after the loss of his parents, it was Batman who saved him and gave his life purpose – not unlike the way many discover their own faith in God.
Batman had not only saved Bruce, but also the lives of countless others in Gotham – an admission unanimously held by every member of the jury, including Bruce himself. Bruce likens Batman’s presence in Gotham to that of a deity – when many have undoubtedly prayed for deliverance, in was often Batman who provided it. Perched iconically atop one of the city’s many rooftops, it’s Batman who watches over and protects Gotham’s citizens, essentially serving as the guardian of his flock.
Batman is No God
The idea of being akin to a god implies infallibility, though, and in terms of Freeze’s case, Bruce points out that Batman was anything but. Batman’s broken emotional state yielded a false confession. Freeze’s fear of Batman’s uncharacteristic behavior led him to violate his parole. And Batman’s initial suspicion of Freeze was based on false pretenses. Bruce meticulously builds a case against his own alter-ego, because only he uniquely knows that Batman’s broken state has nearly led to a false conviction.
Of course, he can’t share the reasons why he secretly knows what no one else in the room does. He has to therefore construct his defense of Freeze’s innocence from an outward perspective, citing reasonable doubts as any seriously-minded juror participant would. This is undoubtedly a unique struggle for Bruce, for as Batman he’s well aware of Freeze’s many past crimes. For this particular case, though, he has to rise to Freeze’s defense, and not even acting as Batman.
After Once Saving Bruce, Batman Has Now Failed Him
Bruce has obvious insight on Batman that no one else shares, which painstakingly aggravates his fellow jurors. But Bruce has an even deeper understanding that no one else can possibly know: while Batman saved Bruce in the aftermath of his parents’ murders, he couldn’t do the same for Bruce in the wake of Selina’s rejection. His “savior” from a past life was gone. Long before Mr. Freeze’s trial, Bruce had already come to the realization that Batman is far from any god-like being, because he himself was the first person that Batman had failed to save.
While the creation of Batman has long been cited as a means to avenge the deaths of Bruce’s parents, and prevent the same for countless others, Bruce’s explanation to the jury reveals a more inward-looking justification. Batman was Bruce’s means to cope with his loss and to eventually carry on – for all the good Batman has done for others, the first good he did was for himself. Now, though, with Bruce once again broken emotionally, Batman has proven to be no outlet for his pain – in fact, Bruce’s argument hints that Batman perhaps is now more dangerous.
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