WARNING: The following article contains massive spoilers for The Batman's Grave #1 by Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, Kevin Nowlan, Alex Sinclair, and Richard Starkings, on sale now!
There's a reason Batman is called the World’s Greatest Detective. Of all the superlatives Batman has earned over the last 80 years, the one that boasts his skills of deduction might be the least explored. Even though he's starred in Detective Comics for most of a century, Batman's skills at deductive reasoning haven't been explored as much as his combat skills or technological prowess. While he's still solved some amazing crime cases unfold over the years, Bruce Wayne’s deductive reasoning has rarely explored in a serious manner.
However, The Batman’s Grave #1 looks to rectify that.
In the issue, Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, the duo behind what might be one of the most influential superhero comics ever , The Authority, break down the methodology behind Batman by giving readers a glimpse into how the gears in Bruce Wayne’s head churn and reveal an answer to even the most baffling crimes.
After being faced with a perplexing murder, Batman makes a 3-D scan of the scene of the crime, which he then recreates using a holographic device in the Batcave. When he steps into the holographic room, Batman's internal narration tells readers how he solves mysteries.
Unlike many investigators, Batman doesn’t put himself in the perpetrator’s shoes. While he knows a thing or two about criminal profiling and his ability to collect and analyze evidence is second to none thanks to his deep pockets, his process of solving the unsolvable stands apart from other fictional detectives because it's based around empathizing with the victim.
Batman sees through the eyes of those who have been wronged or, in this particular case, murdered. In a scene that is reminiscent of Hannibal, where Will Graham slips into a killer’s head-space to solve a murder, we watch Batman execute a similar methodology, only on a different track. He builds a narrative for the departed, and in that narrative he takes on the lead role, eventually putting together a scenario that would explains what happened to the victim.
The way Batman unravels a mystery where the prime suspect isn’t breathing is simply spell-binding. The visual language used is also similar to that of Guy Ritchie’s steampunk take on Sherlock Holmes. The ways that Batman and Holmes process information isn’t conducted on a standard timeline. Their respective deductive reasoning ebbs and flows with each new clue uncovered. Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock inspected crime scenes (or fight scenes) with a cold, calculating eye. He processes raw data and simply reacts. But despite this amazing skill, there still wasn't a whole lot of compassion behind his thinking. This stands in stark contract is Batman, whose methods are predicated upon compassion.
Considering that Bruce is partially defined by his status as a crime victim, this makes sense. A grave tragedy befell him at a young age, and, if running around in a costume and starting a one-man war against crime is any indication, he never got over it. Batman has sworn to do everything in his power so no one ever has to suffer the pain of losing a loved one to crime.
While he isn’t shedding a tear for the armed robber he put into traction earlier in the issue, his personal (and very flawed) view of innocence is held in the highest regard. Even when Alfred, who is very much the John Watson to Bruce's Sherlock Holmes, presses him on the subject, Bruce remains absolute in his crusade. This is good news for the people who have suffered in the cases he works, but not so great for anyone who winds up on the business end of Batman's knuckles.
By stepping into this murder victim's shoes and walking through their life, he finds the trail which lead to their ultimate demise. He extrapolates information just like Holmes and Will Graham, but what makes Batman the World's Greatest Detective isn't an ability to think like a monster. He's simply able to empathize with a monster's prey, and this love of his fellow human is what truly makes Batman the World's Greatest Detective.