WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Justice League #34, by Christopher Priest and Pete Woods, on sale now.
A running joke among comic book fans is that given enough prep time, Batman will always come out on top. It wouldn’t matter if he was facing off against Doomsday or the Legion of Doom; Batman would come up with the perfect strategy to defeat his opponent. But what happens when the Dark Knight isn’t granted that time? On top of that, what if he’s also worn down physically and mentally from the “no days off” philosophy?
Christopher Priest and Pete Woods tackle these questions Justice League‘s new creative team. Instead of pitting DC’s greatest heroes against a universe-altering threat, Priest selects three smaller (yet still vital) emergencies for the League to respond to. As the team’s tactician, Batman is responsible for assigning each leaguer to a specific crisis based on who’s best suited to help. Superman, Flash and Jessica Cruz (Green Lantern) are sent to El Domingo to assist residents trapped by an earthquake; Batman teams with Wonder Woman and Aquaman to rescue nuns taken hostage by YouTube jihadists; and Simon Baz (another Green Lantern) is in space monitoring a massive starship fleet heading towards Earth.
Normally, these would be simple tasks for the League to resolve, but Priest introduces a unique wrinkle in an exhausted, weary Batman. Bruce Wayne’s first appearance in the comic shows him passed out on a staircase after three days of patrolling the streets as Batman. With his few minutes of rest interrupted by a Justice League alert, and before Alfred can object, Bruce is off to the Watchtower to get the rundown from Cyborg. Or as Bruce affectionately terms it, “Give me the ball.” (I must admit, I never pegged Batman as an advocate for sports analogies.)
Everything is going smoothly until Cyborg realizes Batman made a mistake. Aquaman is better suited to help with the earthquake in Corona del Mar, El Domingo. Surprisingly, the world’s greatest detective didn’t realize Corona del Mar translates to the “Crown of the Sea Boss.” Batman could be forgiven if that were the only mishap to occur in the issue. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. After being distracted by his rare mistake, he fails to follow up on his request for a FBI tactical team to halt their rescue attempt of the nuns. The tragic result is a nun being stabbed to death before Batman can save her.
Knightfall: Batman’s Most Famous Failure, Revisited
There are only a few instances in Batman’s illustrious career where physical and mental exhaustion has gotten the best of him. One of the biggest is 1993’s “Knightfall,” which famously featured Bane breaking Batman’s back, and Azrael replacing Bruce in the cape and cowl. The back-breaking is what everyone immediately recalls, but prior events allowed Bane to overcome Batman.
At the time, Gotham’s villains were operating simultaneously, causing Batman to work around the clock. While this took place, Bane observed Batman in the shadows, and noticed he was suffering from burnout. To put even more pressure on Batman, Bane freed Arkham Asylum’s inmates, knowing Batman wouldn’t rest until he caught them all. Once Batman’s reached the point of exhaustion, Bane confronted him, crushing Batman over his knee and “breaking the Bat.”
Though Justice League #34 only shows Batman on day four of his burnout, there are similarities between running the gauntlet in “Knightfall” and here. Then, Batman refused to accept help from Robin as he grew more tired. Here, his ego wouldn’t allow him to pass leadership responsibility to someone else.
As Justice League closes, Superman reassures Batman that the team can manage without him. His closing words, “Maybe you should,” hinting that things won’t get any better for the Dark Knight in Justice League‘s next issue.
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