SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for "Batman" #49, on sale today.
It's been known for a while now that Bruce Wayne would return as Batman in "Batman" #50, but exactly how has remained a mystery. After all, as a result of last year's near-fatal "Endgame" storyline, he was left missing both his memories of his time as the Dark Knight and his sharply honed crime fighting abilities, resulting in a Bruce Wayne blissfully ignorant of his tumultuous life.
This week's "Batman" #49, from the reunited "Swamp Thing" team of Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette (along with a co-writer credit for Snyder's frequent collaborator James Tynion IV), answers how Bruce ends up back under the cape and cowl. In an unconventional narrative that incorporates a parallel story of a futuristic dream sequence, Bruce Wayne learns that he had invented a complex machine to bring back Batman if needed. Of course, Alfred had destroyed the machine, fully intending to never allow his ward to ever fall back into the dangerous and dark world he had been freed of. Whoever, Bruce learns the machine has a back-up -- but it can only be activated by Alfred himself.
Alfred is understandably extremely hesitant at the prospect, but eventually goes through with the activation when he realizes it's what pre-memory loss Bruce would truly want. The process effectively "kills" the pure, un-traumatized Bruce Wayne the world has known since he returned last year. Once that persona has been erased, the machine restores a back-up of Batman's mind from right before the "Endgame" conflict with the Joker.
Alfred is unable to bring himself to initiate the final step --essentially killing the Bruce who stands before him -- to bring back Batman, having been so relieved by Bruce's peaceful Batman-less existence. He's spared that action by Julie Madison, Bruce's love interest of late, who shows up in the Batcave (establishing that she is fully aware of Bruce's secret identity) and pushes the fateful button.
With Batman back and headed into battle with Mr. Bloom -- alongside Jim Gordon, who has been filling the Bat-role in recent issues -- the question remains of how this newly rebooted Batman may be different going forward, and whether he will truly not remember any of his recent experiences. Bruce tells Alfred before he triggers the machine that he'll become a "better Batman than I ever was before," but what that means remains a mystery -- for the moment.
Longtime series artist Greg Capullo returns for the Snyder-written "Batman" #50, scheduled for release on March 23.