Bruce Wayne is hanging up the cape and cowl in 2009. I haven’t read comic books with any regularity since I got married, and only just heard about this event a couple months ago when it hit mainstream media. My immediate reaction was cynical, born of too many “death” events and the cold, hard business logic that the iconic Bruce Wayne-Batman is a cash cow TimeWarner has no intention of abandoning. I’m less interested in how and when Bruce will return (you know he will) than I am in the concept of retiring superheroes, and why the big 2 publishers can’t seem to let go.
Comic book editorial staff tread a thin line between maintaining the familiarity of an iconic character and preventing staleness from setting in. If a character doesn’t grow, it eventually dies–at least, in terms of reader interest. Yet, real change in comic books is rare. Eventually, it all gets reset or retconned in some fashion.
Now, I’m not advocating the permanent deaths of Superman, Batman, or Spiderman, but I don’t see why the editors don’t embrace the evolution of the characters, including the retirement and passing of the mantle. Let’s examine the possible consequences of such a decision in the case of Bruce Wayne and Batman.
At the end of Batman RIP, Bruce disappears as his helicopter crashes into the river, after he was shot by the villain. His body is not found, in classic comic book tradition. We’ll assume he returns at some point in the future, but in the meantime, one of his proteges takes on the role of Batman. When Bruce does resurface, he has come to terms with the childhood trauma that drove him to become Batman. He’s tired of the fight, mentally and physically. He sees his replacement is handling the job and decides that part of his life is over.
This scenario has several advantages, both in terms of character growth, story potential and business practice. Bruce Wayne’s new role provides a sense of progress while his continued presence in the setting acts as a familiar anchor to old and new readers. The new Batman is more accessible to new readers because he lacks the years of baggage. The man behind the cowl also brings different motivations and desires, opening new paths for character development.
Are you interested in this kind of retirement plan for superheroes? Does it work for iconic heroes like Batman, or are they too tied to their mythos to be able to separate the man from the mask?