Let’s be real, Bat-fans. We’ve all felt like we’ve been living in a pretty disturbing dream lately, which means if you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to be Batman, you now do. While the direct details may be a little different—we don’t have a psychopathic clown secretly running our city, thank god—what Batman has been going through these past couple of issues is surprisingly relatable considering the sort of year we’ve been having.
Take Batman #97, for example. Bruce found himself fighting a theater full of undead Joker victims, revived by advanced nanotechnology that the Joker developed. However, as if that weren’t bizarre enough, a few panels later, the nano-zombies change into hundreds of classic-suited Jokers.
Oh, tell me you can read the news these days and not relate to feeling like you’re surrounded by clowns!
Of course, in Batman’s case, it’s because of the dose of Punchline toxin he took back in Batman #95 and that’s still, two issues later, making its way through his system. Of course, it’ll take a lot more than undead Jokers to bring down Batman. If he can’t trust his eyes, he’ll just fight without them, which he does in a sequence that gets my vote for this month’s “Most Badass Moment” Award. However, we have to think things would be a lot better for the Dark Knight if he could get that gunk out of his body, so we’re all in favor of the radical floral detox that Harley Quinn sets Batman on at the end of the issue. Especially since it seems to have manifested itself in a form that has been holding Bruce back far more than any silly poison—Alfred Pennyworth. Batman has never truly dealt with the death of his surrogate father and closest ally. Yes, he’s grieved a little and tried to bring the family together for one of the most awkward wakes in history. But he’s never truly processed and let himself feel the loss of the single most important person in his life. He’s never come to terms with the fact that he didn’t even get to say goodbye.
As anyone who’s experienced something similar can tell you, that’s an unbearably hard thing to have to go through. It’s not easy for anybody, not even the most put-together, well-adjusted individual out there—and that’s certainly not Bruce. And you know who also hasn’t properly dealt with Alfred’s death?
All of us fans.
Okay, okay, I’m sure there are some exceptions out there. But how many of you didn’t bat an eye an issue ago when Alfred started talking to Bruce through his comm again? It’s something we’re so used to, that it just seemed perfectly natural at first. It took me a beat to process and remind myself that, no, that can’t really be Alfred. Alfred’s dead.
I know that part of the problem is the whole maxim about how no one really dies in comics, and that’s true. If you read any out-of-continuity Bat-comics like The Batman’s Grave and Batman: The Adventures Continue, you know that Alfred is alive and very well in them, and I can’t promise he’ll never be brought back to the DC Universe eventually. But right now, he’s gone. He’s going to be gone for the foreseeable future. We need to get used to that and so does Bruce. Whatever detox-fueled conversation awaits him when “The Joker War” continues, I think it’s going to be pretty crucial and cathartic for all of us as well.
The really awful thing is that Alfred isn’t the only member of the Bat-Family that’s causing Bruce grief right now. I want to direct your attention to a book that isn’t technically part of “The Joker War.” In fact, if you largely stick to Bat-Books, it might not even be a series you’re reading. But some big things went down recently in Teen Titans Annual #2 that are bound to have some major repercussions throughout Gotham.
Without recapping a couple of years of Teen Titans storylines for you, know that Damian Wayne’s actions as leader of the team have been…questionable. It started with Damian creating a secret prison and altering the minds of criminals without their consent, and it escalated recently when Damian killed Brother Blood and nearly killed KGBeast before the rest of the Titans stopped him. It was only a matter of time before Batman got involved, and this month, he did. Even more telling, the Titans didn’t choose to back their teammate. They knew Robin had gone too far. Red Arrow went so far as to admit to being scared of Robin.
The whole thing culminated in a brutal fight between father and son that ended with Damian ripping the R from his chest and proclaiming that he’s finally free.
That’s right, Damian is no longer Robin. Let that set in a moment.
So, if he’s not Robin, then who is he? Well…that’s not exactly clear. Neither is the future of his seemingly former team, the Teen Titans. He was their leader. Do they even exist without him? They might. The great irony of the team Robin formed after the events of Justice League: No Justice is that every single member has matured and greatly grown as a hero, except for him. Robin’s seemingly regressed. And while right now, it seems to be a problem for the Titans and for Batman, if no one’s able to get through to Damian and get him back on the right path, it’s going to be a problem for all of the heroes and villains of Gotham.
Batman may have his hands full with the Joker at the moment, and it’s uncertain exactly when in that timeline the events of Teen Titans Annual #2 take place, but it’s clear that he has even bigger problems looming. Eventually, Punchline’s toxin will be out of his system and Batman will be back in fighting shape. But dealing with his lost and out-of-control son? That’s likely to cause Bruce far more pain than the Joker, Punchline and all those clown-faced minions could ever hope to inflict.
Tim Beedle covers movies, TV and comics for DCComics.com, writes our monthly Superman column, "Super Here For...", and is a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column.