The Dark Knight is on the verge of losing Gotham, according to writer James Tynion IV, who is kicking off his second year on Batman with his most ambitious story yet, one that is as much the epic tale of an entire city as it is an intimate look at its heroes.
Gotham is changing rapidly, rebuilding itself in the wake of the Joker War, and several factions, including the mysterious transhumanist gang known as the Unsanity Collective, are vying for control of the city. Lurking in the shadows of this new war for the soul of Gotham are the Scarecrow and a shady tech mogul named Simon Saint, who has a plan to replace vigilantes with a “peacekeeping” force he is calling the Magistrate. To top it all off, the people of Gotham are losing faith in Batman. Can the Dark Knight get the city back on his side?
In May’s Batman #108, Bruce goes undercover as Matches Malone to infiltrate the Unsanity Collective, and learns just how quickly Gotham is slipping from his grasp. Central to the issue is new character Miracle Molly, the genius engineer behind the gang’s mind- and body-altering tech designed to create the perfect soldiers for the Collective’s mission. Molly isn’t your typical cackling villain anxious to trade blows with the Bat, though. Instead, she wants to pitch him the Collective’s vision for Gotham City.
“The reason [Batman] puts on the costume is because criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot. And one of the big things that Miracle Molly says to him in this issue is that it’s not just the criminals. Everyone in Gotham is a superstitious and cowardly lot. Society kind of pushes us into that position,” Tynion tells Den of Geek over Zoom. “The idea of the Unsanity Collective is that they erase part of their memories so they can let go of the traumas of their past, let go of who society wanted them to be, and they’re able to rebuild themselves from scratch as these new people.”
It’s this “heart-to-heart” between Batman and Miracle Molly that forms the crux of the issue, and lays the foundation for this year’s story arc as a whole. In Batman #108, readers get a much better look at the storytelling tapestry Tynion and artist Jorge Jimenez are weaving in “The Cowardly Lot,” which tackles some very hefty subject matter, including what Batman’s mission means to a younger generation of Gothamites who are understandably cynical about authority figures.
In fact, at the core of “The Cowardly Lot” is Tynion’s desire to write to younger generations of comic book readers who are looking for Batman stories that reflect them and the world they live in.
“I didn’t want to write a comic book that’s necessarily for me right now,” explains Tynion, who is 33. “I’m trying to write the [types of] comics that got me really excited when I was 15. That was something that I wanted to tap into. And the truth is that the teenagers are growing up. Generation Z, they don’t believe that society works because society hasn’t proved to them that it actually works.”
Is Batman really the hero Gotham needs right now? Things have hardly gotten any better for the citizens of Gotham since the Dark Knight began his war on crime. When it’s not the Joker terrorizing the city, it’s Bane, it’s Deathstroke, it’s Poison Ivy, it’s the Riddler. You could hardly blame someone growing up in all of that chaos for seeking out alternative solutions beyond the Bat.
“Batman doesn’t necessarily mean something good to the young people who are coming of age in the city,” Tynion says. “How does Batman actually inspire this generation that isn’t so sure what it believes in?”
Further complicating matters is the newly-elected mayor, Christopher Nakano, who wants to rid the city of masks, starting with the Bat Family. Earlier this year, in DC’s flash-forward event Future State, we got a glimpse at the mayor’s potential legacy: the Gotham of the future becomes a dystopian surveillance state where Batman is “dead” and his remaining associates are being hunted down by the Magistrate. While DC billed these stories as “possible futures” for our heroes, Batman #108 certainly begins to set the wheels in motion toward this dark reality.
And then there’s Scarecrow, who has “his ideas about how fear can help the city evolve,” according to Tynion. Silently stalking all of the major players in the story, the classic villain has yet to unveil his master plan but he sure looks creepier than ever thanks to a new design by Jimenez. Teased as the arc’s big bad, Scarecrow is the wild card in the tug of war for Gotham, and he’s planning something very big.
The odds are stacked against him, but Tynion says all of these challenges are reinvigorating for a Batman who’s a bit older and now further along in his crime-fighting career than we’re used to. He no longer has Alfred by his side, he’s lost the fortune that allowed him to build his high-tech gadgets and vehicles, and he doesn’t fully understand all of the new threats knocking at Gotham’s door. But he’s more excited about being Batman than ever before.
“He’s questioning how to actually make people believe in the mission of Batman and believe that the city can be fixed. That was what he faced when he first came to Gotham,” Tynion says. “Gotham was so corrupt that no one believed that it could ever become uncorrupt. And it took a tremendous amount of work to make it uncorrupt. And now that system’s collapsing again, because all systems collapse. Now he has to teach this new generation that you have to hold desperately on to all of these things. Society doesn’t just fix itself and then stay fixed forever. It’s a constant battle.”
The Dark Knight will continue that battle in Batman #108, which is out on May 4. While you wait, check out a few preview pages from the issue: