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Comic Book / Batman (Chip Zdarsky)

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"Not God.. Not even close"
Batman, issue #125

Chip Zdarsky goes from writing spin-off Batman series to the main series, succeeding Joshua Williamson's two-and-done run, joined by returning Batman artist Jorge Jimenez. The run starts with issue #125, and is part of the DC Infinite Frontier initiative.

Bruce Wayne is at a turning point, haunted by dreams of a dark future, while Gotham City oligarchs are being gruesomely murdered. With the discovery of an archenemy's involvement and a tragedy unfolding, the Dark Knight's nightmares are just beginning.

And in the backup, there's chaos in Gotham as the underworld fights over one of its crown jewels...and Selina Kyle is caught in the middle. Can she stop the bloodshed and maybe even make a little money in the process?

Zdarsky also wrote an earlier Batman miniseries, Batman: The Knight which was about Bruce Wayne's training before becoming Batman, and which he has hinted will also connect to this run.

Storylines and events that are part of this run

Zdarsky's run includes examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Despite being a huge killer robot working for the Underbroker, the Executor is surprisingly polite and genial to both Catwoman and the other criminals.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Subverted: Failsafe was actually designed to kill Batman from the start if he ever broke his one rule/went rogue, and even now it's still technically just following its programming rather than having gone rogue itself.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: By the end of issue #128, Failsafe has taken over Gotham, using Oracle as its eyes and ears, most of both the Bat-Family and the Justice League captured.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: Arkham Batman is an odd case. His outfit seems to be post-Arkham City, but the description of his life is post-Arkham Knight, with no reason given why he would reduce his armaments.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Batman loses his right hand to the alternate Ghost-Maker in issue #134. The Dark Knight Returns version of Batman makes him a new one in the next issue.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Issue #127 has a flashback to a conversation between Superman and Batman after the latter has left the League over the events of Tower of Babel. When Bruce tries to justify his decision to create plans against the League, Superman asks Batman what the contingencies against himself are. Batman responds that the League can act as a counter against him, prompting this question from Clark:
    In a world where you know every move, who stops the Batman?
  • Back from the Dead: In issue 135, Red Mask's roaming the multiverse leads to many Jokers coming back to life, including those of Injustice, Batman (1989), Batman Vampire, Batman: Arkham Series, Kingdom Come, the DC Animated Universe, and The Dark Knight Returns.
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind: #140 sees Batman facing the Zur-en-Arrh of his various alternate selves, including the Dark Knight Returns Batman and even the vampire Batman.
  • Big Damn Heroes: In issue #127, Zur-En-Arrh is on the ropes, Wayne Manor is burning and Failsafe is ready to kill Batman. Then a massive gust of wind puts out that fire and there stands Superman.
    Superman: I'm going to need you... to back away from my friend.
    • Issue #128 has the Justice League join in, but all they end up doing is just being a distraction.
  • Black-and-White Insanity: Zur-En-Arrh's greatest "weakness" as Batman is ultimately this, as shown when he intends to arrest Harley Quinn for her past with the Joker even though it's been a long time since Harley did anything actually criminal and she's been acting as more of a hero.
  • Book Ends: The first arc, titled Failsafe, both starts and ends with someone faking his death. Penguin faking his death accidentally activates the titular robot and Bruce, realizing nothing he's thrown at him has worked, finally decides to trick the robot into believing it's managed to kill him
  • Breather Episode: The Joker: Year One arc.
  • The Bus Came Back: The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh makes a return at the end of issue #126.
  • The Cameo: Issue #135 has Batman meet various other Batmen from throughout the multiverse as he hunts down Red Mask. Of note, he meets the Michael Keaton Batman of Batman (1989), the Adam West Batman of Batman (1966), the Batman of the Batman Vampire trilogy, the Batman of Batman: Arkham Series, Terry McGinnis and the elder Bruce Wayne of Batman Beyond and the elderly Batman of The Dark Knight Returns.
  • Canon Discontinuity:
  • Cerebus Retcon:
    • The ending of JLA: Tower of Babel is expanded upon with Superman expressing doubts that Bruce sincerely believes the team would work as a legitimate countermeasure against a rogue Batman. This argument keys into the creation of Failsafe.
    • The Zur-En-Arrh backup story "I Am A Gun" reveals that he was created after Professor Milo put Batman through a psychedelic trip that scared Bruce so badly that he turned the trip into his own weapon to stop such things again. The end of that story also implies that the reason that the classic Batman costume has a yellow Batman logo is so Bruce never forgets about Zur-En-Arrh and how dangerous he can be.
  • Continuity Nod: Tim still does not like the idea of being considered crazy at believing the idea of Batman not being dead, something he went through badly in the Grant Morrison era of Batman.
  • The Corrupter: It turns out that Red Mask, a Joker from an alternate universe where Bruce was killed before ever becoming Batman, has become this, not only creating Jokers and making existing ones more violent, but also causing dead Jokers to come Back from the Dead.
  • Corrupted Contingency: Failsafe's name and debut seem to indicate it was created as a contingency for a yet explained emergency. Now it's rogue and hunting Batman. Issue #127 reveals that Failsafe was created by the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh after Superman expressed doubt that the Justice League would be able to shut him down if he went rogue. It got corrupted because the Penguin had decided to fake his death and frame Batman for it and, instead of trying to solve that problem, Failsafe is going all out to stop him.
  • Crazy-Prepared:
    • As it turns out, Failsafe was created by Zur-En-Arrh as a failsafe for Batman.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • The Bat-Family's very first encounter with Failsafe doesn't go well at all, with it managing to beat them very thoroughly. Nightwing at least manages to get Tim and Bruce some breathing room.
    • The Justice League doesn't fare any better as Superman's gutted by Kryptonite and Failsafe lures the others into a trap.
    • The Riddler receives a brutal beatdown from Zur-En-Arrh after he takes over.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • During the post-Tower of Babel flashback, Clark explicitly calls out Bruce for the one big flaw of his 'The JLA is the anti-Batman Contingency' argument: How in the hell is that even supposed to work? How does Batman expect the League to take down someone like him — someone who knows them all, knows their every move, and has planned for all of them?
      Superman: Really? How does the League take down the man who's planned for us?
      • Of course, it cuts both ways. Superman's not wrong, but he also didn't consider how a man as paranoid and ruthless as Batman would respond to such a critique — especially if he ultimately agreed with Clark.
    • Zur-En-Arrh created Failsafe in the off-chance Bruce went rogue... and decided that he had to erase his memory on how to shut him down on the off-chance Bruce tried to summon him to shut him down.
    • Zur-En-Arrh at least thought about the possibility of Failsafe being accidentally set off by a false alarm, so he made Alfred the only person on Earth with the authority to shut the machine down. But Zur also failed to consider what might happen in the scenario that Alfred passes away prior to Failsafe's activation. His lack of foresight inevitably results in Failsafe becoming a ticking time bomb that can't be defused under any circumstance.
  • Doppelgänger Gets Same Sentiment: Discussed; as Batman prepares to leave Red Mask's world, he asks the still-living alternate Alfred to come with him, but each acknowledges that trying to replace "their" Bruce and Alfred with an alternate wouldn't be fair to the ones they knew, even if they exchange fond farewells.
  • Enemy Within: Batman's backup personality of Zur-En-Arrh, as "pure Batman" without Bruce Wayne, was incompletely programmed and developed a ruthless willingness to kill.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: While Zur-En-Arrh is ultimately a Well-Intentioned Extremist rather than outright evil, Batman notes that he has an advantage over his other self even after Zur-En-Arrh transferred into Failsafe, as he is a human being who is prepared to take precautions and avoid mistakes, whereas Zur-En-Arrh puts himself in danger because he overestimates what he can take in a fight.
  • Evolving Credits: Beginning with Zdarsky's run, DC modified the Batman credits logo. While it's still the same basic text template that was introduced with Tynion's run to commemorate the start of Infinite Frontier, the exterior Bat Symbol has now been removed and inserted inside the text itself.
  • Faking the Dead: The final part of the "Two Birds, One Thorn" backup feature reveals that the Penguin had faked his death to get away from his obsession with crime and Batman and let his children take over.
  • Feeling Their Age: A minor example. Bruce refers to himself as "old man" a few times in his internal dialogue and wonders how long he can keep up with the rigors of vigilantism. However, he still shows impressive durability.
Bruce: The cycle: break, heal, break, heal. How much longer can I do this? The pain. I used to be able to bear it.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Batman tried to program Zur-En-Arrh as a second personality to protect him from being mentally compromised. An unexpected attack from the Joker interrupted the process before completion, and the incomplete programming latched onto a memory of young Bruce on the night of his parent's death gleefully celebrating the fact that Zorro kills his criminal enemies, gaining its ruthlessness from that. Now it seems willing to perform a Split-Personality Takeover to do things its own way.
  • Great Escape: After Zur-En-Arrh traps Bruce in Blackgate, he manages to escape during a riot instigated by Punchline.
  • Happy Ending Override: Joker returns in various stories where he is already dead, including ones where his death is integral to the plot, making plots about the end of his reign of terror turn into this by default.
  • Here We Go Again!: This story arc marks the fourth time in a row that Gotham City has successfully fallen under the control of a villain who has forced the Bat-Family to go into hiding as fugitives while Bruce recuperates from a brutal defeat. First by Bane, then by Joker, which was then immediately followed up by Simon Saint and Scarecrow, and now Failsafe.
  • Hope Spot: During Failsafe's attack on Wayne Manor, Tim reveals the Penguin killed himself and framed Batman. The hope is that by revealing the truth, it'll shut down the robot (as Bruce didn't break his rule and thus there was no need for its activation). Points for trying, but it doesn't work.
  • Implacable Man: Failsafe's single-minded devotion to hunting down and destroying Batman would be enough to put the T-800 to shame.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Brought up during Batman's final clash with Red Mask; Batman admits that he's always wondered if he's the reason for the Joker's evil, but meeting Red Mask assures him that the Joker would have always been evil, even if Red Mask is ultimately more pathetic than the clown.
  • Internal Deconstruction: The Failsafe arc, the introduction of Zur-En-Arrh and the fallout as it carries into Gotham War seems to be a deconstruction of Batman being a Crazy-Prepared Control Freak as full on crazy from paranoia and desperate for security through as much control as he can seize regardless of who he has to dominate for it. This leads to him botching the development of his contingencies, leading to them being hijacked or otherwise corrupted as it damages every relationships he has by endangering his friends and family. In short, Batman has always been the rock that thinks circles around everyone he knows, but such high standards are not mentally healthy in the long run and he's falling behind after staying ahead for so long.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Penguin claims to be appalled at his children killing their siblings for his inheritance, and apparently donated the liquid assets to charity. In reality he's excited at the notion of them building an empire and defeating Batman and Catwoman, even after stating he got out because it became too much for him. His liquid assets were also actually being wired to him through that charity.
  • Joker Immunity: Cosmically invoked. As Red Mask roams the multiverse, versions of the Joker who did die come back to life.
  • Kavorka Man: The Penguin is revealed to have fathered ten children. As stated by the Executor, he was quite the "popular gentleman" despite what his looks would have you believe.
  • Killer Robot: Zig-zagged; Failsafe is a bat-themed humanoid robot based on Amazo tech who clearly has no problem thrashing and almost killing Batman and the Bat-Family. It has little problem maiming them but does avoid lethal harm. Even so, when it takes over Gotham it allows crime to run rampant, not caring about deaths that occur indirectly from its actions.
  • Kirk Summation: As a creation of Batman('s backup personality), Failsafe takes the time to deconstruct his methodology; how his callous use of allies as soldiers to his cause allows them to suffer or be endangered so long as his goals are achieved. Batman for his part acknowledges this while considering the scope of the consequences.
  • Logical Weakness:
    • The enormous Joker sharks formed from Red Mask's decaying sanity are still sharks, making them susceptible to the Bat-Shark Repellent Bruce picked up earlier from 1966's bright knight.
    • In #140, Bruce uses the (sometimes metatextual) weak spots of each universe's Zur-en-Aarh to take them down: 1966's Zur has a gadget to counter everything, but they're unwieldy and flimsy-looking, and the Bat-Shield is shattered by the explosive "Anti-Bat-Shield Razors" that Bruce imagines are in his own belt; Red Rain's Zur is himself a vampire, and is repelled by the memory Bruce keeps of Thomas Wayne's bible; DKR's Zur is an aging man who focuses on ending fights as quickly as possible by inflicting maximum pain on his opponents, so Bruce outflanks him by fighting defensively. Most notable is 1989's Zur, who has a particular talent for striking from the shadows, but is so stiff that he can't react quickly "on camera" or, infamously, turn his head.
  • Mind Virus: While the Red Mask travels the multiverse, his presence pushes native Jokers to be nastier than they've ever been, with a power boost to match. At the same time it's implied a similar link infected the minds of each Bruce with a Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. Issue #140 reveals that Zur used this link to pull his counterparts into Batman's subconscious.
  • Mythology Gag: Red Mask's view through the multiverse, into the Joker's "creation", is directly lifted from The Killing Joke.
  • Noodle Incident: It's implied that the The Dark Knight Returns Batman has had multiversal adventures before.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: A plot point in Batman #129. While trying to locate where Bruce has skedaddled off to, Failsafe realizes something: Out of all of Bruce's allies, Aquaman has made no effort to come to Gotham to try and rescue his teammates since the City's fall. While it could be caution after what happened to them, Failsafe correctly concludes Arthur is likely sheltering Bruce and sets sail for Atlantis.
  • Outside-Context Problem: In-universe, Bruce is this to Judge Dent and the Red Mask during the Bat-Man of Gotham arc. This is an alternate Gotham where Batman never arose and while Dent has experience putting down resistance, these alternate Arkham inmates lack the experience and knowledge their mainstream Earth counterparts have amassed after years of fighting Batman.
  • Passing the Torch: Penguin privately expresses joy at the thought of the two children that inherited his empire taking out Catwoman and Batman while he's retired.
  • Plot-Triggering Death:
    • The Penguin seemingly kills himself after being poisoned with mercury and frames Batman for it, which in turn leads to the activation of the Failsafe robot. This also leads to Catwoman being asked to find Cobblepot's offspring and give them their respective inheritances.
    • Alfred Pennyworth was apparently the only person in charge of resetting Failsafe in the worst-case scenario there's a false alarm. But since Alfred was killed by Bane back in Tom King's run, there is no one on earth who can stop its rampage now.
  • Remember the New Guy?: It turns out Oswald Cobblepot had managed to father several children. Only one of them, Ethan Cobblepot, was actually known before this run.
  • The Reveal:
    • Issue #135 reveals that the Arkham Series Batman ultimately survived the Knightfall Protocol, going completely underground but still implicitly operating as Batman.
    • Issue #143 puts Batman: Three Jokers in Canon Discontinuity with its own answer to the three Jokers revelation first seen at the end of "Darkseid War": the Joker isn't literally three men, but one guy who trained to split his mind into multiple identies, like Batman and Zur-En-Arrh.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: The Batman #127 backup reveals this was Penguin's motive for faking his death and leaving Gotham. At this point, he's sick of the stress of having to fight tooth and nail to stay atop Gotham's underworld. He's also sick of Batman, having come to view fighting the Dark Knight as an addiction that needed to be broken if he was to find some semblance of peace.
  • Sequel Hook: Oswald's Faking the Dead and post-Gotham life is picked up in Tom King's The Penguin (2023) spinoff.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: When Daniel Capito talks about his plans regarding exploring Batman and the Joker's potential conflicting psychosis, Bruce tells him to stop trying to justify his actions as anything more than a sick experiment.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: In the "Bat-Man of Gotham" storyline, Bruce creates a brand new, cobbled-together costume as his old costume was wrecked due to the battle with Failsafe. It's a very Daredevil-esque design (which may be an intentional Shout-Out, as Zdarsky was winding down his Daredevil run over at Marvel at the time).
  • Split Personality: "Joker: Year One" officially says that Batman: Three Jokers isn't canon and explains the "three Jokers" first hinted in "Darkseid War" as, in fact, being the result of a split psyche, and the Joker is indeed just one man.
  • Split Timelines Plot: The second storyline sends Batman into an alternate Earth where Bruce Wayne never existed, where Gotham's defender is a Knight Templar Harvey Dent, who acts as judge, jury and executioner Judge Dredd-style.
  • Spot the Impostor: Damien was the one most willing to accept the idea that "Failsafe" was now controlled by Bruce's personality, but when the robot started talking about downloading other versions of himself into Amazo robots, Damien realised that the controlling intelligence was Zur En Arrh rather than the true Batman as his father wouldn't have basically left other versions of himself without their personalities.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: While not as ugly as her father, Addison Cobblepot inherited his Sinister Schnoz and short height.
  • Superman Stays Out of Gotham: Actively enforced; after Zur-En-Arrh transfers itself into Failsafe and claims to "be" Batman having uploaded his personality into the robot, the rest of the Justice League express discomfort with "Batman's" new methods, but even when Superman confronts "Batman" directly, it is made clear that they can't do anything about this situation.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • Oswald fakes his death in order to escape Gotham and leave his life of crime behind. Unfortunately, he decides to do this by framing Batman for his murder, resulting in the erroneous activation of Failsafe.
    • Superman is indirectly responsible for Batman's development of Failsafe following Tower of Babel. It was his argument with Bruce in the Cave about why there was no anti-Batman protocol and how saying 'the League will stop me' is ill-thought-out. This conversation fueled Bruce's doubts and led to him 'outsourcing' the creation of such a contingency to Zur En Arrh.
    • Batman #129 reveals Alfred was Zurr En Arrh's insurance policy to shut off Failsafe in the event the triggering conditions turned out to be a false alarm. By murdering Alfred in the climax of Tom King's run, Bane and the Flashpoint Thomas Wayne unwittingly removed that safeguard and are thus indirectly responsible for Failsafe's activation in the here and now.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
    • Failsafe may be an unstoppable murderous machine, but it's ultimately just following its programming - it genuinely believes that Batman has become a danger and seeks to eliminate him for the good of the world. Tellingly, it actively avoids killing anyone in its search for Batman - even when fighting the Batfamily and the Justice League, it only goes for incapacitating/non-fatal wounds and continuously warns its opponents to stand down. However, it's seemingly able to exploit Loophole Abuse once it places Gotham under lockdown and simply allows the city to fall into chaos, as it cannot claim direct responsibility for any civilian casualties that occur as a result of its actions, and it seemingly considers this a Necessary Evil to destroy Batman once and for all.
    • Zur-En-Arrh also sees himself this way. Yes, he's the backup personality of Batman should his mind come under attack and he wants to brutally end everything that could get in its way, but he genuinely wants to do this to bring about Bruce's desire for a peaceful Gotham and wants to do the things Bruce wants to but can't bring himself to do so.
  • Wham Episode: Issue #143 officially subjects Batman: Three Jokers to Canon Discontinuity (even though before that, Geoff Johns pulled a Shrug of God in its place in canon) and explains that the "three Jokers" reveal mentioned at the end of "Darkseid War" wasn't really the Mobius Chair being literal, but that the Joker is indeed one person and the "three Jokers" actually refers to three personalities in him.
  • Wham Shot: Issue #135 ends with the image of various Zur-En-Arrhs looming down at the reunited Bruce and Tim, suggesting that not only do Batmen and Jokers exist in the multiverse, so do they, looming in the back of their minds.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In #136, Batman comes down on Selena for not approaching him in some manner about the Penguin, since revealing that could have stopped Failsafe in some manner and the multiverse-hopping incident wouldn't have happened.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: In #140, when facing the Zur-En-Arrhs of his alternate selves in his own mind, Bruce is able to stop them by basically utilising his mind palace against them, such as creating weapons to stop the Zur-En-Arrh of '66 Batman's equipment or using his memory of his father's Bible to drive back his vampire counterpart.