Gotham’s streets have never been safe, but with the Gotham PD on them they become lethal.
In an effort to continue the Batman comic’s role as a critique of modern urban life, Scott Snyder’s Batman #44 brings the recent discussion about radicalized police violence directly into focus. In the issue, Batman reflects on the investigation of the murder of a black teen by a white officer. The issue, hailed as not only one of the best of the year but one of the best since Snyder and Capullo took on their landmark run in 2011, goes deep into the complexity that happens in targeted neighborhoods. Drawing a story about the deals that a young man of color must make with organized crime to protect his family, before being forced out by the more pernicious organized crime: capitalism and gentrification. Here, Wayne Enterprises takes out his building and shop in an effort to bring in expensive condos.
The story itself is a strong statement from Snyder and DC Comics about the role that their heroes play in social issues. In recent years, superheroes have been criticized for their participation in the state itself as well as going after obvious surface crime while allowing the rich and politicians to go free. Grant Morrison recently gave this reason as to why he was backing away from mainstream American comics and focusing on the heroes of Eastern cultures.
The issue does not allow this to be a simple case of a “renegade cop” as well as it puts it into social context by including news clippings throughout that tells the story of institutionalized racism in the police force, the social movements needed to confront segregation, and even how “gang cultures” often comes from community organizing that is forced into tribal skirmish by the realities of racial violence and extreme poverty. It does not shy away from the complexity and lack of clear villains, which these books often criticized for by comic legends like Alan Moore.
This is clearly an attempt to include the ongoing Black Lives Matter groundswell and discussion, just as Superman did briefly two issues back. There it was merely window dressing and easily downplayed by showing demon-cops on the other end, but with this issue of Batman we are clearly allowed to see that it is the system of policing and capitalism that is putting young black man to the executioners chair. It also deals with the role that Batman/Bruce Wayne plays in this system, as well as the way that he assumes guilt and has to confront his own internalized white supremacy.
The issue is clearly ruffling feathers, but it also shows the potential of the DCU to take on contemporary issues and remain relevant as a form of ongoing literature and cultural commentary.
Scott Snyder told the Guardian:
This issue is meant to be a thesis about what our Batman is. We’ve tried to be pretty relentlessly on-point about him being a symbol of inspiration in the face of tremendous fear, as opposed to a symbol of punishment, or a symbol of revenge, taking the city away from criminals. Here is where he begins to learn [the limits of] the methods that he thought would work: finding a criminal, making an example of the criminal, throwing the criminal in jail … Instead, what he has to learn is that the problems that he’s facing in today’s city are much more humbling, are much more complicated.