Bruce Wayne is going through a hard time right now in the world of DC Comics. The last three issues of Tom King's run of Batman have examined some hard truths about the character, and as King does so well, he has unpacked a lot about what really goes on inside Wayne's head.
The issues deal with Victor "Mr. Freeze" Fries going on trial after he is captured by the Batman. He's definitely guilty, and the entire jury agrees — with the exception of one. Bruce Wayne has put himself on this jury, and he's definitely in the "not guilty" camp. The jury doesn't know it, but readers certainly do — Bruce is spending most of these three issues attacking himself.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for Batman #50-53 below. If you've managed to stay unspoiled for this long, shoot your grapple gun away from this article until you've had a chance to catch up.**
When we mentioned that Bruce isn't in the best place right now, it's directly because of Selina leaving him at the altar (rooftop, but whatever) in Batman #50. Bruce finally had happiness, and it was taken away. This has shaken him to the core, and now he is reexamining everything about his life.
While Bruce examines, Batman punches. The capture of Mr. Freeze was brutal even by Bat-standards, and it's clear that the man in the cape and cowl has lost control. The citizens of Gotham don't seem to care, though — Freeze is guilty, he admits it, and Batman is a hero. Why does anything else matter?
It matters because Batman is fallible. Bruce has to point this out to everyone in the latest issue, Batman #53. In doing so, he reveals some interesting things about his personal beliefs.
He brings up the faith of one of his fellow jurors in order to prove his point, and reveals that Thomas Wayne believed in God, and was very devout. Little Bruce went to the services, said the words, etc., but when his father and mother were gunned down, whatever belief Bruce had left him. As he says, "I put aside believing in a deity." It becomes clear a couple of pages later that Bruce replaced his former faith with Batman.
Though the exact word is never said, pre-Batman Bruce was certainly something of an atheist. He didn't believe in his father's God, but he wanted to believe in something. He searched long and hard for it. It wasn't until he found the Bat that he had religion again.
Until something happened to make him doubt that faith, that is. Using the Bible's Book of Job as a reference, Bruce talks to the jury about a man who loses everything, and it is very clear that he isn't really talking about Job — Bruce is talking about himself losing Selina.
Still, though, what does it matter? The people of Gotham believe in Batman, and they believe that he will save them. He has saved them, quite literally, as the entire jury attests to. "God is above us, and he wears a cape," Bruce says.
Bruce points out the problem that is inherent here — Batman is not God. He is a man, and he makes mistakes. Bruce knows that Batman made one with his handling of Mr. Freeze. Bruce/Batman began to believe his own press — perhaps somewhere within him, he liked being worshiped. He liked being thought of as infallible, and because of his dual nature, one half fed the other. Those days are over.
"God blesses your soul with grace. Batman punches people in the face," he says, summing up to the jury. "He's not perfect, he's just us." They have to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt, and if they doubt Batman, Bruce's former deity, then they doubt the case.
In his summation, Bruce seals the deal: "No matter what he does, behind the cape and the cowl and the Bat everything, he's just a damn person! And because he's a person, a man, he can err. We are not talking to God." A closeup panel of Bruce himself has him saying, "However flawed we are, he can be just as flawed."
Bruce then points out something that only he knows, under the guise of learning it from testimony: "He made mistakes. Mistakes he shouldn't have made." He asks the jury to do what they would do for any other man in that position, something they'd never have to do to a God — to save him. If they find Freeze guilty, then they condone the lost Bat's recent behavior.
Bruce's issue-length point is taken in by the jury, and Freeze is found not guilty.
All of this adds up to a huge crisis of faith for the Dark Knight. As we discovered, it's not the first one that he's had — he replaced God with Batman, but now he's lost that faith as well. Batman has suffered, and he has erred, and you get the feeling that Bruce believes that all of it is deserved — that if he was better, if he hadn't turned Batman into a God-like figure, then Selina would not have left him... he'd still have his one bit of happiness.
How will he recover from all of this? By getting back to basics. The end of the issue has him asking Alfred to prepare "the original suit." He admits that he is lost, and he can't go back to being whatever he had been. Wearing his old suit (complete with black outershorts), he says that he needs to remember who he is. He needs to remember who the person was before the trial, before the wedding, before Batman was God.
It was revealed that all of the Bruce/Selina breakup business was masterminded by Bane. He's broken Batman physically in the past, but Batman painfully recovered. He's now broken him again, in a completely different way — one hopes that this is the beginning of Master Bruce rebuilding his shattered faith.