The new status quo for the DC Universe post-Dark Crisis On Infinite Earths was kicked off with Action Comics #1050. Based on how January is set up DC Comics will be in no rush to show everything about the new status quo for the DC Universe. As we see with the first week of 2023 Batman is leading the charge to open the new year. And thanks to the ending of Dark Crisis On Infinite Earths we now know that the recent Failsafe arc did take place after the recent Crisis event. With that in mind let’s find out what Bruce Wayne and Gotham City’s status quo is like to kick off 2023 with Batman #131.
Writer: Chip Zdarksy
Artist: Mike Hawthorne (The Bat-Man Of Gotham); Miguel Mendonça (The Toy Box)
Inker: Adriano Di Benedetto (The Bat-Man Of Gotham)
Colorist: Tomeu Morey (The Bat-Man Of Gotham); Roman Stevens (The Toy Box)
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Bruce Wayne wakes up and realizes that Failsafe sent him to another universe in the Multiverse. Because of the way he was sent to this other universe Bruce’s brain is scrambled and causes him to imagine a skeleton Jim Gordon is following him around making jokes.
While taking in this alternate Gotham City Bruce clashes with Harvey Dent, who in this universe goes by Judge Dent, uses some form of Bane’s venom serum, and hands out his own judgment on criminals with the GCPDs backing.
Still injured and having to deal with the apartment they are fighting in being set on fire by Firefly Bruce is barely able to keep fighting as time goes by. Bruce is saved by a knife expert and taken somewhere to avoid Judge Dent’s capture.
Elsewhere in Gotham City Selina Kyle is contacted by a mad scientist named Red Mask to capture Bruce Wayne, who Red Mask has been waiting to return.
At some apartment, the person who saved Bruce’s life is named Jewel, who Bruce immediately recognizes as an orphan based on their eyes. While patching himself up Bruce understands Failsafe’s “gift” was to give him a Gotham City with a Batman to save. End of the main story.
With how action heavy the Failsafe story arc was Batman #131 is a bit of a reset as this issue is a lot of set-up to get you as the reader in the same state Bruce Wayne finds himself in. We have a place you immediately recognize as Gotham City where Bruce finds himself in. But you also just as quickly realize this is another universe and Bruce needs to find a way back. For a set-up issue that all works though the way it is all handled does leave you feeling that you need to see it play out before fully buying into what is going on.
Now it is definitely unavoidable that it is disappointing that where we start Batman #131 is with the same status quo Bruce Wayne had during Dark Crisis On Infinite Earths. There is no escaping that parallel since Bruce being stuck in another continuity was driven home throughout the second half of the latest Crisis event. Because of that kicking off “The Bat-Man Of Gotham” with that same type of setup is not an instant sell.
It also does not help that this start of Bruce being gone from the main DC Universe was exactly how we started 2022 for Batman. While you do get what Chip Zdarsky and Mike Hawthorne’s “The Bat-Man Of Gotham” are going for with this story the starting point is way too familiar to what the status quo for Bruce Wayne’s Batman was throughout all of last year. So for long-time Batman readers, this story arc may come across as presenting a status quo that is like you are going through Groundhog Day to start off 2023. And for new readers, you will have to at least read the Failsafe arc before jumping into Batman #131.
Because of all that, it does honestly take the entire issue of Batman #131 for Zdarsky and Hawthorne to sell this idea of an Elseworld story within the new DC Multiverse. Where this issue does really find its momentum is not with the Judge Harvey content. Rather it is when Red Mask makes his appearance towards the end of the main story of Batman #131.
What makes Red Mask stand out from Judge Harvey is that he is presented as a new character. By giving him what appears to be a mad scientist gimmick you don’t feel like Red Mask is just a slightly altered version of a character you know like we get with Judge Harvey or Selina Kyle of this universe. Even if Red Mask turns out to be the identity of a Batman Family member or rogues gallery member Zdarsky and Hawthorne at least don’t present it in that way out of the gate.
To their credit, Zdarsky and Hawthorne do pull off the idea of how in this world where Batman does not exist that Harvey Dent would be a character that would take on a Dark Knight role with Judge Dent. The obvious parallels to Judge Dredd are played well enough so you don’t just lose Dent to cosplaying as Judge Dredd. The way this version of Gotham City is shown to be when Bruce examines his old stomping grounds does show how, like Batman, Judge Dent’s way of doing things is reflected in how the city looks.
While done well the whole Judge Dent gimmick clearly isn’t where “The Bat-Man Of Gotham” will get a lot of its content. As mentioned before, the Red Mask side of things is where we get our big hint at the direction of this story. Because in the conversation with Selina Kyle, we learn that there was, or possibly still is, a version of Bruce Wayne that existed in this universe. Not only that but one that was old enough to look like the main DC Universe version of Bruce. What that means for the direction of the main story in Batman is the mystery to be intrigued by.
Similar to the main story, “The Toy Box” backup story starring Tim Drake does take the entire length of its page count to get you bought into its direction. While Zdarsky does his best to explain why Jon Kent would be the Superman Family character that Tim will be teaming up with it just does not work. The entire opening interaction between Jon and Tim comes across as completely forced and doesn’t erase the question of why Conner Kent, Tim’s best friend, isn’t given this team-up story. The roles between Jon and Conner could’ve easily been swapped without missing a story beat.
What does work with the backup story is why Tim would be the one out of the Batman Family deadest on saving Bruce from wherever he is at. Unlike Nightwing, Oracle, and the others Tim was there to see everything Bruce went through against Failsafe. From the several beatdowns, Failsafe gave him to the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh transformation Tim was right there to see Bruce pushing himself beyond the mental and physical breaking point. With that in mind Tim being motivated to actively help find and bring Bruce back is character motivation you understand.
Zdarsky and Miguel Mendonça also did a good job in making sure to not write Dick Grayson as not believing Tim about Bruce not being dead. We actually see Dick being the supportive big brother and believing Bruce will return eventually given what happened with the Crisis event. The perspectives of Dick Grayson and Tim Drake work well in each member of the Batman Family sees Bruce differently. Mendonça in particular gets that across well with how the facial reactions of Nightwing and Robin were drawn during their interaction at the end of Batman #131.
Batman’s 2023 direction starts in a way that is reminiscent of the characters’ direction throughout 2022 with Shadows of the Batman and Dark Crisis On Infinite Earths. Because of that, it does take a lot more work for Chip Zdarksy and Mike Hawthorne to build momentum for this new story where Bruce Wayne finds himself trapped in an Elseworld universe somewhere in the Multiverse. Now with Batman #131 getting the set-up out of the way the next issue will be key in getting a full buy-in for this new storyline.
Story Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 6.5 Night Girls out of 10