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Batman Dark Prisons Retrospective

The Batman Dark Prisons story arc was a massive landmark storyline for Chip Zdarsky’s Batman run. This storyline did not only payoff his time on the main Batman series but also things introduced in Zdarsky’s Batman: The Knight that preceded this creative run. It all centering around what Bruce Wayne would do after being utterly defeated by Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. While Zur-En-Arrh dominated Batman Dark Prisons there were many other developments during this storyline. Some of them were additive while others where questionable. Let’s breakdown the biggest takeaways from Batman Dark Prisons.


Batman #147 Amazo Justice League
Batman of Zur-En-Arrh shows Damian Wayne’s Robin the Amazo Justice League he’s built ahead of the Absolute Power event in Batman #147. Credit: DC Comics

Going into Batman Dark Prisons we already had the big spoiler that this wouldn’t be the end of Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. That’s thanks to DC Comics promotion of Absolute Power led by the new Trinity of Evil consisting of Amanda Waller, The Brainiac Queen, and Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. With that it certainly made it so Batman Dark Prisons was not the endgame for the Zur-En-Arrh Saga that Chip Zdarsky has built his run around.

The Absolute Power build was certainly a factor into a lot of what we saw Batman of Zur-En-Arrh do throughout Dark Prisons. From the interaction with Amanda Waller to the introduction of the Amazo Justice League, there was a lot of Absolute Power build. It was certainly in these moments that this didn’t feel like we were getting a Batman story but rather a prequel to the next big DC Universe event.

With that said, when the focus was on Batman of Zur-En-Arrh takeover of everything related to Bruce way the villain was at their best. What’s been the best part of Zur-En-Arrh is how Zdarsky balances between making things personal to Zur-En-Arrh truly feeling they are the ultimate Batman. Throughout this storyline we saw how Zur-En-Arrh flippd from proving they are the ultimate Batman to simply asserting their authority on Gotham City.

Because Zur-En-Arrh authority was the focus in the second half of the story it made the build to the final confrontation better. It spoke to how Zur-En-Arrh has been built up to be a strong “new” villain for the franchise. Even the Absolute Power tie-in moments ultimately solidified Zur-En-Arrh as a major threat for the upcoming DC Universe event.


Batman #145 Bruce Wayne and Joker
While locked up in the same prison cell Joker drops the facade of not knowing Bruce Wayne’s secret in Batman #145. Credit: DC Comics

In “The Joker Year One” storyline that preceded this storyline Zdarsky established the new origin story for the Clown Prince of Crime. That new origin story brought a strong connection between Joker and Bruce Wayne with them being both mentored, at separate times, by Daniel Captio. Now thanks to the “pure” Batman in Zur-En-Arrh we saw Joker drop any sort of dodging whether he knew Bruce Wayne was the Dark Knight.

Dropping the façade is something we saw right away with the opening of Batman Dark Prisons. Their interactions in the new Blackgate Prison run by Daniel Captio set that tone. To Zdarsky’s credit, seeing Bruce, without his cowl, speaking directly to Joker did not feel out of left field. It was a natural progression of the story for Joker to address his long-time nemesis as Bruce rather than Batman or Bats.

Because of all this it does put into question what the Batman and Joker dynamic will be moving forward. We’ve seen in the modern era various creators explore different aspects of the Batman and Joker rivalry, most notably Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. Now their dynamic has been changed as Joker now sees Zur-En-Arrh as the true Batman and Bruce Wayne as Bruce.

This change in dynamic will likely circle back to the training Bruce and Joker received from Daniel Captio. Zdarsky certainly set-up doing his own version of the Three Jokers in the main DC Universe, though this time with the different Joker’s all being the same person. It could culminate in us getting a whole new version of Joker that combines his three personalities as a soft reset.


Batman #147 Commissioner Vandal Savage
Vandal Savage makes his first speech as the new Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department in Batman #147. Credit: DC Comics

In terms of sub-plots in Batman Dark Prisons, beyond the Absolute Power tie-in, was Vandal Savage becoming the new Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department. Commissioner Vadal Savage becoming a thing was a tie-in to Amanda Waller’s Absolute Power build. Though this one also has ties to what Zdarsky has been building towards during his Batman run with Vandal gaining power in Gotham City.

While a payoff to the developments with Vandal Savage the way this was executed was questionable. The way Vandal became police commissioner was rushed to a point it did not come across as a natural development in the larger storyline. Zdarsky just used the chaos to explain away Vandal suddenly going from prisoner to one of the most powerful people in Gotham City. It was definitely a means to an end.

Now as for what that end is, Vandal as the GCPD Commissioner does create a another major antagonist for the Batman Family to contend with. Once Absolute Power is over we will be seeing a sort of reset for the Batman Family with Tom Taylor’s Nightwing run ending and other Bat-titles also concluding. The Vandal story can develop beyond the core Batman series and into the other BatFamily related titles we are likely to see after Absolute Power concludes with a new DCU status quo.


Batman #148 BatFamily
Bruce Wayne apologizes and accepts responsibility for what he has done in the last two years to Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake in Batman #148. Credit: DC Comics

Speaking of the Batman Family, Batman Dark Prisons provided a much needed reunion for them. Since Zdarsky started his Batman run two years ago we’ve seen Bruce’s relationship with his family slowly deteriorate. The cracks in the foundation of the Batman Family fully crumbled when Bruce, unable to fight Zur-En-Arrh’s influence, took away Jason’s free will. Whether he was mentally fully in control of himself did not matter as it was Bruce who did the unforgivable to Jason.

Having spent months without his family as support, which contributed to his loss against Zur-En-Arrh, was an eye-opening period for Bruce. Unlike previous times he has isolated himself Bruce was unable to prove he was better on his own. A combination of age and not having access to his Batcave we saw Bruce examine who he truly was. Specifically, without Zur-En-Arrh’s influence, was Batman his true self as has long been believed or can he Bruce Wayne?

That question was answered in Batman #148 Review with Bruce’s apology to Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake. Rather than blaming Zur-En-Arrh for all his decisions during this creative run, Bruce actually took responsibility for his actions. In taking responsibility for his actions we saw him come to terms that neither Bruce Wayne or Batman are his true self. Rather it is a combination of the two as he is both Bruce Wayne and Batman.

This was a big moment for Bruce as he wasn’t imposing his authority over the Batman Family. He was genuinely apologetic as he understood how important every member of the Batman Family are to his life. And not just important to him as Batman, but as a person. The moment was certainly a big. Though it would’ve been bigger if Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, Duke Thomas, and Kate Kane were part of it. That was excused by them fighting Zur-En-Arrh’s forces but would’ve even made the final shot of the story bigger if it was the entire Batman Family not just the Robins and original Batgirl.


Batman #146 Bruce Wayne vs Rogues Gallery
Bruce Wayne with just his Batman cowl takes on a prison yard filled with the majority of his Rogues Gallery in Batman #146. Credit: DC Comics

Batman Dark Prisons did a lot to payoff the last two years of Chip Zdarsky’s creative run while also setting things up for the future. The presence of elements we will see play out in the Absolute Power event were prominent. That was unavoidable given that DC Comics spoiled Batman of Zur-En-Arrh being part of Amanda Waller’s Trinity of Evil. But no matter how unavoidable there was tension loss in this storyline not being allowed to have an aura of being a possible endgame story.

That said, what is most interesting will be what the fallout of this storyline will be after Absolute Power ends. There were a lot of game changing things that went down that will have a large impact on the Batman franchise. Those game changing developments go beyond the Batman Family reunion or Joker’s new origin. We got big changes to Batman’s Rogues Gallery and Gotham City’s political structure. How those things are explored in the post-Absolute Power will provide plenty of storyline potential for the Batman Family titles.

For in-depth look at the individual chapters of the Batman Dark Prisons storyline you can check out our reviews for the individual reviews at links below:

Batman #145 Review

Batman #146 Review

Batman #147 Review

Batman #148 Review

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