One of the ongoing criticisms of Batman as a character is he’s a superhero whose stories solely consist of “punching brown/poor people and the mentally ill,” and at no point does he use his money to address the social ills that affect Gotham. It’s a criticism that frustrates me because, all the way back in the ’70s, you had writers like Denny O’Neill addressing this – with Bruce Wayne using his funds to address the underlying issues affecting Gotham, while Batman contents with those who would exploit those issues for their own gain.
To put it another way, Bruce Wayne funds addiction treatment facilities, Batman takes down the pushers. You don’t see this in Batman ’69, because the writers were either unwilling or unable to address this nuance. It occasionally came up in the animated series, and barely ever came up in the films. This aspect of the character of Batman has also become somewhat downplayed in the comics as of late, and I’d hoped that this volume would lean into that. Sadly, it leans into the criticism instead.
The volume has Batman’s team, in the wake of Tim Drake’s apparent death in Vol. 1 (and the events of Night of the Monster Men), reeling, just as the titular “Victim Syndicate” makes their presence known. The group is made up of people who were victimized by members of Batman’s rogues’ gallery during the rogue in question’s fight with Batman. The question of the plot becomes – is Batman to blame for these people’s fates, and is Batman making Gotham more dangerous?
The more narratively difficult thing to do would be to say “No”, and to use this arc to address what Batman and Bruce Wayne have been doing to make Gotham a better place. To look at the larger picture – how Gotham has changed before Batman and now – and it touches on that briefly, in this volume’s conclusion, and with some of the elements at Leslie Thompkins’ clinic.
However, the volume just isn’t willing to commit. We have a centerpiece for this volume based around a fundraiser, but the fundraiser is focused on law enforcement tech – and as I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but feel like the plot beat could have been so much better if the tech was better less-than-lethal-technology – or it wasn’t for law enforcement at all, that it was medical technology and Bruce had planned to do a big Steve Jobs-esque surprise announcement that the Wayne Foundation was going to equip a whole bunch of clinics with this tech. It’s a real missed opportunity.
Batman and Company do beat the Victim Syndicate, but not before the Syndicate motivates Spoiler to quit (though she doesn’t join with the Syndicate either), in a way that gives the Syndicate’s arguments validity. It’s frustrating because if you look at the larger picture of DC Comics, Superman not being present doesn’t make Darkseid or Mongol or Starro go away, nor would it suddenly give Lex Luthor a sense of ethics.
In a superhero comic universe, eliminating the Superheroes doesn’t make the Supervillains hang up their death rays. It allows the villains to act with impunity. For a book from DC Comics, featuring a member of their Trinity, to see the point missed this badly seems distressing.
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