At this moment I suppose it is fair to say that Batman is the biggest DC hero going. A blockbuster movie will do that. This means that it is to DC’s advantage to suck this brief phenomenom dry by reissuing old classics, plastering Batman everywhere, repackaging popular runs, and in general beating the drum as hard as they can. (This will get even worse if the late Heath Ledger wins a posthumous Oscar for his role as the Joker; look for DC to go briefly All Joker All The Time.) Certainly there are masses of Batman titles and collections out there — I confess I am looking forward to see the Batman Annual collection, predicted to contain nuttier Bat stories like his various adventures on alien planets.
This latest issue of Batman is therefore a bizarre rarity — a stand-alone issue in which Batman does not actually appear at all. To recap briefly, in the previous far-too-long arc Batman fought and defeated a villain but took sufficient hit points that he has either died* or is laying low to recover. None of his usual intimates — Alfred, Robin, etc. — know his whereabouts. This leaves his first lieutenant Nightwing (aka the original Robin aka Dick Grayson; his evolution is more complex than that of Eohippus and cannot be gone into now) to pick up the ball and run.
And it works out beautifully. Firmly corseted into the one-issue format, the plot is not allowed to bloat and slop; scriptwriter Denny O’Neil has been writing Batman since Nixon was president and can handle all the characters with precision. Because this is a filler issue, preceded by the earlier massive arc and followed by some dingbat crossover involving all the DC villains, nothing “final” or “crisis” has to be accomplished. Dick Grayson wrestles with the long shadow cast by Batman and achieves a brief victory as we knew he must.
And the art is moody and subtle and smart. What a long way we have come, from All in Color for a Dime; modern print processes allow a graying of hues that Rembrandt would be proud of. (Look at the cover image to see what I mean.) So this is actually an issue worth picking up, as long as you don’t actually expect to see Batman in his own title. But you can do that in lots of other places.
*Remember the cardinal rule of death in superhero comics — a body, even a funeral, a gravestone, Social Security benefits for the widow, and a bill from the funeral home, means nada. But I am banking on something even surer than this tradition, when I predict that Bruce Wayne/Batman will return. Sure as God made apples, there is going to be another Dark Knight movie — recall, the previous one grossed huge sums. So of course Bruce Wayne will be back in the comics.