Overview: In Batman #129, while Failsafe has Gotham City and the Bat-Family disarmed and imprisoned, Batman lures the machine out in an attempt to destroy it.
Editor’s Note: Due to the anthology nature of this collection, we will feature a synopsis and analysis for each story rather than breaking up the synopsis and analysis. Spoilers are sure to be revealed.
Story #1: “Failsafe” Part 5 by writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Jorge Jimenez
Synopsis: As Batman #129 begins, Failsafe rules over Gotham City, and under its mechanical grasp, Gotham descends into a nightmare world of chaos and crime. Batman, meanwhile, is in Atlantis, having recovered under the care of Aquaman.
When Aquaman tells Batman that other members of the Justice League have tried and failed to save Gotham, Batman admits that it’s all his fault, all of his own youthful arrogance. He then delivers a vital piece of information, admitting that all these years, Alfred Pennyworth was the one to reset activation protocols in case of any false alarms. With Alfred dead, Failsafe, a machine designed by the Batman of Zur-En-Arhh, finally woke up.
In Gotham, Failsafe has Oracle (Barbara Gordon) hooked up to a computer, scanning for any sign of Batman. Failsafe taunts the rest of the Bat-Family, who hang upside-down, sealed in containment tubes. While communicating with Oracle, Failsafe deduces that Batman must be with Aquaman, as Aquaman hasn’t attempted to assault Gotham yet.
In Atlantis, Aquaman warns his soldiers of Failsafe’s imminent arrival. The Atlanteans are uneasy about protecting Batman, going so far as to argue with their former king about the risk. Failsafe attacks, takes Aquaman hostage, and gets Batman’s whereabouts out of the Atlantean soldiers. By the time Failsafe can find Batman’s hiding spot; however, the Dark Knight is gone.
Batman, now aboard the Justice League watchtower on the moon, deduces that Failsafe will destroy all transportation hubs to the watchtower save for one, which the machine will boobytrap. It gives Batman some time to prepare for war, but it’s not enough time as an incoming vessel heads toward Batman. The Caped Crusader gets the watchtower to open fire on the vessel, but the explosion doesn’t stop Failsafe from penetrating the fortress.
Batman raids an armory and grabs a gun from New Genesis, using it to fire a shot through Failsafe’s outer casing. Batman flees before Failsafe can take him down, luring the machine to the Justice League transporter room. Luckily for the Dark Knight, Batman is able to lure the robot into a trap. He reversed the transporter room, so everything outside of the transportation pod is sent to Failsafe’s trap. There’s an explosion, and Failsafe is sent to the Hall of Justice.
Batman, meanwhile, floats in space. His suit is sealed, but he’s on limited time before he dies from exposure. Batman calls out for any pods or ships to pick him up, but Failsafe had them destroyed already.
Analysis: Batman #129 is the thrill ride after the setup at the end of Batman #128. After seeing Failsafe assume control of Gotham City, writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Jorge Jimenez leap ahead to the action. It’s a solar system-spanning game of cat and mouse. When Failsafe makes one move, Batman counters and tries to buy himself some time, using each movement to incrementally find a way to out-think and physically beat a machine created by his own fragmented subconscious.
Failsafe conquering Gotham admittedly feels too soon after City of Bane, Joker War, Future State, and Fear State, and it seems like the creative team is well aware of Gotham takeover fatigue. The storytellers know to skip the ins and outs of Failsafe’s control, throwing readers straight at this high-stakes game of Batman and what the creative team wants readers to believe is his greatest adversary — himself.
It works, mostly. The idea that Batman’s greatest enemy is himself, while very much a comic book trope, feels fresh in light of the aforementioned major Bat-events in recent years. Zdarsky and Jimenez have paired this with a sentimentality from Bruce in recent issues, one wherein he looks to his adopted children and fellow heroes as family and friends. This older, wiser Bruce is shedding himself of his arrogance, but unfortunately, it’s his arrogance that has caught up with him. That’s the true heart of this story — it’s not just Batman battling himself. This story is about Batman battling his past, about owning up to and dealing with mistakes. For those who have seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Failsafe is a bit like Batman’s Khan.
Of course, I mentioned earlier that this “mostly” works. Part of that is because the action in this issue is intense. It’s ridiculously intense, seeing Failsafe pursuing Batman from Atlantis all the way to the moon, with many explosions along the way. For some readers, this might be fun and exciting, but personally, it takes the punch out of the heart of the story. It feels more like a Scott Snyder-esque DC event and less like the heartfelt reconciliation Zdarsky and Jimenez were teasing in earlier issues.
The art, however, is excellent. Jimenez never ceases to please. Tomeu Morey’s colors are also always on point (and are arguably the most beautiful in the comic biz). Clayton Cowles’ letters are also terrific, creating distinctive feelings and tones for each Failsafe and Batman.
Story #2: “I Am a Gun” Part 2 by writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Leonardo Romero
Synopsis: The backup in Batman #129 begins at a pharmaceutical company, as Joker is holding chemists hostage, demanding that they give him happy pills so that he can find everything funny again. When the lead chemist tells Joker that their pills take weeks to work, Joker throws a bunch of bombs and blows a hole in the side of the building.
Batman arrives at the scene, pushing through the fire and smoke to get to Joker. As he rushes up the stairs, he remembers what his father said after they watched Zorro. Batman remembers Thomas Wayne’s lesson about killing and how it’s something heroes can’t come back from.
When Batman finally reaches Joker, there’s only one hostage left alive. Joker tells Batman that he couldn’t wait any longer, so he killed the others. Joker then says that he needs his smile back, that he lost it when he heard a rumor that some doctor broke Batman’s brain. This has driven the Joker mad, and he throws his own smile-shaped brand of batarangs at Batman.
As Batman struggles to stop Joker, he sees his father again, except this time, his father is replaced by a still-forming Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. This new personality tells Batman that his conscience, the conscience of Bruce Wayne, can remain clean of killing, that Batman of Zur-En-Arrh can do the killing for the both of them.
When this new personality takes over, it catches up to Joker and threatens the Clown Prince of Crime with death.
Analysis: This backup continues the “origin story” for Batman of Zur-En-Arrh started in the last issue’s backup narrative. It’s interesting to see this deeper, subconscious personality of Batman’s display an ease and penchant for murder, and the story pairs well with the main title’s overall plot. Depending on where on the timeline Batman of Zur-En-Arrh created Failsafe, this backup suggests that the machine foil to Batman could also be perfectly fine with murder when deemed necessary.
The backup in Batman #129 also subtly suggests why Bruce Wayne Batman was and always shall be the superior Dark Knight. It’s Bruce’s heart, something that we’ve seen lacking in the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh’s of both the present and this storyline in the past.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.