What if Batman Didn’t Exist?

Imagine a world where Batman never existed. What would the DC Universe look like? What would pop culture look like? What kind of memes would people post if they didn’t have that image of Batman slapping Robin? Would you even be on the DC website right now? Robert Pattinson and Matt Reeves are currently dominating the conversation across fandom as The Batman has become the latest cinematic hit. The Dark Knight is engrained in the DNA of our pop culture, making it hard to imagine what the world would be like without him.

A villain known as Equilibrium explores this question in Batman: The Detective, the recent six-issue limited series now available as a graphic novel. If you slept on this book, then you missed a dynamic and thought-provoking Dark Knight saga. Tom Taylor is the writer, and he’s currently crushing it on Nightwing and Superman: Son of Kal-El, so you know this is top notch. And no less than Andy Kubert pencils this saga, making the pages a visual treat that deeply enhance Taylor’s already far-reaching story.

Equilibrium’s goal is to erase the effect Batman has had on the world, restoring an equilibrium (she’s a bit on the nose, this one) that she feels has been lost. It’s a lofty goal, and how is she accomplishing it? By attempting to kill everyone Batman has ever saved. That doesn’t just include people in Gotham, and the Dark Knight’s quest to stop her takes him on an international adventure, reuniting him with old allies like Knight and Henri Ducard.

I won’t give away the ending for you, but I don’t think it’s a major spoiler to say that Equilibrium’s plan fails. And, the book succeeded in getting me to ponder what it would take for her plan to succeed and what effect that would have on the DC Universe. First, is it even possible to achieve her goal? It’s not clear that Batman: The Detective is set in regular continuity, but if it is, her plan might be doomed to fail all along. Thanks to cosmic events like Final Crisis, Batman has been responsible for saving everyone on the planet. And yet, judging by her actions in the final chapter, I don’t think Equilibrium would’ve hesitated to end all life on Earth if she had the means.

I’m going to try to avoid major spoilers here, but I do want to get into Equilibrium’s motivation. Before becoming a villain, her life was negatively affected as an indirect result of Batman’s actions. As a result, she now feels that Batman’s actions create too many undesired ripple effects, and his work must be undone. After all, if Batman hadn’t been around, perhaps her life wouldn’t be in shambles.

Equilibrium’s argument is similar to ones I’ve seen on social media over the years. There is an argument that by not killing the Joker, Batman is responsible for every life the Clown Prince takes after that. Equilibrium takes that thesis to the next level, arguing that Batman shouldn’t have saved certain lives due to the harm those individuals have done after being saved. By killing those people, Equilibrium feels she’s restoring the balance to what intended nature. As I read this story, I asked myself what it would take for her plan to succeed.

Particularly, in addition to the lives that he’s saved, we also have to consider the lives that Batman has shaped. I’ve previously examined the Dark Knight’s role as a father figure and noted that without Batman’s influence, someone like Jason Todd would’ve grown up to become a criminal. There’s also the effect that Batman has had on his colleagues like Superman and Wonder Woman, inspiring them to become better heroes and enriching their lives with his friendship. Batman isn’t perfect, but his influence is too far reaching to ignore. Even if Equilibrium had killed every citizen of Gotham, Batman’s legacy is too strong to simply erase. After all, people he’s mentored, like Nightwing and Batgirl, save lives too. So, to truly rebalance the world, wouldn’t she also need to kill everyone they’ve saved? Along with everyone the people they’ve mentored have saved? And the people they’ll go on to mentor?

You get my point.

Obviously, Batman doesn’t buy into Equilibrium’s worldview, but his encounter with her does cause him to second guess the ripple effect his presence has. When Batman apprehends a criminal, what happens to their family? Knight pushes Batman on this issue during the book’s final act: “I think our actions have consequences we don’t always consider. Is Bruce Wayne really comfortable with ending a family?”

Knight’s words stun Batman, and he doesn’t immediately have an answer. Not only does Knight’s argument make sense to him, but it’s not miles away from what Equilibrium has been saying as well.

This causes Batman to take a second look at his impact on the world. Stopping crime isn’t exactly the equivalent of saving lives and he needs to be more aware of the collateral damage he leaves along the way. Sometimes that means fixing a broken window, other times it means fixing a broken family. Bruce Wayne winds up doing the latter when he uses his influence to reunite a non-violent offender with her daughter.

Equilibrium was wrong about Batman, but the Dark Knight was still able to learn something from her. Whether you’re a billionaire playboy or a working-class comic book fan, we all leave ripple effects in the world around us. Equilibrium challenged me to imagine a world without Batman, but at the end, I couldn’t do it. Whether it’s the fictional DC Universe, or real life, there is no world without Batman, and frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Batman: The Detective by Tom Taylor, Andy Kubert, Sandra Hope and Brad Anderson is now available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and as a digital graphic novel. You can also read the series on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.

Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, “Gotham Gazette.” Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.

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