In May 2023 Batman celebrated an important milestone with the publication of the 900th issue of DC’s main monthly Batman comic. Confusingly, the main Batman series (along with the rest of the DC line) had restarted its numbering at #1 back in 2016, but its ‘legacy’ numbering was restored with this issue, which is also marked as issue 135. Despite several instances of issue numbers being reset over the years, this is indeed still the same series that deputed in 1940, making it one of the longest-running superhero comic books, and one of the few that have been in constant publication since their debut.
The issue itself is the culmination of The Bat-Man of Gotham, writer Chip Zdarsky’s second story arc since taking the reins of the title in 2022. This story began in issue 131 and saw our favourite bat cosplayer stranded in another universe’s Gotham City. Only this was a Gotham without a Batman, ruled over by Darwin Halliday, a.k.a. The Red Mask. Trapped without any of his usual allies or resources, Bruce had to make do with what he had, finding new friends as well as old ones, such as that universe’s Alfred, who has been dead in the main DC Universe for a few years now. Bruce was also quick to realise that Halliday was a sane, but no less evil, version of The Joker who had never taken that infamous dive into a vat of chemicals.
This final part of the story saw Halliday attempting to use the power of the multiverse to become The Joker, having been aware that this was the destiny of most of his multiversal counterparts. However, he grew frustrated upon realising that he was not destined to become a Clown Prince of Crime, but did possess the ability to create Jokers in other realities. This included reviving those that were dead and supercharging those that already existed. In a brief moment, it’s even suggested that Halliday is responsible for creating three Jokers in the main DC Universe. With a new insane mission, he used a machine to leap into the fabric of the multiverse in order to sew the Joker’s seed across all of existence.
Batman initially intended to return to his own universe to gear up before giving chase, but the Selena Kyle of this universe proved less helpful than the Catwoman Bruce was intimately familiar with, kicking him through the portal. This sent Bruce bouncing from universe to universe, hot on Halliday’s trail. And this is where the fun really begins. As you could probably guess, this section of the story treats us to a barrage of cameos from different versions of the Dark Knight from across his entire history and every medium. There’s the Michael Keaton Batman from the Tim Burton films, the animated version of the character from Batman: The Animated Series, older Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis from Batman Beyond, the classic, campy Adam West version, the Batman from the Arkham games and countless alternate universe comic book Batmen from stories such as Kingdom Come and The Dark Knight Returns. With every universe Batman lands in, he finds that Halliday has already been there, bestowing new power upon the local Joker, and even resurrecting some of them.
His stints in these universes range from brief jolts in and out, to more extended stays where he gets to strategise with his other selves. He even receives equipment from his Dark Knight Returns and Adam West counterparts, with the latter lending him a utility belt. This leads to one of the greatest moments in the story, when Batman finally catches up to Halliday and Batman finds himself face-to-face with a gigantic shark version of the classic ‘Joker fish’. In a hail Mary moment, Batman searches his borrowed utility belt, finding the iconic ‘Bat shark repellent’ from the 1966 Batman film, using it to repel the beast and conceding that he’d found another Batman even more prepared than himself. Naturally the Dark Knight wins out in the end and reunites with Robin, a.k.a. Tim Drake, who had been desperately trying to rescue his partner. It’s actually a beautiful little moment.
In the end though, it’s not just the universe-hopping cameos and references that make this celebratory issue worth it, it’s the personal journey that we see Bruce embark on. This journey allows him to finally answer some tough questions that he’d long been struggling with – and they’re questions that are common among the Bat’s real world critics too. It’s often been asserted that Batman is responsible for creating his own enemies and that he’s doing more harm than good by not killing The Joker. However, here he witnesses first hand that worlds without Batman can still produce psychopaths and super-villains, and that worlds where the Joker is dead, aren’t necessarily better off. It allows Bruce to find a degree of peace, assuaging his fears and allowing him to accept that he does good work. This is what really makes this issue and the story as a whole, work as a celebration. Not only does it provide a new take on his relationship with The Joker, but it allows Bruce to improve his relationship with himself, through some subtle but effective character study. Top it all off with some good ol’ multiversal fan-service, and you have yourself a nice way to celebrate a massive milestone.