In a much-publicized comic book death last month, Batman lost his current Robin, and only son. Now comic readers are bracing for what comes next in the dark world of Batman, as the hero tries to recover from yet another death in his family.
Will this turn Batman into an even darker knight? Will the pain finally drive Batman to kill?
And the most enticing question for speculating comic fans: Will there be another Robin?
The answers to those questions begin with this week's "Batman” No. 18, the latest chapter in the best-selling "Batman" series by DC Comics' star writer Scott Snyder (take a sneak peek at four pages of the story below). The issue focuses on teenager Harper Row, who has been identified by many fans as a possible new female Robin.
Created by Snyder last year, Harper Row is a poor high school girl who's also an underground worker in Gotham City's electrical grid. Harper began trying to help Batman last year by using that electrical grid — and she already saved his life once.
"With this issue in particular, part of what we wanted to do was show how it deeply impacts the city when Batman is hurting [after the death of his son]," Snyder said. "One of the reasons I chose to use [Harper Row] as the lens for this issue is that she's so close to the city as well, and connects down in its actual electrical grid, underneath it so much, even in its lifeblood, that when something is wrong with Batman, she's really going to feel it."
A variant version of the cover of Batman #18.
"Batman” No. 18 also reveals more about the character's history, particularly her mother and father. Although readers were already introduced to Harper's brother, a persecuted gay teen named Cullen, her parents had previously been a mystery.
"We allude to the fact that her mother was killed, and also, there's a big mystery surrounding her mother's background," Snyder said. "Her father is a really nasty person who's currently in jail. So she has no reason to love the city. She has every reason to hate it the same way Bruce does for taking his parents. And yet both of them, I think, see the wonder and the magic of Gotham City as this place where, yes, it does these terrible things to you and challenges you to get through them, but it's also a place with tremendous aspiration and of people coming together."
The death of Batman's son, Damian Wayne, is not the only recent dark turn in Bruce Wayne's life. Snyder's "Batman" comic just finished a Joker-centric story called "Death of the Family," and the ending left Bruce Wayne alienated from other heroes in Gotham City, including Batgirl, Nightwing and other former Robins.
Now that Bruce Wayne's son has been killed, Snyder said Batman's isolation from the rest of the world will be countered by Harper Row, because she serves as a personification of the way Gotham City's poor, "everyday" heroes are inspired by Batman.
"Even though he can lose allies and have his psyche really shattered, he's still Batman to the people out there," Snyder said. "He's always picking them up and getting them back up on their feet, but every once in awhile, somebody can help him get back up on his feet too."
One of the variant covers of Batman #18.
But could Harper Row be the next Robin? DC has already confirmed that she'll be a focus in June's "Detective Comics" issue, and she's already been the focus of two "Batman" issues.
Snyder will only say that she's a key character for the future of Gotham City. "She's definitely a really important character," Snyder said. "She's a character that means a lot to me personally, and we definitely have plans for her in Gotham."
Snyder launched "Batman" in September 2011 as part of DC's complete reboot of their universe, making Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and other superheroes younger and updated for modern audiences.
Since his launch of "Batman” No. 1, Snyder has been exploring the relationship between Batman and Gotham City. With this week's "Batman” No. 18, he continues the idea that Gotham City is almost a separate character in Batman's world, as the city reacts to the death of Damian Wayne.
"The city, as challenging and as rough as it is on its heroes, it's also forgiving and sometimes, every once in a while, caring," Snyder said. "And it has that kind of twisted relationship with anyone that comes there and tries to be a hero, where it sort of punishes you, but only to make you stronger. When it does do these terrible things, it surprises you with its own tenderness.
"In that way, it really is, with this issue, something where it's a moment of kindness," Snyder said, "from both Harper and from the city towards Batman in his suffering."
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