I'm sure you've all been reading the reports of Batman's death. Much like the death's of Superman (in 1992) and Captain America's death (in 2007, which I wrote about at the time) the media always seems to pay attention to the world of comic books when something major happens. Everyone seems to be a bit up in arms about the death of Batman this time but there are a few things I'd like to point out before everyone faints.
First of all, I've been reading Batman comics for as long as I can remember and this isn't the first time they've pulled the "helicopter-over-the-water-and-the-body-disappears" bit. It sounds a lot like the time Joker "died" shortly after he killed Jason Todd (the second Robin) twenty years ago. It was quite awhile before the Joker once again appeared in Batman continuity, but the character was so much a staple of the books longevity and success, editors knew killing him outright would be a mistake. "Find his body! Find his body!" Batman shouts to Superman but he knows it's futile. "But I know they won't," he thinks to himself. "That's how things always end with the Joker and me. Unresolved."
Bruce Wayne is part of the formula that makes the Batman franchise successful. Yes, he's had people fill in under the cape and cowl with mixed results (like the insane Jean-Paul Valley nee Azrael, and his original Robin turned Nightwing, Dick Grayson) but he was always back in the mantle soon enough. With the lack of a body in this latest issue and the desire on DC's part to make ever increasing amounts of money from an expanding mainstream fan base, I can't imagine Bruce Wayne's absence will be for very long.
Secondly, how long can DC afford to keep Batman continuity in disarray with the army of fans of The Dark Knight racing from the movie theatres (or home theatres) to the comic book store to pick up a Batman comic only to be confused by Grant Morrison's long and complicated storyline? Neil Gaiman is coming in for two issues to do sort of a recap of some type on Batman's career and then it's a fresh start. Admittedly, DC is moving into an event they're calling "The Battle for the Cowl" which, if written in a more reader friendly way than Grant Morrison's run, will engage new readers and ease them back into the world. I imagine (mind I'm just speculating here) this arc will redefine Bruce Wayne and his legacy through the eyes of his various proteges and by the time one of them finally proves worthy enough of the mantle of the bat, Bruce himself will step out of the shadows and give readers a reason to stand in awe of him once more.
My third and final point is the following quote from Dan Didio. He told the New York Daily News, "He's not dead, though he'll definitely be gone for a while. Batman and (alter ego) Bruce Wayne have been here long before me, and they'll be around long after me."
What I hope is that all of the added publicity in places like this will drive new readers to comic books (Batman or otherwise). And take it from someone who's been reading Batman far longer than it would seem possible, you're always in for one hell of a ride.
(Suggestions for further reading: If you want to start out with Batman in self contained stories, try The Long Halloween and Batman: Venom. For a longer arc for the more initated, Batman: No Man's Land (Volumes 1-5) is a fun read.)