When I first came across these two panels on page 10, I didn’t pay much attention to them, but the more I thought about them, the more I became intrigued and puzzled by their subject matter—Bruce Wayne’s favorable musings about death. The question that first entered my mind was, why would Bruce Wayne considered his own death good? And furthermore, what about a flaming car crash was particularly appealing, yet not enticing enough to follow through with? While the text does not offer any clues into Bruce Wayne’s thought process in this particular instance, it does offer a bit of overarching information about Bruce Wayne’s “death wish.”
In “The Dark Knight Returns,” Bruce Wayne is portrayed as a vessel for Batman (instead of the other way around), so without him, Wayne feels like “a zombie,” “a flying Dutchman,” and a “dead man” because in a sense, he is—Wayne is just an empty shell, a remnant, and a constant living reminder of the hero he once was (Miller, 12). From this evidence it seems that Bruce Wayne wants to die because he wants his body to match his soul, which has been dead—ever since Batman retired—for the last ten years.
But I fear it is not that simple. Near the end of the first book, Bruce Wayne again speaks fondly of his death, but unlike last time, his body and soul have been united as one—Batman has reclaimed and repossessed Bruce Wayne, endowing him with a new-found strength and sense of purpose. As Batman runs building to building across a tightrope, he thinks, “In ten years I’ve never felt so calm. So right. This would be a fine death…” (Miller, 51).
A few panels later, after being hit by a bullet, Batman falls off the tightrope and plummets toward the city many stories below, thinking, “…a fine death. But there are the thousands to think of…and Harvey*…I have to know” (Miller, 51). While Wayne’s motivation for wanting to die remains unclear, his reasoning for denying himself this pleasure becomes clear. Wayne won’t let himself die at this moment for two reasons: First and foremost, he is incredibly selfless—Batman won’t let thousands of innocent people die when he is able to save them, even though he doesn’t care to save himself. Second, he is curious—he wants to know if the bandaged man is actually Two-Face.
*At this point in the story, Harvey Dent (aka Two-Face) has been “cured”—both physically and mentally—and released from Arkham Asylum. Shortly after his release, he disappeared and his calling card began to appear at the sight of various crimes. Now, a man with his face wrapped in bandages has taking the news tower hostage and is threatening to blow it up unless a five million dollar ransom is paid.
For more information about Harvey Dent, see my earlier post: https://ditto004.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/two-faces-become-one/