I'm opening with a look at the current status quo for one of DC's flagship characters, namely Batman. Why open with the Caped Crusader? Well, today marks the publication of a new series called Batman and Robin. You may recall I first blogged about this comic back in March. The series marks a new era for the Batman franchise as original Robin Dick Grayson is taking over the role of Batman, and Bruce Wayne's illegitimate son Damian assumes the role of Robin. If this is making more than a few of you go, "Huh?", allow me to give you a brief backstory.
Bruce Wayne was the son of the Dr. Thomas and Martha Wayne. The Waynes were rich. Like scary rich. They live in Gotham City, which makes Detroit look like Mayberry. One night, the Waynes go slumming and see a movie in a neighbourhood that more closely resembles a DMZ and, of course, wear all their expensive jewelery. Predictably, a mugger kills the parents while trying to mug them, but spares little Bruce, presumably because being named Bruce is punishment enough. Bruce, now crazy rich and left in the care of a middle-aged British butler named Alfred, resolves to dedicate his life to fighting crime. Obviously, Alfred beats out Fagin as "Worst Surrogate Father Figure Ever".
Bruce spends the next ten years or so "training his mind and body to the peak of human perfection", and then resolves to dress up in an elaborate costume and spend his nights beating the ever-loving shit out of purse-snatchers. How this will end crime more effectively than a multi-billionaire focusing all his resources on comprehensive social programs, poverty solutions and policing is beyond me, but all that's probably not as satisfying as kicking a rapist in the balls so hard that his scrotum pops out of his mouth.
One night, Bruce visits a circus where he witnesses the murder of the show's stars, an acrobat act called The Flying Graysons. The only survivor is young Dick Grayson, who somehow has been relentlessly training as an acrobat instead of, oh, going to school. And because Bruce is all different kinds of fucked up (and also because hanging out only with Alfred is presumably getting creepy) he sees in Dick a kindred spirit. Bruce makes Dick his ward, a term so rife with overtones of molestation that we don't even use it anymore. He also encourages this pre-pubescent to train with him and dress up in short-shorts and pixie boots and fight criminals with guns. Thus Batman and Robin are born.
This goes on for a while until Dick is in his late teens, at which point the college student decides fighting crime with bare, hairless legs has probably resulted in untold trauma and he should assert his own identity tout fuckin' suite. So, Dick becomes Nightwing, and instantly becomes much cooler. Bruce meanwhile apparently can't live without a teenage boy by his side, spouting one-liners, and he adopts juvenile deliquent named Jason Todd. Jason turns out to be a total asshole and refuses to listen to the advice of Batman, which has predictable results; namely Jason gets his brains beaten out by the Joker and then blown up. So, now Batman is responsible for the death of a teen aged boy, which you think would get him kicked out of the "sane people" club, but nah, not really.
A few years go by (by the way, during all this time Bruce Wayne has remained, like thirty years old - he's the Dick Clark of comic book heroes) and this nerdy kid named Tim Drake uncovers Batman's secret identity. Drake insists that Batman needs a Robin in his life, 'cause I guess banging supermodels, being a billionaire philanthropist, having awesome gadgets and beating the shit out of homicidal maniacs without fear of reprisal is an empty life. Drake becomes Robin, ditches the shorts, and now all's right with the world.
Things go on mostly like this for a good long time, until Grant Morrison comes along. Morrison takes over writing the Batman comics and also writes a big event miniseries for DC called Final Crisis. In his Batman: RIP story arc, he seems to kill off Batman in a helicopter crash while the Bat does battle with a bad guy that may be a mad scientist, Dr. Thomas Wayne, or the devil. Take your pick really, it's not AT ALL clear. Okay. Except that apparently, Batman survives that and goes back to the Batcave, exhausted. He then helps out some other heroes, but gets captured by the human manifestation of a race of alien gods. Batman escapes and confronts Darksied, the evil leader of these gods. Batman shoots the god with an anti-god bullet, but not before Darkseid shoots Batman with his Omega Sanction eye beams, which leave behind the charred corpse of Bruce Wayne for Superman to find. Except we see what appears to be Bruce Wayne drawing on a cave wall in what appears to be the prehistoric past.
If that above paragraph seemed at all reasonable or easy to follow for you, then you are probably high.
So, what now? Well, Dick Grayson is reluctantly taking over the mantle of Batman, after having defeated a resurrected Jason Todd, who had usurped the role and nearly killed Tim Drake. Grayson will obviously take the recently discovered son of Bruce Wayne Damian Wayne under his wing. Damian is the result of the love affair between Bruce and a the daughter of an international crime lord named Ra's Al Ghul (go watch Batman Begins, and you'll find out who he is) and has been raised by assassins and crazy people all his life.
Tim Drake was recently in an explosion that resulted in him receiving third degree burns over a lot of his body. He is giving up the role of Robin to become Red Robin, which means he'll be fighting crime and overseeing a shitty restaurant chain.
So that's where the Bat-universe is now, and I for one think it's a pretty good thing. It shakes things up for a little while until Bruce comes back. That is the central point that does deflate this "event" a little; no one who reads comics thinks Bruce will be gone for long. How long depends with how much fans connect with the new status quo.