Batman stares down police racism and brutality in Batman #44, the DC Comic’s latest installment. The issue, a flashback story, finds the Dark Knight investigating the death of a black teenager shot dead by a white police officer – a timely theme, given the racial unrest in the U.S. following the widely protested deaths of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and others. “If we were going to do an issue that dealt with potent problems that people face in cities that are reflected fictitiously in Gotham, then we want to really put our money where our mouth was and explore something that’s extremely resonant right now, and, I think, tricky, murky waters,” lead writer Scott Snyder told The Guardian.
In the story, 15-year-old Peter Duggio is mortally wounded by Gotham police officer Ned Howler; after a skirmish with a local gang, the frightened cop shoots Duggio in the stomach before the teenager can respond to Howler’s demand to lie down. But as The Guardian observes, Batman also shoulders the blame, meditating on how his motives to “develop” Gotham set in motion the tragic events leading to Duggio’s death.
Snyder chose not to depict Batman exacting violent revenge on Howler, despite the visceral satisfaction it might bring to the character. “Of course you want Batman to beat this officer up, and be like, ‘How could you?'” he said. “But the point of the issue is that wouldn’t solve the problem. Batman throwing the officer off a roof, or throwing the officer in jail, wouldn’t get to the heart of the matter at all. And that’s the thing I think is ultimately infuriating.” Co-writer Brian Azzarello added that they wanted the comic to “raise the questions and then leave it to the reader to form their own answers and opinions.”
Many critics have praised the writers for tackling such pressing contemporary issues. For Snyder, it’s a crucial element to his four-year tenure writing the iconic character. “Batman is learning he can’t solve problems in the ways he thought he could,” he said. “It’s much more about understanding what people face in their everyday lives: knowing their fears, knowing their anger, and trying to show them, in a way, that they can and we together can fix, or hopefully make baby steps in fixing these problems that seem intractable, entrenched and impossible to overcome.”