Spoilers for Batman #53 below.
In Batman #53, Bruce continues serving jury duty on the trial Mr. Freeze’s murder trial. The jurors are deadlocked — all but one is set to convict Freeze, but Bruce Wayne is the lone holdout, not because he thinks the classic villain is innocent but because he knows that Batman has gone too far this time. Batman was overzealous and used too much force in apprehending Freeze, but Bruce somehow has to convince the other jurors of this.
And that’s where readers get a look at Bruce’s spiritual life and, by extension, Batman’s. After noting another juror’s cross necklace, Bruce is asked if he believes in God and Bruce says he does. Or, rather, he used to.
Bruce goes on to explain how, after the death of his family, he set aside belief in God and anything that his father though had saved him. It would be very easy to read this part of the issue as a clear declaration that Batman is an atheist. Many fans have interpreted the issue this way, leading to interesting debates in places such as Reddit where some have even gone on to question how, exactly, Batman can be an atheist if he regularly works with Wonder Woman who, in the current incarnation at least, is a demi-god herself as the daughter of Zeus. However, if you read the issue carefully there’s another possibility that opens up: Bruce Wayne believes in something, he’s just lost all of his faith in it.
As Bruce continues talking to the jurors he explains that after much searching he ultimately found himself believing in something new: Batman. Now, Bruce does not reveal that he’s Batman. Instead, the revelation that for Bruce Wayne Batman is a form of God has a purpose in the story of getting the other jurors to understand Batman – who they also see as a god — is not God simply because, to paraphrase, Batman does not offer solace from pain, hope eternal or comfort in loss.
“God blesses your souls with grace,” Bruce says. “Batman punches people in the face.”
It’s enough to get the jury to acquit Freeze, but the sum of the admission reveals it isn’t just God that Bruce has lost faith in. He’s lost faith in himself as well. He tells Alfred very clearly that he’s lost and, in the final panel, suits up in his original suit and says “I need to remember who I am.” Just like it’s easy to read Bruce’s admission that he once believed in God as an admission of atheism, the idea of Batman declaring that he needs to remember who he is can be read as him admitting he’s looking for something to have faith in again, in this case himself. After all, Bruce says Batman is what he replaced God with. Returning to the original suit would be a significant step towards returning to faith — in himself, in Batman, in the very concept of salvation.
Ultimately, what Bruce Wayne believes on a spiritual level isn’t really the story here. It’s part of a larger tale Tom King has been telling since the wedding that wasn’t in Batman #50, one in which Bruce has to figure out who he is and who he wants to be. Faith is simply a part of that, one in which Bruce has to hit rock bottom to find his way back to. After all, the issue closes with the Bible verse Job 1:20-21 about that very concept. It’s very easy to see Batman and his struggle in the verse’s “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Batman #53 is available now.