Who is the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh? Explaining the colorful crime fighter terrorizing Gotham

 The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh
The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh

The Gotham War is currently raging in the pages of DC's Batman and Catwoman comics, with the Bat Family divided on Selina Kyle's plan to reduce violent crime in the city.

Batman himself is particularly against her scheme (effectively: train the city's criminals to only steal from the rich, thus sharing Gotham's wealth and depriving the really bad villains of goon-power) and he's going to some extreme lengths to prove his point, becoming ever-more-violent in the process.

Then again, Bruce isn't quite himself right now. He's been under a lot of stress these last few months and, as we recently discovered, he's playing host to a second personality: the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. But who is this gaudily-dressed version of the Caped Crusader, and what does he represent?

The original Batman of Zur-En-Arrh
The original Batman of Zur-En-Arrh

Meet the Superman of Planet X

In the 1958 story Batman - The Superman of Planet X, Bruce Wayne is transported to the planet Zur-En-Arrh ("located in a star system far from yours!") by a scientist named Tlano who has observed Batman's adventures and decided to copy them, right down to building his own Batcave.

While on this alien world, Bruce develops fantastic powers akin to Superman enabling him to help Tlano successfully fight off an alien invasion. He's then transported back to his Bat-Plane, questioning if the event ever actually happened.

And that was kind of it for the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh until the 2000s, when Grant Morrison took control of DC's core Bat-book. Morrison dug deep into the character, excavating and recontextualising long-forgotten elements of the lore to pepper throughout their long and brilliant stint on the series.

The new Batman of Zur-En-Arrh - plus Bat-Mite!
The new Batman of Zur-En-Arrh - plus Bat-Mite!

Alternative identities

The first sign that we were about to revisit that strange '50s story came in Batman #655, when "Zur-En-Arrh" was seen graffitied on an alley wall. And then in the Batman R.I.P. arc the character returned, albeit in a very different form.

That story featured criminal organization the Black Glove and the evil Dr. Hurt setting out to take Batman out once and for all. They do this by undermining Bruce's grip on reality, using the post-hypnotic trigger "Zur-Enn-Arrh" to knock him out, before feeding him hallucinogenic drugs.

When Bruce wakes he has little memory of the man he was. Instead, he assembles a new costume for himself, fashioned from colorful rags similar to Tlano's Batsuit, and declares that he is the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.

A recurrent line in Morrison's run is that "Batman thinks of everything," and that includes the possibility that he might one day be psychologically compromised. It's revealed that the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh is a "backup identity" created by Bruce as a last line of defence for situations such as this. A more hardcore take on the Dark Knight, described as "what you get when you take Bruce out of the equation," he immediately sets out to take down the Black Glove with extreme prejudice.

But why "Zur-En-Arrh?" What do those words actually mean? This is tragically revealed to be a mishearing of some of Thomas Wayne's final words. As the doomed Wayne family walk home on their final night together after watching Mask Of Zorro, Bruce says, "Imagine if Zorro came riding down the street right now on his horse!", to which his father replies, "I'm not so sure Gotham City would welcome a masked man taking the law into his own hands, Bruce! The sad truth is, they'd probably throw someone like Zorro in Arkham."

Zorro in Arkham. Zur-En-Arrh.

The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh strikes back.
The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh strikes back.

A haunting in Gotham

This more sinister take on Zur-En-Arrh is the one that's haunting - and sometimes actively possessing - Bruce in the current Gotham War storyline by Chip Zdarsky.

The writer paved the way for his reappearance last year in the Failsafe arc. In that story we leaned that Bruce had invoked the Zur-En-Arrh persona to create the titular android in order to take down the Dark Knight if he ever went too far. When Failsafe goes on a rampage, Bruce calls on his other self to help defeat his android creation, but ultimately it takes the "real" Bruce Wayne, with all his humanity and love for the Bat Family, to stop Failsafe.

But the Zur-En-Arrh personality didn't go away. It's clear from the Gotham War: Battle Lines one-shot that he's still present inside Bruce and his violent impulses are only getting worse. Indeed, there's even the suggestion that something else is living deep inside him (check out the page above) and using Zur-En-Arrh for its own ends.

So is Zur-En-Arrh now a malignant presence that threatens the real Bruce's sanity? Or is he, in fact, the true essence of Batman with all of his humanity stripped away? The scary thing about this colorful take on the Caped Crusader is that, when he says to Robin in Batman #127, "I am Batman, pure and simple," he might be entirely correct.

You can read the first two parts of Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War right now, with the Battle Lines one-shot and Batman #137 already available. The third part is published in Catwoman #57 on September 19.

You can keep track of all the Batman comics coming up from DC right here.