Fortnite’s invasion of comics has no doubt left some people unaware of the smash global phenom of a video game/metaculture black hole confused about just what the appeal of a thing that has seemingly taken over the planet really is. Well, Batman’s among those people now, for very different reasons — but putting the Dark Knight in Fortnite is already doing some very interesting things.
Weirdly, but perhaps weirdly appropriate for such a crossover, Batman/Fortnite: Zero Point #1 — by Christos Gage, Reilly Brown, Nelson Faro DeCastro, John Kalisz, and Andworld Design — is not the first time Batman has tussled with the world of Epic’s massive battle royale shooter. Batman and many of his fellow Gotham friends and frenemies, from the Joker and Harley Quinn to Catwoman and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, have already appeared as in-game skins. Those appearances came without any specific story hooks like, say, the events related to Avengers: Endgame’s collaboration with the game.
Things are changing with Batman/Fortnite, which, aside from each issue coming with themed skins for the game — as if to remind you that all this, of course, is a branded smorgasbord of crossover weirdness — hopes to tell a story of what it actually means for these characters to be flung into Fortnite’s melting pot. That in and of itself is likewise, not entirely new either; after all, the recent Marvel Comics season of Fortnite also included a tie-in comic revolving around Thor trying to save his fellow heroes from Fortnite’s manic universe of cyclical destruction.
But Batman/Fortnite’s first issue kicks off with a way of using the nature of Fortnite as a round-based video game to conduct a fascinating thought experiment. If Batman is so robbed of everything he believes makes him Batman, from his reputation and his history to his allies and even his own voice, then, well, what is it about Batman that makes him Batman in the first place?
Batman/Fortnite #1 opens up just as many of Fortnite’s own pop cultural collaborations have recently: a strange tear in reality has opened above our hero’s home existence — in this case, of course, Gotham city. After watching Harley Quinn leap into it with characteristic reckless abandon, while attempting to investigate the tear Batman is forcefully knocked into it by an unseen assailant. Intentional or otherwise, the result is much the same; Batman now finds himself in the world of one-time chug-jugs and battle busses that is Fortnite.
As the game has grown from simply a video gaming phenom — as simple as such a thing can be — into a hybrid metaverse of live concerts, movie screenings, Hollywood publicity events, and brand crossovers, a certain kind of background ephemera has built up in Fortnite lore. In essence, it’s an attempt to square the circle on what it actually means, from a textual standpoint, to have a round-based, one versus 100 death match in which Rey Skywalker can parachute in next to Black Widow as Batman, fleeing a rampant Sarah Connor, and shotgun a walking sentient banana in a tuxedo before paragliding off of a cliff.
The answer we’ve seen play out in crossovers like the aforementioned Marvel comic is memory loss. Heroes enter Fortnite’s world and are robbed of any knowledge of who they are, what they’re doing, and where they’re from — and are then thrust into the heat of a battle to survive, with a memory that resets every time a round of Fortnite ends, either with one survivor standing or the mysterious storm that encircles the game’s island system closing in to annihilate all in its reach. Batman faces a similar mind-wipe upon waking up in Fortnite’s world, but there’s an interesting twist: when he first encounters someone, his initial reaction is not to fight, even in self defence, but rather to try and talk his opponent down.
Except, Batman can’t. He’s not just been robbed of his sense of self, but even his own voice, by Fortnite’s plane of existence. And it’s that that sets off an interesting issue of self-discovery through, well… Fortnite, for our Dark Knight.
Stripped of everything he is in terms of his knowledge and identity — the persona of the Batman, that larger-than-life symbol of intimidation and power that informs so much of the way Bruce deals with problems in his home territory — what follows for much of Batman/Fortnite #1 is an internal monologue. As the World’s Greatest Detective is forced to rapidly acclimatize to his new situation, he grasps onto what little he can to find a sense of self. He knows, for example, that he and his opponents are trained fighters, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to suddenly handle an assault from a pickaxe-wielding assailant. His inability to talk or remember points to someone or something manipulating him, as well as the other people he encounters into this ceaseless battle royale. Piece by piece, as Bruce fights his way through absurdity, you see that even stripped down to his core, what Batman/Fortnite seems to initially suggest is the essence of Batman is his mind: his ability to relentlessly break a situation down and understand it, even if part of that situation is to completely pull the rug out from underneath himself.
But then the issue actually offers a different answer to the question of what defines Batman. What if were not his mind, that of the World’s Greatest Detective, that makes the Batman?
What if it were his heart?
Across a sea of bodies locked in conflict, Batman finds himself intrigued by one figure above all: a woman we know to be Selina Kyle, Catwoman, but to Bruce is just a strange, yet alluring figure. They’re drawn together, even without the knowledge of who they are in and of themselves and to each other, silently but explicitly allying themselves in this fight down to every last man, woman, alien, fishperson, or sentient piece of fruit. Bruce, analytical as ever, wonders who this woman is to him — a friend, an ally, perhaps even a paramour — as their co-ordination naturally syncs. Even Bruce’s internal dialogue changes, lightens even.
He stops being, for a moment, that great detective. He reads as almost excited, hoping that this woman is someone he knows, someone he cares about, hoping that finding her will bring victory, and with victory, answers to all his questions. However, this is Fortnite, and victory means nothing but reset. A thing that Bruce and Selina, even unknowing of each other, realise as they are the last two standing as Fortnite’s circle draws in. As they’re both immolated for Fortnite to begin anew, their last moment is one that is touchingly intimate — a shared smile as Selina puts her hand on his shoulder.
Time will tell what Batman/Fortnite will do as it continues, as Bruce inevitably begins to piece together his true identity bit by bit, reset by reset in this strange, gamified reality. But in using that idea to actually interrogate what defines Batman in his core, when stripped of his history and his context, already the series is pointing to be something much more intimate. And certainly more interesting than one might expect of an otherwise clichéd brand crossover — one iconic property riding on the coattails of another, two zeitgeists passing in the night.
Many creatives have tried in the past to distill the essence of Batman. Perhaps we should indeed allow Fortnite the opportunity as well.