WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Batman #96 by James Tynion IV, Jorge Jimenez, Tomeu Morey and Clayton Cowles, available now.
At the start of "Their Dark Designs," the storyline that preceded the currently-unfolding Joker War
, Bruce Wayne revealed his intention was to create a new Gotham City. Using his vast wealth and resources, the philanthropist wanted to redesign the city to transform it into something completely new: A beacon of light, hope and safety. When it was all said and done, he would have a bright new costume to wear, as a different kind of Caped Crusader.
Unfortunately, nothing has gone according to plan: The Joker
has stolen Bruce's fortune, his home and his company. Joker has also made the city a living hell, where his clown mask-wearing goons terrorize the people.
#95, Bruce had just come under attack by Punchline
, who dosed him with a new version of her Laughing Gas. However, Batman
#96 reveals a much different Gotham City, years from now -- a Gotham that is bright and hopeful. Is this simply a dream... or a look at things to come?
Batman #96 opens with a caption that reads, "Gotham City. Years from now." A bright blue sky is shining over a city that clearly looks futuristic. There are flying vehicles, new buildings and structures and plenty of leafy greens. This is clearly not the dark and gloomy Gotham City readers know. Better yet, this city has a security system that is unparalleled: A young man gets a Bat-themed warning on his cellphone -- a "Bat-Signal" warning him to step back -- moments before Mr. Freeze's vehicle runs him over.
Then, Batman closely follows in pursuit on his motorcycle, wearing the silver costume first revealed in Batman #95. In this future, Mr. Freeze has two new allies in his "sons," but Batman's superior skills and technology allow him to defeat them with ease.
Later, Bruce returns to the Bat-cave, where he finds a much older Alfred Pennyworth alive and well, waiting for him. Bruce is also much older, as evidenced by his hair, which is now greying. It's revealed this is the first time he has had to suit up as Batman in a whole month. Bruce's city is safe and he now has a life that allows him to visit other countries with his wife.
Unfortunately, this look at a near-perfect life doesn't last long, because Alfred dies before Bruce all over again and he wakes up screaming in a small apartment, with Harley Quinn
looking over him. Bruce is back in the real world now.
After getting poisoned by Punchline, Harley rescued Bruce, but she informs him he's been out cold for three days. Therefore, it looks like Bruce's vision of a safe and bright Gotham was nothing more than a dream, a hallucination born of Punchline's toxin.
But what if it's not? Could Batman #96 have really opened with a flash-forward showing Bruce Wayne's future? For the time being, the scene is up for debate and interpretation. It definitely ends with Bruce waking up, which means it was most certainly a dream -- for now. Gotham deserves for this to be a premonition.