Everyone has bad days. For you or me, that might mean waking up late for work and forgetting to bring your packed lunch because you were still reeling in pain from stubbing your toe. For Batman, pretty much every night he has to deal with the scum and villainy of Gotham City is a bad time. So to get under Batman's skin, it's got to be a terrible, horrible, no-good/very bad day.
This is what we see in "I Am The Night," which begins with Bruce Wayne sighing at the sight of the Penguin weaseling out of criminal charges once again. Ever the sounding board, Alfred reassures Batman that he is in fact causing real change in the city, despite how it might feel.
Batman goes from mopey to guilt-stricken later in the night. On the way to assist Commissioner Gordon with a raid on a mob boss, Batman stops by Crime Alley, the same stretch of street that Thomas and Martha Wayne met their end. After delivering roses and probably humming that Seal song from Batman Forever, the Dark Knight is delayed by a small timer who calls himself the Wizard. Though he straightens the Wizard out and sends him to a mission, it's far too late to help Gordon with the raid.
Without the help of the Dark Knight, the GCPD were no match for the mobster known as the "Jazzman" and his goons. Even though Batman eventually saved the day, Gordon still took a bullet and was taken to the hospital in critical condition as a result of the botched raid. Batman blamed the entire incident on himself.
That's a grown man -- the Batman, no less -- going absolutely nanners and wrecking his home. We rarely see superheroes so psychologically vulnerable, much less having a violent psychotic break. But one bad night in Gotham finally got to Batman.
The rest of the episode only further shakes the foundations of Batman's faith in himself, as the Jazzman predictably escapes and goes after the ailing Gordon. Once the exciting fight and requisite happy ending quotas are fulfilled, Batman runs into the Wizard again at the bus station.
As it turns out, Batman setting him straight was just what the Wizard needed -- in his case, one bad night turned him around and set him on a course for good. The fact that Batman was able to affect positive change in one person's life renews his enthusiasm for crimefighting, and we're left with a fuzzy, hopeful feeling inside. Until the next really bad night.
Okay, this is kind of cheating. "Epilogue" is technically an episode of Justice League: Unlimited, but it's too good a Batman story to pass up. As the title might suggest, it's something of a post-game finale for Batman: The Animated series. Though most of JLU takes place when Batman is still in fighting shape, for this episode we flash forward to an elderly Bruce Wayne and learn some surprising things in regards to his relationship with Terry McGinnis (a.k.a. Batman Beyond). But maybe the highlight of the episode comes during an anecdote told to Terry by Amanda Waller, the no-nonsense government agent that acts like a more corporate version of Nick Fury.
In the tale, we learn of Ace, a young girl gifted with immense psychic powers, capable of unprecedented hallucinatory imagery. Featured in an earlier episode of JLU, Ace's abilities had grown to an uncontrollable rate, a likely result of the constant testing on her as as child. Ace had only hours to live. Waller and others feared a possible psychic explosion upon Ace's death that would level the city.
Waller Batman was sent into Ace's hallucinatory labyrinth with one goal: Use this device and end Ace's suffering, thus saving the city.
There's no bones about it -- if he used the device, Batman would be killing Ace. Even if she was going to die anyway, even if it was to save the lives of countless others, this would still be the murder of a child. Like farting during sex, there are some things you just can't undo.
When Batman found Ace, she was swinging on a playset. Upset, she recounted her troubled childhood.
At this point, Ace is the DC equivalent of an Omega-level mutant. She's a demigod with untold amounts of power. She knows Batman suffered through a traumatic childhood, just like she knows that Batman would never use Waller's murder remote. At the same time, Ace is still a child. She's confused, afraid and feels like she's the only person left in the entire world -- and if there's anyone who knows what that's like, it's Batman.
There's nothing Batman can do. There's no cure-all Bat-Pill in his utility belt, no Bat-Time Machine waiting in a cobwebbed corner of the Batcave. Ace is going to die, soon, and all Batman can do is be there for her. And he was. Waller remarks that, in retrospect, Batman's greatest strength is not his advanced technology or unparalleled skills, but instead his compassion. Because of the hell he went through as a child, Batman can empathize more than almost any hero can.
In the end, there was no psychic explosion, no decimated city. Just a man cradling a dead girl in his arms.
Now if you'll excuse me, my whole face is leaking.