Bruce Wayne and Batman. They've always been two distinct characters, and it has been said many times that Batman is Bruce's true self while his playboy persona is the real mask. When it's time for Batman to go to work, he transforms from Bruce Wayne into the the Caped Crusader.
In issue #49, that transformation is more literal than it ever has been before.
Serious spoilers below for Batman #49! You have been warned!
Gotham city is being ripped apart by Mr. Bloom and his army of Bloomsmen (that's not what they are really called, but they should be). Jim Gordon, who has been the official government funded Batman, may be dead. The city is at war and no savior in sight.
All the while Bruce has been on the sidelines. Since his last battle with the Joker, Bruce has no memory of his time as Batman. He doesn't have the combat skills, deductive reasoning or honed reflexes that he once did. The last few issues found him talking to a "cured" Joker, and doing so caused Bruce to finally realize what needed to be done.
He storms into Wayne Manor and demands to know what's behind the clock. Alfred is reluctant to tell him, falling on his knees as he begs Bruce not to become Batman once again. You may have forgotten Alfred lost one of his hands during the war with the Joker, but this image reminds you in a powerful way. Alfred reluctantly opens the secret passage but goes on to tell Bruce that the heart of the Batcave, the Batcomputer, is destroyed. The cave is nothing more than a tomb.
But Bruce isn't having it. Now that he knows he was once Batman, he can't simply sit by and watch Gotham burn when he could potentially have the power to save it. Even though Bruce isn't Batman, he's still loyal to Gotham. He's been helping in ways that haven't been fighting crime and supervillains. Even with no memory of Batman, he can't give up on his city.
So that leads him into the cave, and its there where things get weird fast. You may recall in earlier issues that Batman had the completely insane idea of creating clones of himself, so that when he died another Batman would be around to take his place. This cloning process involved taking the memories of the current Batman and then placing them in the mind of the ones to come.
It sounds like a good idea on paper (sort of?), except for the trauma experienced by Batman proved to be too strong for a normal human mind. The computer simulations failed again and again as minds cracked under the pressure of being Gotham's Dark Knight.
Alfred tells Bruce of how he destroyed the machine, but this is Batman we are talking about. Batman always has a backup plan, and Bruce finds it. He decides the only way to potentially save Gotham is for him to once again become Batman by using the cloning process to implant Batman's memories into his mind. The only problem is that the memory replacement procedure would likely kill him. Alfred begs Bruce over and over again to not go through with the plan, but Bruce has his mind set.
Alfred reluctantly throws the switch, and both Bruce and the reader get a glimpse at numerous possible futures as Bruce's mind is filled with visions. One vision involves a Batman in a gold and white costume who defends a Gotham City protected by a massive dome, while another has Bruce serving as the Police Commissioner and Jim Gordon as Batman.
It doesn't work, however. Bruce's mind is on the verge of collapse. It's then that Bruce proposes yet another insane idea: let his brain die. Only then, when his mind is completely free of resistance, will the memories of Batman be able to take hold. Aflred refuses to pull the trigger on the man he views as a son, but an unexpected visitor then appears: the daughter of Joe Chill, Juile Madison. She's been Bruce's love interest for this story arc, and she comes into the picture in the final moments of this last issue to bring Batman's saga full circle. Joe Chill created Batman the first time when he murdered Bruce's parents, and now his daughter will create Batman once again by killing Bruce Wayne.
When the process is complete, Alfred calls out to Bruce, only for Bruce to respond by saying it's time to go to work. Then the issue ends.
This is something we've never seen before. Though we don't yet know exactly how this will play out, this new Batman most certainly doesn't have any memories of his time as not-Batman. He doesn't remember being happy, having a relationship with Julie or living a relatively normal life.
The real question is what else doesn't he remember? For all intents and purposes, this new Batman is the first Batman clone, all his memories implanted from the previous incarnation. How will that affect him moving forward? Is there anything left of Bruce Wayne at all?
If nothing else, it should make for a mighty interesting showdown between Mr. Bloom and Batman. This new version of the Caped Crusader appears to be Batman in his purest form, but what is Batman without Bruce Wayne? We'll know soon enough.