Let's just be honest here: no major hero stays dead or replaced forever. Superman died, Captain America tossed off the costume two or three times, Spider-Man was a clone then he wasn't a clone but thought he was and got replaced by a clone before he came back, and so forth. So when DC gave us the ominous Batman R.I.P. title a few months back, everyone was certain this meant Bruce Wayne's demise. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't, but we've already seen him get his back broken by Bane and coming back, so why worry that he's gone?
Still, for those purists who believe DC could really kill off one of its most popular characters, here's a short list of contenders for the cowl and who I think should win:
Here's your natural successor to the title and the winner of our poll for Batman's replacement. Dick was the original sidekick of the Caped Crusader and a charter member of the Dynamic Duo. He was trained by the master, and has since moved on to leadership roles in teams like the Teen Titans and the Outsiders. Even though they've had their differences through the years, Batman has continually shown his respect for Nightwing by calling on him to help numerous times. During the "No Man's Land" storyline, he even asked Dick to break into Blackgate prison alone while it was populated by villains he had helped put in there, and then offered no way for him to get out but his own wits. While that sounds cruel, it shows the respect he has in Nightwing's abilities and resourcefullness.
Dick is level-headed and possibly more acrobatic than even Bruce himself. His parents were killed before his eyes in much the same way as Bruce's were, which allows the character to keep the pathos that motivated him to a life of fighting crime. Add to this the fact that he actually replaced Batman for a short period of time after the Knightfall storyline had ended (during the "Prodigal" storyline), and we have someone who has shown he can do the job.
Bruce always seemed to have this dark cloud over him, while Dick was more light-hearted. Recent years, however, have given Dick his own dark cloud. While he can still give quips with the best of them during a fight, he's also a lot more likely to suddenly burst onto the scene and just start beating up on people.
Dick would basically allow DC to keep the character in mostly the status quo while still giving him just enough difference to put some interesting new angles into the stories.
During his Robin years he would never have been seriously considered for anything like this, but since his return he has turned into a very different character. Very dark, very calculating, and sometimes heartless, Jason has the potential to put the "dark" back into the "Dark Knight".
During the brief time he replaced Dick as Nightwing, Jason killed criminals without hesitation. In the Countdown to Final Crisis title, he actually murdered the Joker in an alternate reality! When he was Red Robin, he met that perfect edge of giving us a dark Batman-type hero who would make criminals fear him even more than they did the Batman. There's no doubt the character would go in a completely different direction with Jason behind the mask.
On the other hand, it could make for an interesting story if he suddenly had the mask and felt the need to live up to the reputation Bruce had left. The impulses might be there to kill the villains, but then there would be this inner struggle knowing that's not the way Bruce would have wanted it and he would have to grow into the man worthy of the cowl. In Countdown to Final Crisis #30, we actually saw an alternate Earth where Jason Todd became the Batman, and put the beatdown on the Jason Todd we know. The confrontation was short, but it showed the cool potential of the man he could become.
The current Boy Wonder, Tim is definitely the most computer-savvy of the group we have listed here. He remains the only sidekick to ever put two-and-two together and figure out that Bruce Wayne was Batman.
Tim just recently became the orphan he had to be to officially become a "Robin" during the Identity Crisis miniseries a few years back. He was adopted by Bruce and therefore is the only person on the list who can legally claim title to the Wayne fortune (though Damian might have something to say about that if Talia would allow a blood test). Like our previous two entries, he's spent years being trained by Batman and has shown a real knack for detective work and deductive reasoning.
The problem is the fact that he's still a kid. There's no doubt he could one day fill the role if need be, but for now he's just not old enough to make it work.
Ok, let's be honest here: this kid is brutal and spoiled. He's basically a young Jason Todd all over again, but with ninja skills. As he stands now, I don't see him as a possibility...however, if he grows up a little, this could be our man.
Batman #666 actually gave us this peek into the future with Damian taking the role of Batman after Bruce dies. While I'm sure this was just another possible future timeline story DC is so fond of doing, what if they stuck with this one? He actually turned out to do a pretty cool job of wearing the mantle. Granted, this was after he was years older and in his twenties, but still, it showed the potential in the character.
For now, I don't think he's anything to worry about, but keep your eyes on him. DC brought him to the front, then let him drift back into the shadows again, and I promise they're not through with him.
Jean Paul Valley
Ok, so he's already had a shot at the title and blew it, but who's to say he couldn't get it right the second time?
Since DC has already gone down this road before, it's highly unlikely they'll do it again. Valley really hasn't been seen much in recent years and DC loves foreshadowing more than anything else in the world, which means they'd have broadcast his return long ago if it was a possibility.
Valley will probably remain nothing more than a brief footnote in the life of Batman for the foreseeable future.
And the winner of who should wear the mantle of the Batman is...
Let's face it, who else would be that stand-up hero who refuses to kill even when it seems the only recourse, and who constantly believes in the power of the criminal justice system no matter how obviously outdated it has become?
And hey, it's not like he's doing anything else right now! While Marvel's not using him, let DC have him for a while. He's got the fighting skills, he's good with a weapon (though the Batarang might be replaced by the Batshield for a while), and he's absolutely, completely bulletproof, just like Batman. Both have rushed into the fight for years and never taken a bullet for their trouble, so that mad hero mojo must be working on both fronts.
Just kidding with this one, of course, but think of how cool it would be if it were possible...
And for those of you still convinced DC might just kill the character and move on without him, I leave you with this, in Batman's own words: