It’s a luxury in some regards that superhero comic characters, especially those that have been around for 70 years, have such a rich and vast history to pull from; to rework time and time again for newer and newer readers. The challenge it’s necessarily reinserting bits of lore, but rather weaving long forgotten bits of canon into a narrative theme that reflects the body and soul of the story being told.
Writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo were presented a monumental task of creating the opening story arc for the New 52 Batman. To summarize the last year, they have carried that burden on their shoulders with a strength and fortitude that is all too rare in modern comics. Their story has had its peaks and valleys like any good epic. With the penultimate issue, the shocking reveals are here to drive home the point: when we look in the mirror, what do we see?
By now, the rabbit is out of the hole. The dark visage Bruce Wayne sees in the reflection of his city is nearly his own, plus or minus variations in the gene pool. Snyder dug deep into the annals of Batman history to find his person to undercut the confidence of the Dark Knight.
The idea of Thomas Wayne, Jr. was first introduced in 1974 in the pages of World’s Finest #223. In that story, Thomas was the older brother. Four issues later, in World’s Finest #227, he was killed off to be forgotten about and never mentioned again. Another version of Thomas Wayne, Jr. was introduced by writer Grant Morrison in JLA: Earth 2. This version was the evil doppelgänger of Batman, Owlman, from an alternate universe. These versions of the character are vastly different, and while not related to the latest Thomas Wayne, Jr., they represent a loose inspiration for the New 52 version.
Similar to what Morrison was doing with his Batman stories, Snyder has taken a small nugget of Batman’s history and reinvented it for modern audiences. But, unlike Morrison, who was more concerned with taking various facets from different publishing periods and merging them into one inspired character, Snyder is using the lengthy history to reflect a more personal approach to the titular character.
The themes of “The Court of Owls” have touched upon ideas of class, privilege and blind arrogance, but they have all been rooted in the deeply personal underpinnings of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman. To connect the dots, this story could only end with Bruce facing someone who cuts at him personally, and like any variation on the Cain and Abel story, this personification of the idea of the Court was destined to be a twisted version of our protagonist. That the antagonist would be an amalgamation of the previous versions of Thomas Wayne, Jr. is rather fitting.
Giving proper credit to the narrative developed by Snyder, this would have been the reveal even if World’s Finest #227 or JLA: Earth 2 had never been published. From the beginning, who we thought was Lincoln March, and who looked a little too similar to Bruce Wayne, was destined to be the misbegotten brother of Batman.
Early in the run of this story, Capullo was criticized for his characters’ faces. Bruce and Lincoln looked too similar. If the point was to parallel the characters (minus the brother concept) then perhaps a few different lines were in order. The point now of that choice revealed; it is a testament to Capullo’s faith in this project that he did not refute any of the criticism. And along the way his work became stronger for it. With this issue, every lesson he has learned from his career are on display panel after panel. From page to page, the type of story he has been commissioned to tell ranges from dynamic to introspective to moody, his pencils only enhanced by the refined ink work of Jonathan Glapion and the selective coloring of FCO Plascencia. This three-headed art team proving that cohesion is not completely the license of solo artists
While the shocking reveal will definitely overshadow this issue and this storyline, the most interesting facet of everything presented is the execution. Regardless, or in spite of reader opinions about the Thomas Wayne, Jr. development, the themes, characterizations and narrative delivery have supported a nearly yearlong storyline, providing a foundation and ornamentation for this epic. From the near poetic “Who, Who, Who-ing” of Lincoln’s dialogue in this issue, to the symbolism and repeated elements over the whole run, Batman has been in some very capable and strong willed hands.
Reflecting on the issues of this story to date, and there is only one more, the literary evolution of the title has surpassed many of the pervious ambitions of more charismatic writers. There is bravado to the tenure of this tome, both reflecting the inspirations of the past publication history and the creators involved. While the horror pedigree of Snyder, and Capullo for that matter, has been pointed out numerous times, what this run of Batman has done is underscore the very personal nature of that genre and that working with facets of it can deliver frights that moves beyond the luxuries of superhero comics. When we look in the mirror, it’s not completely what we see of ourselves, but what frightens us that tells the tale.