Drew: There’s a moment, right in the middle of this issue, that finds Bruce sitting in his robe, idly handling a pair of shell casings. How these clues fit into his current case isn’t apparent, but as the scene plays out, it slowly becomes clear that these were the casings of the bullets that killed Bruce’s parents. This kind of shocking, resonating reveal first introduced as something innocuous is a microcosm of writer Scott Snyder’s current run on Batman; a magic act he’s able to pull off time and time again, to impossibly greater and greater effect. This issue is an exemplar of that skill, cashing in on a set-up not just 10 issues, but 73 years in the making.
The issue opens with Bruce confronting Maria Powers, a woman he has discovered is a member of the Court of the Owls. He terrifies the holy living hell out of her, but leaves her unharmed in hopes that she might lead him to her husband, another member of the Court. Of course, she does, and of course, that mysterious Owl headquarters turns out to be that same creepy abandoned house Bruce got trapped in all those years ago. Bruce storms in, but he’s too late, he finds all of the Court members present dead, in an apparent mass-suicide.
At least, Alfred believes it was suicide. Bruce isn’t so convinced, and a wild idea leads him back to the morgue, where he finds one of the slabs empty, save a taunting note: “Follow me down the Rabbit hole?” This leads Bruce to Willowood Home for Children, an abandoned psychiatric hospital, proud home of Gotham’s only sinkhole. This is significant because we’ve heard someone mention living over a sinkhole before… one Lincoln March. Yes, Lincoln isn’t dead after all; he was a Talon trainer gone rogue, so he poisoned the Court, placed himself on the Talons’ hit list, and took the Talon serum to revive himself after death.But that’s not all. Lincoln is Bruce’s younger brother!
Of course, Bruce doesn’t take Lincoln at his word, and I’d be ready to write his claims off as those of a lunatic, but the back-up clearly confirms this story (or at lest as much as Martha being pregnant with another child and being in a car accident — it’s still possible there will be some kind of crazy third-act double-twist in the next back-up). So, we’re left to accept this new bit of Bruce’s past.
Like the reveal that Dick came from a line of Talons, this doesn’t change anything we already know — Bruce only thought he was an only child — but it re-contextualizes things quite radically. The thing I’m most curious about learning is whether Alfred was aware of Bruce’s long-lost little brother. My guess is no (it would have been rather cold to leave the poor kid in the hospital for all those years, though then again, it’s kind of cold that those donations that kept it running just stopped), but it’s hard to imagine that Thomas and Martha could or would keep this a secret from absolutely everyone. Lincoln suggests that he was hidden so he could recuperate out of the public eye, but then surely close friends and trusted servants could know?
The only sticking point for me on this is the weird thought that Thomas and Martha Wayne, long enshrined as bastions of morality and good patenting, could or would keep a child completely secret from the world for years. Years. Why wouldn’t they tell Bruce? This double-life of secrets doesn’t jibe with the image I have in my head. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it, it just means it’s going to take some adjusting to.
At the very least, I have to respect the massive brass balls Snyder has to pull this off. Knitting in Gotham-wide mythology is one thing, but surprise siblings is a whole other level of revisionism. This idea is very in keeping with the theme of this arc, which has been dead-focused on showing Bruce just how little he really knows. But once again, gigantic family secrets are something entirely different from mysterious criminal organizations. Snyder brilliantly ties the two together to make the whole thing easier to swallow.
Of course, that’s not the only moment of brilliance. Lincoln’s chilly refrain of “who” both reveals his obsession with Batman’s detective skills and acts as a clever allusion to his Owl origins (and one that is subtly foreshadowed when Alfred asks just who Bruce thinks is behind this). It also gives Snyder the opportunity to explain everything to us naturally — something that trips-up many otherwise excellent mysteries as they draw to their close. Those bullet casings I mentioned are also a clever detail, hidden in plain sight, but revealing Bruce’s early beginnings as a master detective (or at least a master clue-collector). I was so caught up in the deft handling of that detail that I failed to notice the one that tied it altogether — the lopsided heart pin Martha is wearing in her portrait.
That pin is another clue Lincoln left in one of his stories — this one tracing back to issue two. All of the breadcrumbs are there for us to see, but Bruce is still able to piece everything together before us. This makes his problem solving abilities both impressive and followable, a tricky knife-edge that very few mystery writers are able to ride.
Of course, any review of Batman would be remiss if it neglected to mention the art. Greg Capullo’s pencils — patricularly his subtle, effecting layouts — are a pleasure; Jonathan Glapion’s ink work is clean but evocative; and FCO Plascencia’s colors are versatile in their moodiness. In short, everyone is firing on all cylinders, delivering images that range from the oaky warmth of the Court’s hideout to the chilly austerity of Batman remembering the horrors of the run-down children’s hospital.
The art is so striking and so clear, it’s difficult to say where the emphasis lies. It hits all its marks with awe-inspiring style. I suppose that’s another microcosm of this Batman arc. We’ve said it before, and I’m sure we’ll say it again, this is a Batman story for the ages.
Patrick: It is, no doubt, the shocking reveal that Lincoln March is Bruce Wayne’s long-lost brother for which this issue will be remembered (and that is remarkable), but there’s so much here that anchors us in the Batman world we’ve always known – the one that doesn’t surprise us and cause us to throw our e-readers across the room in disbelief. It’s okay, I threw it into a pile of dirty laundry: only superficial damage.
I’m talking about little details: like Mr. and Mrs. Powers. I don’t know if these are characters that typically appear in Batman comics, but the Powers family is a big player in the Neo-Future-Gotham presented in Batman Beyond. Martha Wayne also mentions to the mayor that he should back off unless he wants to tangle with the legal teams of both the Waynes and Kanes. Now, just dropping the Kane name makes me feel comfy and cozy in my perception of Gotham. I didn’t know that Martha was a Kane by birth, but simply laying in that detail cemented the reality of Gotham City. There’s something really magical and grounding about throwing around these familiar family names – like I’m spending time in a place I know, surrounded by people I know.
But since it is remarkable (look at us: we can’t stop remarking!), let’s address the reveal. Drew, you bring up a lot of good questions about the possible benevolence of the Waynes’ decision to hide Thomas Wayne, Jr.’s birth from seemingly EVERYONE. I’ll add one more question to that pile: who chooses their second son for their namesake? But seriously, the sort of unnerving questions it raises about Thomas and Martha’s morality are kind of amazing. If they did something like this, however unintentionally cruel, the act was cruel nonetheless. As comic book fans, we have this image in our heads of Thomas and Martha as paragons of virtue — nearly perfect human beings and philanthropists. Bruce shares this view of his parents. But the interesting thing about your parents: you always think they’re perfect until the day you realize they aren’t. This revisionist history help the audience experience change in perspective right along with Bruce. That some effective thematic monkey business, right there.
I’m also really impressed with the way this issue says goodnight to the Night of Owls and ushers in the next leg of Batman’s adventure. Clearly, we’re not through with the owls yet, but there’s a excellent, definitive panel that shows Bruce watching the sun rise. I making some assumptions here, but this is the first sunlight we’ve seen in an issue of Batman since well before that sonofabitch got lost in the Labyrinth. I read this as the sun rising and marking the end of the Night of the Owls.
I also really like that Bruce took off the batsuit, but hasn’t put it away yet – it’s just draped over the chair. Batman and I do the same thing with our clothes when we’re too tired to clean up after ourselves.
I want to mention how much better I think this piece of the back-up story is. Not only is the action more compelling that the first issue of the Fall of the House of Wayne, Rafael Albuquerque’s art has ample room to demonstrate his prowess at depicting more subtle emotion in the characters. Last month, there were mostly just drawings of a wide-eyed Jarvis, and that’s fine, if a little one-note. He even manages to convey value though simple posing and facial expressions. Look at this image of young Bruce:
The text here is hammering home the importance of the Wayne Legacy and Martha’s desire to build a better would for Bruce, but the image sells it all at once. Look at him – that’s a kid that deserves a better world than the one he’s got – certainly better than the one he’s going to get. There’s something so heartbreaking about knowing that this carefree, precious little boy will grow up to be Batman. It’s a stunning drawing, and I just love the tone it sets early in this back-up story.
So, what’s next? Bat vs. Owl battling to the death in a crumbling mental hospital? That would be an appropriately epic way to end this chapter of Batman’s saga. Reading this makes me think of what we have in store for us with the Talon series. The Talon that we’ll be following is neither Lincoln March or William Cobb, which is weird. Those are now my two go-to Talons, and certainly the two that have the most emotionally loaded connections to the characters I already love. It”ll take another mean feat of magic to make me love this new Talon the way I love the two I’ve already mentioned. But if any such warlocks are up to the challenge, it’s James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?