Drew: Comic books often rely on well-worn tropes. As do mystery novels. And action movies. This arc of Batman (like all great Batman stories) is essentially all three of these things, so a little soliloquizing from the villain in the final act isn’t just expected, it’s downright obligatory. Of course, Scott Snyder is not a writer content to simply rely on such tropes, and instead uses the opportunity to comment on that particular cliche, while simultaneously delivering a final act soliloquy that is better than any of those it is riffing on. It’s one of my favorite tricks of postmodernism (one that is rarely pulled off so well), and is only a microcosm of what Snyder has been doing with this whole arc. As the Court of Owls arc concludes, we’re left with a deconstruction of a Batman story that is among the best Batman stories ever told.
The issue begins in the heat of the battle between Bruce and Lincoln March (or is it Thomas Jr?). Lincoln literally drags Bruce over Gotham (thanks to a bit of Bat-rope), explaining his perspective of the city as a forgotten son in Willowwood. The fight concludes with Lincoln attempting to bring down the centerpiece of Bruce’s development initiative on their heads. Bruce narrowly escapes, and while Lincoln does not, there’s no doubt that he’s still alive somewhere. Lincoln gives a lot of specific information to back-up his story, but what’s really brilliant is Bruce’s reaction, revealed in his conversation with Dick back at the manor. The fact lead Bruce to believe that everything Lincoln said was a lie, but did Lincoln believe it, or was that a ruse to? Never mind that there is still the nagging possibility that Lincoln wasn’t lying.
It’s an ambiguous ending, but one that oddly gives Bruce a stronger sense of who he is and where he comes from. He asserts his unyielding faith in his parents, vows to redouble his development efforts in Gotham, and even reconnects with Dick in a moment of surprising tenderness.
There may be more questions than ever about Bruce’s past, but there are no questions about who he is now: he’s the Goddamn Batman. He fights crime, and right now, the biggest criminals on his radar are the Court of Owls. He’ll hunt them down like any other criminal, and in the end, he’ll still be Batman.
Like I said, this arc has been a mind-bending deconstruction of a Batman story, so it’s as much about the idea of Batman as it is about Batman actually fighting bad guys. For all of the (potential) retcons, this story can be held up as a kind of Platonic ideal of a Batman story — a shining example of what it means to be a Batman story. In another act of microcosmic bravado, this very idea is summarized in the closing image of this issue; the Gotham skyline reflected in Bruce’s ever-watchful eye.
Sure, there are a lot of other things you could know about Batman, but I can’t think of a more efficient way to explain what he’s all about. Heck, it even references the smart contact lens first mentioned in issue #1.
That the speech Lincoln gives may simply be him trying to convince himself, or overcompensating for what he knows is a lie is a clever way to subvert the very nature of the villain’s final act speech, but one would think it wouldn’t give Greg Capullo quite as much room to work his magic. That’s not meant as a slight against his abilities, but long conversations are never going to be quite as exciting as epic battles in subterranean mazes. That said, it’s a conversation punctuated by quite a bit of action, from collapsing buildings to a tense moment with a jet engine, all of which he pulls of with his expected grace.
My favorite detail of that sequence has to be that Bruce is tethered to Lincoln while he delivers his soliloquy. We’re used to the hero being forced to follow the villain’s twisted logic during these speeches, but forcing him to physically follow the villain is a clever way to literalize that trope. That also helps make the speech more dynamic, as Lincoln is able to use props and examples from around the city. This gives Capullo the opportunity to show off his incredible sense of space, which telegraphs Lincoln’s moves long before he makes them.
That sense of space truly shines in the later (and less action-packed) conversation between Bruce and Dick. I’m particularly impressed with the lighting of that scene, so credit is also due to Jonathan Glapion and FCO Plascencia, who once again add a level of polish that really makes Capullo’s pencils sing.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of the back-up, which neither confirms nor denies Lincoln’s story. Last month, it was able to kind-of-sort-of confirm Lincoln’s claims, but here, it can really only recreate the ambiguity of the lead. It also lends a bit of dramatic irony to Alfred’s presence as the Wayne butler, but with the seeming resolution to let sleeping dogs lie, I’m not sure anything will really come of it. It’s an interesting epilogue to the main story, but one that may muddle what was otherwise a very strong conclusion. I’m willing to be convinced that I missed something here (if Patrick is able and/or willing to oblige), but as it stands, I’m not entirely sure what purpose the back-up serves.
Of course, that’s hardly enough to mar what has been a stellar run — one I hope is only setting the groundwork for years with this creative team. Each step of this arc has been a dazzling piece of an even more complex puzzle, and this issue manages to be a kind of ur-ending that in many ways feels like a beginning. Snyder has managed to deliver a story that is consistently surprising, but somehow endearingly familiar. It’s a take on Batman that I look forward to reading for a very long time.
Patrick: There are two things I take away from The Fall of the House of Wayne (Conclusion). The first is sort of a spin on your “let sleeping dogs lie” read on the resolution. Sure, Alfred convinces Bruce not to preform an autopsy on his father, and thus encourages Bruce to accept the ambiguity of his own relationship with Lincoln March. But the much more beautiful sentiment comes from this line of dialogue:
The truth is that even if you and Lincoln share the same blood, you still lost your brother in a car accident when you were just a boy. I know you’ll do what you must when the time arises. But for now, the specters of these long lost kin deserve to rest undisturbed.
Whatever Thomas Wayne, Jr. used to be, there is no living personage that will fill that role. Family is based on what you feel and not what you know. Is Dick family? Is Alfred? Of course they are. It doesn’t matter who Lincoln March’s parents were — he’s not the brother Bruce lost.
The second point also refers back pretty heavily to the main issue, and again the text is so elegant, I’ll leave the heavy lifting to the professionals. From Jarvis’ letter to Alfred:
And remember, please, to fear Gotham City. Never visit, even in the event of my passing. This is a cursed place, a place that tricks you into loving it, into hoping… and the Wayne grounds, they are the most unholy of all. Those lovely grounds…
At the top of this arc, it seemed that there was going to be a big focus on Gotham as Batman’s City. Issue #1 opened with the marvelous “Gotham is…” device, and through narration, we saw that Bruce rather liked it when citizens of his town complete that phrase with “Batman.” In the early run, Bruce’s revitalization project was front and center, and the first big sense that something was terribly wrong came when Bruce discovered Talon nests hidden in buildings his own company had built. Little by little, the physical city revealed itself to be less and less loyal to the Wayne family. And naturally, the series progressed inward from there – starting with Batman’s adventures in the Labyrinth and running though last month, the focus became the Owls’ ability to rob Bruce of his own identity. The very concept of Thomas Wayne, Jr. is this narrowing focus taken to its logical extreme: Batman has a brother who is behind everything. Can’t get much more personal than that.
Owl Man snaps both Batman and the reader out of this narrow focus by taking the action into the air and reminding us what’s at stake here. There’s a city down there in trouble – plagued with real-world problems. The city has to be more than simply Bruce’s excuse to be Batman. It’s a place that tricked him into loving it. Soaring over the sprawling metropolis, it’s clear that Snyder, Capullo and the rest of the creative staff feel the same way.
It feels so silly to be filled with an emotion for an imaginary place. But we’ve spent so much time there in our imaginations that we owe it to ourselves to be tricked into believing in those emotions. Gotham City is more than just Batman. Bruce says, “Gotham is all of us.” And he’s not just talking about Dick and himself. He’s talking about everyone for whom Gotham means something – that’s a camp that includes you, me, Shelby, Peter… It just makes me feel good.
Can I also just mention how much of a relief Batman has been from a critical standpoint? Our trip into the world of superhero comics has been a bit of a mixed bag, and sometimes we get a little hung up on the quality of storytelling. “This worked,” “this didn’t,” “this was stupid,” “I’m excited for this.” There was some point really early on where we stopped worrying about that kind of thing and just went in for textual analysis. Even now — at the end of an extremely satisfying journey — it feels redundant to say that this is well-written or well-drawn. Duh. It’s Batman.
Oh, okay fine, just one: look how kinetic and dangerous the climatic fight sequence is. The staging and the scale are arresting and just check out the way the windows dramatically crumble around Batman.
So, let’s look ahead to the future. Issue 12 is reportedly a one-off story and give our boy Greg Capullo a well-earned break from penciling responsibilities. We’ve seen some of his work on the Joker arc (due out in October), so we can rest secure in the knowledge that he’ll continue to knock it out of the park at such time. In the meantime, I’m sort of looking forward to seeing the guest artist Becky Cloonan working with Snyder. The previews I’ve seen online suggest that we’re in good hands.
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?