My local comic shop opens at 11AM, but the chain store in the mall puts their comics on the shelf at 10 so I went there first and read “Batman” #10 in the middle of the store. That’s how excited I was to read this. Of course, I put the book back on the shelf and waited until 11 to buy the book at the local shop (it and the jaw-dropping variant cover by Rafael Albuquerque) but it has taken me about 12 hours now to settle down and collect my thoughts. The revelations in this book are that HUGE.

The artwork of team Batman: Capullo, Glapion, and FCO is as flawless as ever. For some reason all Batman ever seems to do in comics is swing, but anyone who has seen a Christopher Nolan Bat-flick or played one of the Arkham Asylum games knows that watching Batman glide is absolutely breathtaking and you get that here in issue #10. For two pages you see some incredibly creative angles filled with detailed, dynamic images of Batman gliding across the city skyline and zooming through alleyways. And you know what else we rarely see? Batman threatening mean old ladies–BOOM! Right from page one you get that. It’s dark, it’s dank, it’s very moody stuff and that’s the #1 thing I loved about this issue. The atmosphere. The dingy colors and excellent pacing of the first 3/4 of this book delivers a level of tension unlike anything I’ve read in quite some time. My heart was pounding as I scanned the page watching Batman walk toward the man in the shadows and this saga’s conclusion.

Is it a must-buy? Absolutely. Just like the “Batman Annual” last month, “Batman” #10 is highly controversial and you’ll want to get in on the discussion of this dramatic reveal 10 months in the making. Will I give it a 10/10? No. I won’t. What’s to come in issue #11 might change my mind but as it stands issue #10 is only one half of a grand conclusion. It promises answers but offers no closure. And the answers that it gives me–for now–go against my view of elements that make up the Batman mythology’s very foundation. But other than that qualm which could very well pass by this time next month, there are moments in the book’s final pages where the dialogue grows a bit tedious as the villain prods Batman over and over again to connect the dots–it felt like the book was stalling just so it could save the final fight for issue #11, there were two rather annoying typos that should have been caught by editorial (those aren’t biggies and I wouldn’t deduct a point for them, but the misspelling of a character’s name and double “you you” should have been caught by someone, especially when it’s chapter as important as this), and the fate of the court itself has overly simplified what was an epic tale.

Now that you’ve heard all that, let me get into the spoilers:

Spoiler
HEY YOU! DON’T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE COMIC YET. Okay, so now’s the hard part: going into my criticisms while keeping the article short enough to not scare everyone away. I know! I’ll do those little breakdowns where I pick a topic, give it a title in bold and then ramble for a paragraph or so. That should keep this short while getting to the point! Here goes…

Assault on the Court

10 months. For 10 months we’ve watched Batman being hunted, go mad in an endless underground labyrinth, and fight off an army of undead assassins all while being taunted by creepy rich folk in spooky owl masks. These individuals have been incredibly mysterious and after 10 months I wanted to see them take their masks off and explain themselves. What was their plan? How did they expect to succeed when they were attacking in such an obvious way to garner tons of attention? How were they controlling the city from behind the scenes for so long? Who were they? Were the zombie warriors and terrifying maze only the tip of the iceberg of horrifying tricks? With so much build-up over 10 months I wanted to see Batman crack some porcelain masks, but in the end I saw Batman threaten an old lady and walk into a room full of well-dead owls. I was as disappointed as Batman–and I guess that was the point. We were supposed to feel the same ache of missed opportunity that Bruce felt. But at the same time I feel that all the owls dying off panel and condensing the threat down to one man alone was too convenient for a story that has been so very epic. Now instead of bringing down conspirators with a vast network running through all of Gotham’s infrastructure, Batman must simply beat up a guy in an owl suit and the day is saved. A complex situation and a grand journey has been shortened into nothing more than a final boss battle. Of course, this boss was specifically chosen to represent all of the themes that this arc was all about, but it feels like a rushed way of going about it to me. I didn’t need a big-baddie. I would’ve been satisfied seeing Bruce go after these creepy, rich troglodytes (hell yes, I got to use the word troglodyte! First time in 2012 and I didn’t even force it. It happened organically!) and seeing what sort of eccentric traps and thugs they had to throw at Batman. That, to me, would have been more interesting than wrapping it up with yet another Talon fist-fight. I can’t complain about that until I see what’s delivered next month but for now I’m not that excited about Batman vs. Owlman after just wrapping a month when every Bat-title showed Batsy and all of his allies effortlessly beating down villains in Owl armor.

Wanting to be Found

So March’s whole plan to be discovered and have the dramatic confrontation hinged on Bruce noticing the pin in his mother’s portrait? That’s quite the gamble. I guess the only other way for things to play out was for the morgue to open his freezer and find a curious note about a sinkhole and Bruce to read about it in the paper and put 2 and 2 together. Of course, then you have to consider: how did March know when to set-up for Batman to arrive and which way he would enter the complex. Has he just been sitting at the end of that hallway for days clutching a net-cannon hoping Batman would enter soon and from that direction? And how did he know Bruce and Batman were one and the same? Just because he caught a glimpse of Bruce fighting a Talon in the old Wayne Tower?

Friends Who Don’t Wear Tights

I was thrilled at the prospect of Lincoln March in the beginning. Same went for Hugh Marder, another potential rich pal for Bruce in “Detective Comics”, but apparently mainstream comics cannot introduce a male character who won’t turn out to be a super villain. Even Hugh is  getting turned into Professor Radium or whatever.

Alfred, Throw Those Away!

Why is Bruce hanging onto the bullet shells from his parent’s murder? Wouldn’t Alfred have convinced Bruce to toss those years ago? And didn’t Tomasi’s “Batman & Robin” #1 establish that Bruce was going to celebrate their life and quit dwelling on their death. I guess the attack by the Owls has caused Bruce to regress back to his old ways.

What a Twist!

Did there really need to be a shocking revelation as to who the leader of the owls was? I don’t think so. After 10 months of build up I was comfortable with the idea of the Owls, I understood their history, and I was ready to meet a new character (or characters) who controlled the organization. What point is a surprise unmasking other than to go for shock value? We weren’t exactly given a lot of clues as to who the leader could be and that lead to some ridiculous rumors and theories including: Alfred? Hush? Hugo Strange? Thomas & Martha back from the dead? Bruce’s long-lost brother? Lincoln March? A Wayne cousin? The Joker? Gordon For the most part people were just throwing out whatever names came to mind. If it turned out to be a Wayne relative then I wouldn’t be able to defend this arc anymore against those calling it a R.I.P. knock-off. If it turned out to be Hush it wouldn’t be a surprise at all because that guy only does stunts like this. If it turned out to be Alfred, well that would be just plain stupid. None of the theories sounded possible or good but in the end we got Long-Lost-Brother/Lincoln March, back from the dead. The big surprise that March is the big-bad isn’t a surprise at all because he’s the only character with a full name to show up in all 10 issues of “Batman” (other than Harper Row and Snyder explained that her story comes later so we knew it wasn’t her). It’s like when you watch a thriller movie or TV show and one of the suspects is an A-list actor and everyone else is unrecognizable. It’s always the famous face. The real surprise wasn’t about who was behind the Court of Owls. Not really. It’s about shocking us that Bruce Wayne has a brother.

Rewriting History

A big problem with the New 52 is that because it’s a reboot, all contrivances can be conveniently accepted. The authors are getting to pick-and-choose what history still stands and what doesn’t right now. You can’t argue that “Batman would’ve figured that out! He’s faced mysteries far greater than–” and all DC has to say is “Has he?”

And this leaves room for all kinds of surprise twists that don’t make sense in my head at all, but since the whole universe is being rewritten, I have to accept it. Just like I did with Dick Grayson’s dark family history.

Why would the Court of Owls let Tony Zucco hustle their circus operation?

Why didn’t the Court of Owls kill Bruce when he adopted Dick Grayson, or at the very least kidnap the kid?

How has Dick Grayson never had a dental X-Ray?

And the surprise reveal in this issue–although it’s left ambiguous–if it does turn out to be true, then it’s a very big pill to swallow.

The idea of Bruce having a brother isn’t a new one. Much like Grant Morrison, author Scott Snyder dug around in old silver age comics for something bizarre to reference. There was a one-shot issue of “World’s Finest” featuring a case that ultimately lead Batman to Willowwood Hospital and his brother Thomas Junior, the Boomerang Killer. So why don’t more people know about the villainous Thomas Wayne Jr who gave his life at the end of that story to save brother Batman? Why has he never been used in the movies, the animated series, or been referenced in any other comic but “World’s Finest” from the 1970s? Because comic books do what no other literature does: they go through an incredible distillation process. Over the years, more characters get added to the mix, certain characters are changed, etc. and the good stuff makes it through the ages and the bad stuff doesn’t. Now that I think about it, maybe going Darwinian and using a natural selection analogy would’ve worked better: the point is that Bruce Wayne having a brother in a mental institution was tried once and it didn’t take off. The benevolent Waynes admitting their special needs child to a hospital and never speaking of him again didn’t sit right. Weak ideas, like weak species, don’t survive and don’t get to breed and evolve.

R.I.P.

Referencing something from older comics doesn’t make a story good. It also doesn’t make it right to bring a brother of Bruce Wayne back into continuity. There was a Bat-Ape named Mogo who helped Batman and Robin solve crimes back in the Silver Age but not everything that happened in the old comics needs to be brought back into continuity. And worst of all: a long-lost Thomas Wayne Jr. returning with a sinister plot isn’t very clever when just a couple of years ago we had “Batman: R.I.P.”

Quite a few folks have called Snyder’s Night of the Owls a rehash or poor man’s version of Grant Morrison’s R.I.P. story and I’ve defended it for a while now but I can’t anymore. It’s a story about a secret society bent on destroying Batman and Gotham lead by a secret villain who turns out to be named Thomas Wayne. The Owl story has lost a lot of its originality now. And I guess it’s safe to say that whenever there’s a mysterious threat to Gotham we should assume the guy’s name is Thomas. 5 years or so ago we had Thomas Wayne AKA Dr. Hurt in “R.I.P.” and 5 years or so before that we had Thomas Elliot AKA Hush. And making Thomas Wayne Jr. into Owlman was something Grant Morrison did already as well.

P.S.

I’m not a fan of “Batman: R.I.P.” at all (The devil, whatever Hyper Adapter is, time travel? No thanks) and still like Owls better, but spotting parallels between these two stories isn’t helping.

A Line that Makes Me Shake My Head

“Who? I ask, like the great owl, who?!” was actually said by Lincoln March when he was goading Batman.

It’s a Trap!

Batman walked right into a trap. All I saw Batman do in this issue was threaten an old lady and walk right into the open where he was shot by a net-cannon. He knew where the villain wanted him to be, yet he didn’t scope out the area first or try to be stealthy whatsoever. He just walked out in the open and was shot.

The Big Complaint: Bruce’s Brother

If Lincoln March’s blood relation to Bruce is a lie: I will be happy. If it is left ambiguous: I will be happy. If it turns out to be true: I will be furious. Thomas and Martha Wayne would never hide their son away from the world, no matter how maimed or maladjusted he was. Never.

Willowwood was a premier children’s hospital? So what! The Wayne’s had a mansion, more than enough space to take care of the boy, more than enough money for the finest help, and Thomas Wayne himself was a doctor. And even if they did send a child of their own to a premier children’s hospital, the only way for this story to work is if the Waynes never visited him or visited him but never brought Bruce. Bruce was around 8 years old when his parents were murdered– I can’t believe that the Waynes would never have taken Bruce to visit his brother or that he wouldn’t remember visiting him. Who would hide one son from the other? Not Thomas and Martha Wayne. Having a secret child goes against everything Thomas and Martha were and for that I sincerely hope that Batman is right and Lincoln March really is a lunatic who was fed lies by the Court of Owls.

  •  Thomas & Martha would’ve had a will and that would’ve mentioned the other son
  • The Waynes are the most famous family in Gotham. A child birth or an accident that harmed their child would’ve been widely publicized
  • Alfred was even told about another son through letters
But ultimately, I’m probably getting ahead of myself. Until issue #11 comes out I won’t have all the facts. When it comes down to it I don’t like re-writing history and I don’t like surprise relatives who are evil. It’s the sort of twist that you see in soap operas and wrestling (odd how those things mirror each other from time to time). I mean, do we really need more surprise relatives?
  • Bruce has already been surprised by a son he never knew of
  • Hugo Strange was given a surprise son in Tony Daniel’s “Detective Comics” recently
  • Tony Daniel’s Kitrina Falcone AKA Catgirl
  • Geoff Johns’ Enigma, daughter of The Riddler
  • Scott Snyder already did the evil relative angle with Sonia Zucco, daughter of Tony Zucco in “Black Mirror”
  • Scott Snyder already did the evil relative angle with James Gordon Jr. in “Black Mirror”

Bruce having a long lost brother doesn’t harm his character but as it stands it hurts the character of his parents, the saintly people that he’s been avenging every night of his life. I’m sick of writers trying to shake the foundation of Batman. In the past 10 years Batman has been turned into a corporate employee with a surprise son, and a brother and a living ancestor both evil and both named Thomas. At this rate we’ll have President Batman, with living parents and a variety of superpowers by 2020.

Coming to Terms

I like that Lincoln March being Bruce’s brother can’t be proven yet. Right now it’s just the ravings of a madman who could simply be reciting the lies fed to him by the Court of Owls. Real answers might not come until issue #11 or perhaps not at all. What if Batman can never prove that Lincoln March is his brother and he’s always left to wonder. I could be down with that. I assume that Snyder could always say that the Talon formula March drank altered his DNA in a way that a blood test proving a Wayne relation is an impossibility. But if it is ultimately confirmed that Lincoln March is Bruce’s brother then I will always wish I gave this book a much lower score. 

The last act had some definite problems and I have major issues with big reveal, but this is an absolute must-read and in that way it’s a 10/10. If you’ve been reading the Owls storyline this long then you might as well see how it wraps up and if you haven’t, then you’ll want to give this a gander just so you can see what everyone is talking about. The artwork of the main story combined with the back-up story’s art by Albuquerque might be worth the price of admission alone.

SCORE: 8/10