Breaking Down the Big Reveal in ‘Batman’ #10 [Spoilers]
Themes of class, privilege and arrogance run deep in writer Scott Snyder's work with Bruce Wayne in DC Comics' Batman. The title has been the breakout hit of the New 52 initiative since it was relaunched last September with Snyder and artist Greg Capullo, featuring an uncommonly consistent aesthetic -- the book hasn't had a single fill-in creative team member in any capacity for ten issues -- courtesy of inker Jonathan Glapion and colorist FCO Plascencia. Batman's also been resolutely consistent in its storytelling, building up a single antagonist, and single story, over the course of a year. Last month its narrative broke out into the rest of the Bat-titles with the "Night of the Owls" crossover, and earlier issues revealed that the death of Nightwing/Dick Grayson's parents essentially saved him from becoming an indoctrinated, immortal acrobat-assassin.
The real doozy, though, came this month in Batman #10, although the clues have definitely been there all along. For more on the big reveal and how it reflects and completes the thematic and narrative framework Snyder's been building since September, click below the jump. It should be obvious, but: SPOILER WARNING.
This month, it was revealed that Lincoln March -- the Mayoral candidate with an eerie resemblance to Bruce who appeared to die in the previous issue -- is actually Bruce's younger brother, Thomas Wayne, Jr. The character has a rather limited history, although he gained a new following over the past few years when writer Grant Morrison revived many of the concepts of Bruce Wayne's dark twin from Willowwood Asylum in the form of the devil-worshipping, Darkseid-possessed immortal black sheep of the Wayne family, Thomas Wayne, a.k.a. Doctor Hurt.
Scott Snyder's version -- as can be pieced together from the main story and the backups in Batman -- is that Thomas Wayne, Jr. is Bruce's younger brother. While Bruce was young, Martha Wayne became pregnant again and decided to go on a tear against the mayor for defunding certain schools. This presumably placed the Waynes in the crosshairs of the Court of Owls, who ordered Jarvis Pennyworth -- then-butler to the Waynes and father of Alfred -- to drive Martha to a certain location, where a car accident was staged.
This is where the backup story in Batman #10 ends, and while it's continued next month, numerous clues in the main story -- not least the picture of Martha wearing a heart-shaped pin given to the mothers of boys at Willowwood, which in Snyder's version was a satellite hospital for children -- point towards this car accident forcing a premature birth, leading Thomas, Sr. and Martha to check the newborn into the Willowwood hospital under a fake name to hide him from the Court. After Thomas and Martha's death, little Lincoln March was forgotten. Willowwood was defunded and the boy grew up in a hellhole where children were subjected to abuse. He was finally "rescued" by the Court of Owls.
What's important here is that March is a product of the system. It's unclear when he was recruited by the Court, although his conversation with Bruce in Batman #10 implies it was when he was older and still stuck in Willowwood, while his rich big brother got to backpack across the world and "find himself." The rest of the story March told Bruce in Old Wayne Tower way back in issue #2 must be true -- he got funding to go to college (presumably from the Court), and Gotham City saved him from its own institutions. He sees the Court as Gotham itself, as a part of the system, so rather than look at it as getting patronized by a bunch of filthy rich old white people who want him because they know he's a secret Wayne, he sees it as the city itself choosing him.
Bruce, on the other hand, hasn't been a part of the system since his parents died. While they were alive, they were making a point of doing public good; they wanted to improve the system to the point where they would feel safe placing Bruce in it. They entrusted the system with their other son, Thomas, almost entirely. But when they died, their influence on the system vanished, and institutions fell into disrepair. It's made clear in issue #10 that the murder of Thomas and Martha affected Thomas, Jr. almost as much, if not more, than Bruce -- Bruce only lost his parents, while Thomas, Jr. lost everything.
So of course it rankles Thomas, Jr. when Bruce decides he's going to invest in urban development and try to stamp his name all over the city, as we saw in issue #1. When the Court of Owls deems the younger Wayne as expendable, he takes the Talon formula and dies, coming back as an unstoppable owl-zombie in gigantic mechanical owl-armor with owl-boobs, so he and Bruce can work out their differences by punching the crap out of each other while jumping around Gotham. Thomas, Jr. was trapped by Gotham, first institutionalized within it and then indebted to it, while his older brother got to gallivant around the Eastern Hemisphere learning from ninja masters.
It all fits in very snugly with everything Snyder's done in the run so far -- hell, everything he's done in any Bat-book, since James Gordon, Jr. claimed to be a similar "dark mirror" to Dick Grayson at the end of Batman: The Black Mirror. Since Snyder began work on the Batman titles, the Waynes have been taking a more active role in Gotham and how it's run, through not only Batman Incorporated but also urban renewal initiatives. Bruce has now been punished for his arrogance, for thinking that Gotham City was his to fix and that he understood it and that it couldn't surprise him. As Detective Bullock says at the end of Batman #1, Gotham is "a mystery," and that mystery reacted against Bruce for his hubris.
Whether Thomas, Jr. lives or dies -- I'm guessing he'll survive, though, since he's too interesting a foil -- he'll still have played a role in knocking Batman down a peg and beating his confidence up a little bit. Unlike most of the heroes in the New 52, Batman's history wasn't erased; he's still gone through everything he'd already gone through before the reboot. DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio stated that the goal of the reboot was to make the characters seem younger and with their greatest battles still ahead of them; by knocking Bruce down like this, Snyder gets to have his cake and eat it too.