SPOILERS: The History Behind Batman #10

Peter S. Svensson reveals massive spoilers for today’s issue of Batman, just for you at Bleeding Cool.

Batman #10 reintroduces a relatively minor character to the modern Bat-mythos, one that I personally never expected to see again, in a very major way. Said character does have a pedigree in the DCU, albeit a very short one, so now that I’ve gotten some buffer to prevent accidental spoiling out of the way, I can get down to business. You want to know more about this person? Well, here we go:

Thomas Wayne Jr.

Bruce Wayne’s institutionalized brother that he didn’t know he had. Yes, this actually happened back in the day. Well, as actual as you can get when talking about stories about fictional characters. He first appeared in World’s Finest Comics #223. His next and final appearance was in World’s Finest Comics #227. Both issues came out in 1974, written by Bob Haney and pencilled by Dick Dillin. These stories, which also featured Superman because that’s how World’s Finest rolled back in the day, had a dangerous new villain. BOOMERANG KILLER. Yeah, I know, that’s a majorly impressive name for an assassin. Well, with Superman and Batman on the job, the mysterious new villain of the month is revealed to be… you get the picture.

See, back then Alfred wasn’t Bruce Wayne’s surrogate father, but only entered his employ once Bruce was an adult and already into his crime fighting career. It wasn’t until Frank Miller reinvented the Batman mythos with Batman: Year One that Alfred raised Bruce Wayne. So the idea of the Waynes having had a child who was permanently institutionalized in Willowood Asylum after being severely injured in a car accident that took away his mental acuity, and keeping that a secret from their other son was a bit more plausible. Once you bought the entire idea that the Waynes hid the existence of Bruce having a brother so well that the world’s greatest detective never suspected a thing. As you do. Alfred wouldn’t have known, and they died before telling Bruce, so while it’s a totally ridiculous idea on the surface, you can at least see where Haney was coming from. As opposed to the Super Sons, which made no sense whatsoever. You know, the stories where Superman and Batman are married (NOT TO EACH OTHER! Silly.) and have angsty teenage kids, which are ostensibly occurring not in some possible maybe future but in the present, behind the scenes of their other adventures. Yeah, that happened. Kinda. Moving right along…

So, Thomas Wayne Jr was revealed as the mysterious assassin, having been easily manipulated by the REAL villain because he’s totally cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. But it’s not a Bob Haney story without some completely bizarre turn of events, so once the day is saved and Thomas Jr is no longer being manipulated by criminals, Deadman decides to use his body as a permanent host so he can go back to his old career of acrobatics. Hey, it’s not as if Thomas Jr was actually using that body, given that he was pretty much a vegetable.  It wasn’t until the next issue a few months later that plot thread was picked up on, with Batman figuring it out and making the point of telling Deadman that uh, stealing other people’s bodies like that, even those with the mental acuity of a turnip, is wrong. Deadman is suitably chastised and abandons ship, but at the end Thomas Jr instinctively sacrifices himself to intercept a bullet that would have killed his brother. Tragic ending that restores the status quo. And as you may have expected, no one ever referred to it ever again. In 1980, the Untold Legend of the Batman was published, a three-issue miniseries that was the most comprehensive retelling of Batman’s origin to date. It attempted to reconcile every fact and story that dealt with Bruce Wayne’s past into a coherent whole. It notably ignored Thomas Wayne Jr’s existence. That’s as close as we’d get to it being explicitly non-canonical, though fans posited that most of Bob Haney’s more outre stories were set on Earth-B, a world where continuity wasn’t as important. I’m not kidding about that one either.

So decades passed, and once Frank Miller reinvented the Bat-mythos it seemed pretty clear that Thomas Wayne Jr was now officially apocryphal. But our story doesn’t end there! Grant Morrison, who has made an artform of finding weird and strange stories that he grew up reading as a kid and reinventing them for modern audiences in a way that makes them cool and interesting took his stab at the concept. His GN with Frank Quitely, JLA: Earth Two, not only reintroduced the evil alternate-universe counterparts of the Justice League, but it had Batman’s counterpart be a Thomas Wayne Jr who survived the death of his mother and brother Bruce, only to become the master criminal Owlman. And now there actually is a connection between Owlman and the Court of the Owls storyline. I didn’t actually think Scott Snyder had it in him.

See, Thomas Wayne Jr. has been a Chekov’s Gun in Grant Morrison’s run on Batman. He’s such a quirky and potentially game-changing concept that we knew it was only a matter of time before we saw Grant Morrison reinvent him in some fashion, because who else would do it? Heck, any time there’s been a mysterious new character in Batman Incorporated, part of me always wondered if this would be when Thomas Jr got reintroduced to the DCU. Dr. Hurt? MUST BE THOMAS JR. Leviathan? MUST BE THOMAS JR. Pyg? MUST BE… probably not.  So the fact that it ended up being Scott Snyder taking an obscure character from TWO STORIES from over thirty years ago, and making him fit with the narrative took me by surprise. Probably took you by surprise as well, but I’m writing this in advance so I’m uncertain of what the fandom as a whole is thinking about this whole thing. Of course, so far all we have is a last page shocking twist, and any Bat-Fan knows that those can’t always be trusted. For all we know, next issue will reveal that it’s actually Clayface disguising himself as a theoretical lost brother of Batman. But for now, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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