It seems I’ve been impressed with the world’s greatest detective lately more than anyone else. To follow up my review of Detective Comics, I feel it’s best to highlight what many are considering the best Batman story every written.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
In the event known as Flashpoint, the DC Universe has been changed and not for the better. The Flash’s main villain, the Reverse Flash, has altered time where the Justice League no longer exists and Barry Allen never gained the ability of speed. Atlantis and Themyscira are at war with each other and threaten the safety of every living human on the planet. With that said, this is not a world without heroes. Gotham City is still under the shadow of an intimidating urban legend that makes Bruce Wayne’s moniker look pathetic. The first issue of Flashpoint revealed that when Barry Allen went in search of Batman it was not Bruce Wayne, but rather his father Thomas who had survived that fatal night in Crime Alley. Darker, tougher, and dipped in the blood of his enemies, Dr. Wayne now controls crime through Wayne Casinos and snuffs them out with his Batman persona.
Gotham is just as dark as she ever was and other things stay the same as well. Jim Gordon is still a good man and a great cop who befriends Batman-even knowing his secret identity. Subtle changes in the world like Selina Kyle being Oracle instead of Barbara Gordon make this universe strange, yet familiar. These eerie alterations are keynotes for the narrative as legendary writer Brian Azarello takes the reader down a path of truly dark repercussions. With the first issue used as a set up for the world, the second dropped a bomb like never before with the revelation that the iconic Batman villain the Joker was actually Martha Wayne who had also survived that terrible night. In an awful fit of insanity she lures Gordon and Batman to the decaying Wayne manor—tricking Gordon into shooting Harvey Dent’s kidnapped daughter who was disguised as the Joker and then slitting his throat while he grieved over his mistake. As he struggles to reach his gun, Gordon bleeds out as the Dent’s young boy stares on in horror.
It rocked the comic book world that such a twist could be executed over something so simplistic that we all should have seen it coming. Azarello took advantage of information given in Flashpoint and played it to the max. We were told by Barry Allen that Thomas Wayne survived that night, but never told that anyone else died or survived. The readers automatically assumed that two people had to have been shot to mimic the origin, but this was not the case. In the third and final issue, we flashback to the night Bruce is shot and killed in the arms of his father. Martha is devastated and becomes catatonic as her mental state deteriorates. Thomas begs and pleads until he finally comes to a decision—if he could just find and kill Joe Chill who killed his son then everything would be alright. In a horrifying moment he tells Martha he will make it right and just wants to see her smile again. But after killing the lowlife who took his son from him, the nightmare only gets worse. Hauntingly Martha Wayne slits her mouth open to form a permanent smile so her husband can see it once more. Her future lies in Arkham and a life of serial killing while the grief-stricken Thomas Wayne forges ahead to become the most feared and respected superhero in the world.
The conclusion ends with the two confronting each other after the events of the second issue. A tragic tale in which Thomas tells Martha he has a chance to change things. To make the world right. A world where they die and their son lives on. In a brief moment of clarity, Martha pulls close to her once husband and asks what their son will become. He will follow in his father’s footsteps. She asks if he means a doctor, but Thomas says no to indicate that he will become an avatar of true justice. The insanity returns and Thomas Wayne loses the last person close to him. Martha throws herself into a deep cavern and dies on the floor as Thomas looks down into the shadows.
This narrative has become something more than a “what if” story and more than an alternate universe. It hit readers hard and embedded itself deep in their core. This was a sad tale of Greek tragedy proportions that showed us what losing a child means and how much Bruce Wayne matters to the DC Universe. I suspect that in years down the line, Azarello will be praised for this continuously. He and artist Eduardo Risso knocked this one out of the park and into a realm of immortality. If you have ever loved Batman or been interested in Bruce Wayne—this is your story. This is his call of fate. And when you put it down you will honestly feel the pain of these characters and the invigoration that comes with knowing that you just involved yourself in a stunning work of modern literary art.