Batman confronts the Court of Owls, but its members have confronted their own mortality - rather than face the judgment of Batman, they've taken their own lives. With a big dollop of 'apparently'.
Batman follows the clues, and his gut instincts, to Willowwood, an old Gotham hospital for kids with mental problems, where he finds philanthropist Lincoln March. It turns out he wasn't killed by Court assassins the Talons, he's been in league with the Owls all along. But feeling that they betrayed him, he's killed the prime movers.
Now he's donning a Talon suit of his own, to take on Batman. And the fight is more personal than Bruce could have anticipated, as Lincoln reveals that he is ... Bruce's forgotten brother, Thomas Wayne Jr.
Yeah, right. I believe that about as much as I believed March was properly dead last issue. For it to be true we'd have to accept that:
- Martha and Thomas Wayne would wish to place their son in a home when they could afford first-class live-in care.
- Thomas Wayne was inclined to name a son after himself, but not his first-born.
- Batman, who has trained his mind to perform all manner of memory stunts, can't recall that his mother was pregnant when he was three or four.
- The hospital never bothered to contact the Waynes' executors, most likely Alfred, about the child before calamity closed it when Bruce was entering his teens.
It's all a bit much to believe. I'm old enough to remember the short-lived comics career of the original Thomas Wayne Jr in the early Seventies - Peter S Svensson looks at those stories over at Bleeding Cool - and while this is a fun nod to that, I reckon writer Scott Snyder is playing with us. The mention of a clay badge Martha wore hints at master of disguise Clayface toying with Bruce for some reason. My best guess, though, is that Lincoln is simply a foundling fed a line by those pesky Owls.
If he somehow is Thomas, well, that's him dead before the year's out.
It's fun to speculate, and it's fun to read this story. Batman gets some cool moments, particular in the opening scene, which sees him scare a rich biddy connected to the Court. His remembering a lesson from the detective Henri Ducard works well. The slow revelations of Lincoln /Thomas seem corny, like a bad episode of Murder She Wrote, but that's him giving Bruce time to escape bonds while he puts on his Talon drag. But my favourite scene is a conversation between Bruce and Alfred - an orphan he may be, but there's no denying Bruce has a father around. This sequence also shows Bruce has a concentration aid that makes lots of sense, given his ghoulish sensibility and collector mania (look at the Batcave and tell me the guy isn't an especially morbid fanboy!).
But that's the nearest thing there is to a 'problem'. Capullo, inker Jonathan Glapion and colourist FCO Plascencia are producing career-best work that's elevating a decent storyline to the level of truly memorable. Let's hope that before it's collected someone at DC corrects a couple of typos, little irritations that mar the big picture.
The very readable back-up, by Snyder and James Tynion IV, shows Alfred's father and predecessor as Wayne butler, Jarvis, remembering the events that apparently led to the early birth of Thomas Jr. Certainly, Martha - feisty to the point of stupidity - is pregnant here, and there's a car accident, but will a child be born who becomes Lincoln March? If so, it'll be because the Owls steal him away, not because the Waynes put him into someone else's care. I'm still not buying it - I'm betting there's a Lil Wayne not in a Talon suit, but in DC heaven.
Whatever the case, there's a fine level of craftsmanship on display from artist Rafael Albuquerque and colourist Dave McCaig. It's just a shame that another typo shows up here - whatever happened to proofreading? I don't doubt I make the occasional booboo on this blog - Sod's Law says there'll be a few in this very post - but I'm a one-man band, and not charging anybody.
Overall, this is a sharply-written, extremely well-drawn comic (you can judge the book by Capullo's excellent cover), one of the best chapters of the too-long Owls storyline. I look forward to the conclusion, and maybe even being proven wrong about a few things.