Spoilers for Batman Eternal #50 ahead!
Is he? Or isn't he?
In this week's Batman Eternal #50, one of Gotham City's villains finally stepped up to take credit for the weekly comic's year-long attack on Gotham City and Bruce Wayne.
And it was a villain whom many readers didn't expect: Arthur Brown, the costumed character known as "Cluemaster."
Probably known best to recent Batman fans for being Spoiler/Stephanie Brown's father, Cluemaster has been, for many readers, the one Batman Eternal villain they suspected least. The series has established the character as a bit of a fool, leading most fans to believe he couldn't be the mastermind of anything, let alone a complicated plan that involved everything from nanobots to a supernatural demon.
Yet the final page of Batman Eternal #50 revealed Cluemaster leaning over a defeated Batman, saying that all the hero had to do was "just follow the clues" to figure out he was the man behind it all.
The page's final tagline also promised that, in next week's issue, readers will learn "The Master Plan."
Several online fans and bloggers are so dismayed by the revelation that they're questioning whether Cluemaster is really the legitimate mastermind. "We are still two issues away," said a poster on ComicVine, echoing several online fans have been arguing sharing. "I don't think we will see the big bad until the last panels of next week's issue. I think [Cluemaster]'s a lackey."
However, Batman Eternal co-plotter and script writer James Tynion IV was quoted in an MTV story saying that Arthur has more up his sleeve than anyone suspected.
"We definitely wanted this to be a surprising twist," Tynion said, "and there’s still a lot more to show as to why this happened, and what exactly Cluemaster has done over the last year. Batman’s been trying to find a way to tie all of these little mysteries together… But nothing would tie them all up in the neat bow that was expected, and he never thought that a man like Arthur Brown even could be behind something like this.
"Batman’s expectations and how he solves a mystery go hand and hand, and that’s something Arthur has always understood," Tynion added.
There are a lot of questions about how Cluemaster could pull off the events of Batman Eternal so smoothly. Not only was he in prison for part of the series, but there were scenes where he was shown talking to someone else off-panel who was identified as the big bad.
Arthur's daughter Stephanie even saw her father talking to the mastermind, and she thought the man looked like Bruce Wayne. That led a lot of fans to assume the main villain was Lincoln March, who looks a lot like Bruce Wayne (and claimed in an earlier Batman story to be his brother, Thomas Wayne Jr.).
So if Cluemaster is the true villain behind everything, who was he talking to in those scenes where there was someone else claiming to be the mastermind? And how did Arthur pull off so many events when he was in jail?
How did he break into the Batcave? And how does he know that Batman is Bruce Wayne, which was established by the unseen mastermind on the first pages of Batman Eternal #1?
Tynion promised that, in March 25's Batman Eternal #51, the first five pages will contain the words spoken at the beginning of Batman #1. But he stopped just short of saying that Cluemaster is the one saying them.
So is he?
There have been a lot of misdirections in this series — with several other Batman villains as suspects — but with only two issues left in the weekly series, there appear to only be a few options left:
Cluemaster is the big bad, and#51 and #52 will reveal how he orchestrated this plan (and how Bruce will end his terror);
Arthur Brown is a red herring, and another mastermind will be revealed in #51 and #52;
Or the man behind that mask isn't really Arthur Brown, but will be revealed as someone else.
Whatever the answer turns out to be in the next two weeks of Batman Eternal, as Tynion said, "the story is definitely not over yet."