CAUTION! SPOILER ALERT for Batman #10!
This week, readers found out who the main villain is behind the "Court of Owls" storyline that has been running through Batman since the title relaunched last year.
Written by Scott Snyder with art by Greg Capullo, Batman #10 revealed that Lincoln March, a character who first appeared in Batman #1 but died in a later issue, had actually been part of the Court of Owls all along. Bruce Wayne figured out that before Lincoln died, he took the serum that brought the Talons back to life.
But the most surprising part of Batman #10 was that Lincoln March claims to actually be Bruce Wayne's brother, Thomas Wayne Jr. He tells Bruce that he was secretly placed in Willowwood Hospital after being born premature, then he was forgotten after Bruce's parents died.
The idea of Bruce Wayne having a brother isn't a completely new one. The character first showed up in the 1970's, but was largely forgotten in continuity after that. However, Thomas Wayne Jr. was also part of the alternate earth-based Crime Syndicate of Amerika, where he wore the mantle Owlman because his brother Bruce had been killed along with his mother Martha.
But the approach Snyder is taking to Thomas Wayne Jr. puts a whole new twist on the concept of an angry, long-lost bro, particularly as part of the much bigger history of the Court of Owls. And it's the first time the reference to Thomas has been utilized in continuity in such a major way, establishing him as a formidable villain in the first Batman story of the relaunched New 52 earth.
So is this really Thomas Wayne Jr.? Did Snyder mean to bring in some past Batman mythology for the New 52? And what does this mean for Batman going forward? Newsarama sat down with Snyder to ask.
Newsarama: Scott, I think this was a huge surprise to most readers, to find out that Lincoln March is a villain, and he's claiming that he's Batman's brother. But you've been planting seeds for this for awhile, haven't you? You were preparing for this from the beginning of your Batman story?
Scott Snyder: Yeah, I would never, ever, ever do something like this unless it was planned from the complete beginning. I'm very meticulous about trying to know where I'm going from the very start. Sometimes things along the way will change, and they did in "Court of Owls," and that's part of the joy of writing for me, just finding surprising things along the way that catch you off guard. But the ending rarely changes for me from the beginning. And this is a case where it didn't change at all.
This was the surprise that we've been planning since the outline, which was months before I even started writing it.
Nrama: But to be clear during this interview, there's a reason I am saying that he "claims" to be Batman's brother, because it isn't proven. Or is that something you want to verify now?
Snyder: Whether he is Bruce's brother or not is going to play out in issue #11. We obviously have more up our sleeves for this story or it would have ended in #10.
Nrama: Does the idea behind this twist in the story trace its roots from the history within the DC mythology regarding Owlman? After all, he was Thomas Wayne Jr. in some alternate universe stories.
Snyder: Well the way I approached DC when I first pitched the story was, the "owl" has this really menacing and important significance in the Bat-mythology that includes different versions of Owlman, and also strange stories with Robin, and other things, too. And the idea was that I really wanted to do a story that creates an original character and doesn't just bring in a character from the past, but who we build throughout the whole arc as someone who Bruce almost trusts as a brother at one point, or as close as we can get to that in the amount of time we have. And who sort of proposes a vision of Gotham that looks bright, that Bruce can buy into. And then turns everything on its head and says, "actually, I'm part of them, and I'm the one who's been watching you the whole time, and I'm going to take up the mantle of the Owl. I'm the brother you never knew. I'm the reverse you."
So everything is a re-imagining of the elements that went into Owl villains in Batman, So it's kind of a collection of those things into a new and, I hope, really, really frightening character that I have stories planned for myself. So that was the thinking that went into it. The whole story, honestly, came flowing out of that. When I was thinking about Dick having been chosen to be a Talon, even though he never was and even though the Owls never got the chance to try to turn him into one, there's that story in Batman #107 where Robin dresses up as a guy they call Owlman to help Batman, you know? So he is the "Owlman" in that issue.
Nrama: So you're not only pulling from this fictional Gotham history to form the Court of Owls story, but you're also pulling from the published Batman mythology to create a new Owl character?
Snyder: Exactly. Within the story itself, the history of Gotham is brought against the heroes of the present, including this new villain for Bruce. And then for readers of Batman and lovers of Batman and the Bat-mythology, there are story elements that feel that way on a meta-level, you know? It's like, "Hey, I remember that issue where Robin was Owlman. Look at this, now Dick was supposed to have been a Talon." Or, you know, "I love Owlman as a reverse Batman. Look at this: This is an Owl character who has elements of the different versions of Owlman, and they've all been twisted and turned into different things, but they're sort of collected and electrified into this new character in the Bat-mythology."
But this time around, it isn't some kind of alternate universe character. It's here and it lives and it's going to come after Bruce and can say, "I have your resources and I hate you. I'm tougher than you. I'm almost unkillable. And I live in the reverse Gotham, and I'm going to make that your world."
That was the plan from go.
Nrama: Are you going to call this character Owlman?
Well for us, it's more a question of creating something new that builds on the old, and not being completely usurped by what came before, and to let him have a more ghostly identity.
It's really about sort of creating a new villain from behind the Court who can step out and say, "I represent them now. I'm the guy you're going to fight when you fight the Court in the future." And I'm hoping it's an "a-ha!" moment for people because it's been seeded throughout the story. But also for Batman fans, it should make sense in terms of who historically has been an Owl villain in the Bat-universe. He's sort of picking up the mantle of the Owls from here forward.
Plus I wanted to create a villain for Batman who has a reason to come after Bruce, and has resources that are be really terrifying.
Nrama: As you constructed the story, probably the best way to mask the villain was to kill him off. Lincoln March died, after all. But you'd already shown that death in the Court of Owls is far from permanent. So you were kind of covering up the villain without really covering him up.
Snyder: Right. There were clues. But my biggest concern writing it, honestly, besides just being concerned that people would like it - which is a concern I have about any story I write - is that people would figure it out too early. So I did try to hide it as well as I could. I was so concerned that the moment I used the word "owl," people would say, OK, maybe you're creating a new Owlman, and since he's been Bruce's brother in alternate worlds, maybe this is Bruce's brother. I was so worried about that. But I think the best way to mask that was to do something different and more epic and more involved in the world of Gotham City than just rehashing that.
From the moment I stepped on Detective, and the same with Swamp Thing, my goal as a writer has been to try to use the things that I love from the past of these characters in ways that honors that rich history, but does something new that you haven't seen before too. So that's what I was trying to do here, in a bolder way. Because it is the New 52, so it was a chance to create a villain that would be in continuity and could haunt Bruce from a different place in a new way.
Nrama: It also takes the story you've been telling about the Court and makes it much more personal. It started out with Bruce finding out Gotham was not the place he thought it was, then he found out that Dick was not who he thought he was. And now he finds out that even his own family was possibly not who he thought they were.
Snyder: Yeah, we want this to be a story about history coming back. And the scariest history is the history right under your feet.
I wanted Bruce to seem, in issue #1 and issue #2, like he was too cocky, you know? And it's fun to watch him cocky, where he drives a motorcycle through a helicopter. He's like, "this will only take a moment, Alfred." You know, it's awesome to write him that way. I love him that way.
But part of the idea was to be able to say, you know Gotham too well. That's why, in issue #1, you have that narration about "Gotham is...." That will come back at the very end of our story in issue #11 as well.
But we wanted to show him so confident that he could fight all of the rogues in Arkham and still narrate to you. You know? As a writerly trick, to me, one of the things I realized doing comics is that when you narrate over action, the action doesn't seem as suspenseful. It doesn't seem like the character is in real trouble. Because they're talking to you. Even if they're talking to you in a way that is alarmed, like, "Oh, I'm worried about this." But to me, it makes it feel less active.
So that's why we did that in issue #1. He can take on everybody in Arkham and still be talking to you about a newspaper column.
But as the story progressed, we wanted to do the opposite. Everything is about Gotham saying, "you don't know anything about me except what you've seen during your tiny brief time here on the streets." The Owls are using that as a weapon against him.
This reveal of Lincoln saying, "I claim to be your brother," is the culmination of this punishing story, this continuous assault on Bruce that has been, little-by-little, chipping away at his confidence about knowing anything for sure in this city. And the mysteries get closer and closer and closer to him. The surprises get closer and closer and closer. It started with these hints that there's a Court in Gotham's history, which was a little close to home, but then it becomes about him finding out there's this whole labyrinth under the city that Bruce didn't even know was there, then it gets even closer to home when he finds out Dick Grayson was supposed to be one of them. Now, with the revelation that it's Lincoln March claiming to be his own brother, it's almost like ripples in reverse coming back to the drop of water. We wanted this to be ground zero.
Nrama: Much of the power of this whole storyline has come from your collaboration with Greg Capullo. I assume he knew all along that you guys were gearing up for this?
Snyder: Definitely. And you know, the funniest thing of all was that he got criticism on issue #1 for Lincoln looking a little bit like Bruce. And I hope they publish the script for #1 in the second volume of Court of Owls, because it says, "Make Lincoln March look a lot like Bruce, almost like a brotherly type figure." And Greg knew that Lincoln was going to claim to be Bruce's brother. So we wanted him to look like Bruce in a way that would validate that claim. But he took criticism for it!
So he's been stewing there, like, waiting for this issue to come out. I swear, he must have a response ready for all the people who criticized him for that, because that was completely my fault. That wasn't Greg at all. I was the one who said, "please make him look like a version of Bruce so it fuels this claim that he makes toward the end of the arc."
So Greg has known where we're going. He's been a complete co- collaborator on this. He's added so much, from the page-turning brilliance of issue #5 to a lot of the sequences and themes of the whole story. A lot of the stuff about the visual themes - the eyes, the reflections in eyes - all of that stuff that has become central to the way I think of the story has come from him.
I really feel like Greg has been my co-collaborator on it. And I love Greg. I'm never going to let him go. I love him to death. He's such a great collaborator. And his art - it's never stiff. There's nothing stiff about Greg's art. Everything is dynamic and kinetic.
Plus, we've really grown close as we've been working on this. He's like a big brother, not only in the fact that he, physically, could easily snap me over his knee pretty much any day of the week, but also because I think he's one of the best guys in the whole industry ever. And I'm really excited to do tons more work with him. I'd work with him on anything, anywhere.