Since it came out nearly two years ago, DC’s Earth 2 has been one of the highlights of the New 52 initiative. While all the other books have (more or less) kept the basics of the classic DCU, just making everyone younger, less married, and with too much silly piping in their costumes, the addition of Earth 2 created a space for a true reboot, giving DC a blank slate on an alternate Earth to truly play and tweak their characters and history. On the new Earth-2, Batman married Catwoman and had a daughter who was his Robin, Superman had a better costume than his main Earth counterpart, and Wonder Woman was the Earth’s first superhero. And all three of the trinity died saving their Earth from Darkseid, leaving a whole new generation of heroes to pick up the baton.
What’s been interesting is that the new younger heroes have been reinventions of the classic Justice Society of America heroes from World War II, presented as new younger characters. The original JSA characters had been portrayed as gray haired senior citizens since long before I was born, and almost none of the current comics-reading public had ever read stories about the young versions of characters like Green Lantern Alan Scott and Flash Jay Garrick until now. But what was missing from Earth 2 was the presence of the trinity.
Now DC has taken steps to bring back the “big three” to Earth-2, starting with a new Dark Knight. A new Batman was introduced last year, when the book was still being written by James Robinson. His identity was kept shrouded in mystery, but we were told he definitely wasn’t Bruce Wayne, back from the dead somehow. Well… it turns out that the Batman of Earth-2 is non other than Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s father. Considering the similarity in costume to the Batman of the Flashpoint DCU, with red and black instead of black and grey, it should have come as no surprise. But where the Flashpoint Thomas Wayne was just an angrier mirror reflection of Bruce (in the Flashpoint universe, it was a young Bruce who was killed by that gunman in Crime Alley, not his parents), this Thomas Wayne has a way trippier history… literally.
In Earth 2 Annual #2, we find out that in 1994, when Bruce Wayne was still a young Batman, he discovered that Joe Chill, the man that he presumed had murdered his parents as a child, had been himself murdered in a fashion similar to the way several thugs in the employ of the Frankavilla crime family had been murdered. When Bruce Wayne (in flashback) questions family head Frankie Frankavilla about the connection to these thugs and the man who killed his parents, Frankie divulges the truth; the connection is Thomas Wayne.
It turns out that in 1971 (we know it’s 1971 from the caption, and the fact that everyone has long or longish hair and sideburns) a young Doctor Thomas Wayne had saved Frankie from a gunshot wound. In honor of the man who saved his life, Frankie threw a lavish party that kinda looks like the one in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, where Bruce met his bride-to-be Martha. From this point on, the seemingly saintly Thomas Wayne and new girlfriend Martha become thick as thieves with Frankie and his boyfriend Alberto (Falcone? They never say). They start getting high together, and Thomas starts supplying laudanum from Gotham Central Hospital for Frankie’s drug racket, and keeping some for partying with his new friends. We even see a panel with the Waynes and Frankie and his lover Alberto, all clearly high and in bed together. They’re clothed (this is still an all ages comic, after all), but the implication is there; on Earth-2, Bruce’s parents were drugged out freaks and criminals, who might have also been swingers. This is where my jaw nearly hit the floor. DC really went there with Batman’s parents. Sure, it’s an “alternate Earth”, but it’s an alternate Earth with an ongoing, important title, not a one-off.
Eventually, Thomas and Martha are expecting a baby, so they want to get out of the whole drugs and crime business and become respectable. Frankie’s not having it, and after a botched attempt at scaring Thomas into getting back in the drug dealing business by sending his thugs after him, Frankie realizes he has no choice but to kill Thomas and Martha, otherwise they could potentially testify against him. Which brings us to the famous scene in Crime Alley with a young Bruce, a couple of gunshots and some falling pearls.
But it turns out Thomas didn’t die; He recovered from his wounds and faked his death, fearing that if he were to live, Frankie would come after Bruce and kill him too. So he goes into hiding, while Bruce swears his life to avenge his parents’ death and becomes Batman, just as he normally would. But in this world, Bruce is avenging a crime that wasn’t so senseless, and one the victims kind of brought upon themselves. When Bruce hears of all these people connected to Frankie being murdered, he suspects someone close to the Wayne family is behind it, getting revenge at last. I won’t give away whether or not Bruce ever finds out that his father faked his death, and there are more twists to this origin story for the Earth-2 Batman than I’m giving away here. But needless to say, we will find out why a 65 year old Thomas Wayne picked up the mantle from his deceased son, and just how he’s so spry for an old guy (hint: it has something to do with a classic JSA member who hasn’t been seen yet in the New 52. Longtime fans should have an easy time guessing who).
The writing on this one is from new Earth 2 writer Tom Taylor (Injustice: Gods Among Us), who took over the book after James Robinson abruptly left the title in May. James Robinson was so much a part of the reason why this book was so good; although this was a more or less total reinvention of the characters, Robinson, a huge Golden Age fan (and former Justice Society writer) knows the ins and out of these classic characters, and preserved what made them great in 1940, and translated it into today’s language. I honestly didn’t think the book could survive without him and still maintain quality, but so far, so good, as Taylor has taken the reins and proven himself, making a book every bit as entertaining as when Robinson was writing it. Sadly, the art on this issue isn’t from regular Earth 2 artist Nicola Scott, but Robson Roscha does a decent enough job. His pencils remind me a great deal of a younger Mike Deodato, circa 1994 or so. But I can’t help but wish we’d had such a pivotal story done by series regular Nicola Scott. Overall, the book does a great job of introducing a darker, alternate Batman to the DC Multiverse, and I sincerely hope this one sticks around for awhile.