SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for “Batman” #22 by Tom King and Jason Fabok, on sale now.
After getting a momentary glimpse of his alternate “Flashpoint” father last issue, Batman came face-to-face with Thomas Wayne at the end of “Flash” #21, and gets to spend what passes for quality time with him in “Batman” #22, part three of the four-part “The Button” storyline. In fact, the previous installment not only revealed that Thomas survived the end of the “Flashpoint” event, but so does the entirety of the alternate universe’s reality, which is where the majority of this issue takes place. The resulting interaction between father and son from two vastly different histories serves as a potential gamechanger for Batman, as the issue establishes a moment between the two that neither of them, nor readers, could ever have imagined happening in decades of DC Comics history.
A Grieving Father Meets His Grieving Son
When last seen in “Flashpoint,” Thomas was gravely wounded, and if his injuries didn’t kill him, it appeared as though the apocalyptic ending of that story certainly did. As Thomas himself states as the issue kicks off, however, “something has put the world on life support,” as he’s seen alive and well enough in the Batcave, awaiting the now-united Atlantean and Amazonian soldiers who are coming after him. Before the allied armies arrive, Batman and Flash show up on the now-shattered cosmic treadmill, as shown at the end of the previous chapter.
Barry observes that something has held together the reality of “Flashpoint” despite his seemingly successful attempt to repair it, and speculates – likely incorrectly, since he appeared to die right in front of him – that Eobard Thawne is responsible. Incredulous at the unexpected sight of his adult son, as well as the return of Barry, Thomas grudgingly accepts the FLash’s observations about the continued existence of, and alterations to, an alternate history believed gone.
Bruce Gets The Chance To Say Goodbye – To Dad and Batman
This all happens just in time for the invading soldiers to make their way into the Batcave, and there’s arguably no better way for two generations of Batmen to bond, than to fight alongside each other. Quickly dispatching the attackers, the two have only a moment to bond before yet another threat emerges: a white, seeming anti-matter wave, now engulfing the entire reality, or as Flash speculates, whatever had been holding together that history just stopped doing so. As the wave eats its way through the cave, Thomas shoves Bruce onto the now-repaired treadmill, and makes a surprising plea to Bruce: to not be Batman, but to instead simply find happiness.
The moment gives Bruce the opportunity now for something he never had as a child: the chance to say goodbye to his dad before his death. As the treadmill vanishes from the scene into the timestream, Thomas cites a quote he had told Bruce after he first fell into the cave: “Waynes never stay down… they rise!” These, in fact, are Thomas’ final words as he defiantly plunges himself into the anti-matter wave while the world turns white around him.
The Dark Knight… No More?
Through decades of stories and countless tweaks to Batman’s origin, its basis has always remained rooted in young Bruce’s drive and motivation to avenge his parents’ deaths by punishing criminals, while a later chance encounter with a flying bat being interpreted by Bruce as an omen that would shape his crimefighting methods. As a boy, Bruce’s parents were taken from him without warning – there were no final words, no spoken goodbyes – leaving only Alfred and the values imparted on Bruce by his parents throughout his life to guide him going forward. Bruce’s future could only be shaped by honoring their memories.
Now, everything Bruce had built on the foundation of what he has long believed to be the best way to honor his parents is questioned, as he’s presented with an opportunity that many can only dream of – the opportunity for one last talk with Dad. Thomas’ literal dying wish is no different from that of most any parent – that of happiness for his own child – but it’s one that he knows from experience is at odds with assuming the mantle of The Bat. For the first time, Bruce knows firsthand how his father would have wanted him to carry on, and the dichotomy between the life Thomas would have wanted for his son and the one that his son has actually chosen carries potentially huge ramifications on Batman going forward.
Why So Serious?
Thomas directly urges Bruce, “Don’t be Batman,” with his final words to his son being, “Let the Batman die with me.” There’s not really a lot of room for misinterpretation there – Thomas doesn’t want his son to carry on the role that has consumed them both, and with Bruce’s parents playing such a dominant in his life even after their deaths, it doesn’t seem likely that Bruce will readily dismiss his father’s last words. Will these words serve to do what nothing else has done in nearly 80 years of publishing, namely, usher in the end of The Batman?
Given the iconic nature of the franchise, that’s not a likely scenario, at least in the long term. But it does put forth a couple of other possibilities, with one being the role of Batman being passed onto someone else. There are certainly enough qualified candidates within the Bat-family, and such a move would align with the ongoing trend in comics of handing off the role of established heroes over to younger or more diverse characters. Dick Grayson or Tim Drake – provided the latter is put back on the board as Rebirth unfolds – are longstanding odds-on choices, but there are plenty of others who could conceivably fill the Bat-boots.
Another possibility is that we may soon see a Knight who’s not so Dark – recent storylines have shown that a Batman who isn’t constantly scowling and even shows up in the daytime more often is perfectly workable. If there’s wiggle room in Thomas’ last words to Bruce, it could be that “Don’t be Batman” might simply mean “Don’t be MY Batman” – that is, a Batman consumed by darkness. The mainstream incarnation of Batman has been synonymous with the night for decades – perhaps the time has come to make The Dark Knight a little brighter.
Batman’s fate is a story for the future, of course – he won’t be going anywhere for now, as he and Flash must first make it through the final chapter of “The Button” in “Flash” #22, on sale May 10.