WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Batman #38 by Tom King and Travis Moore, in stores now.
After going back to the early days of Batman to tell the story of "The War of Jokes and Riddles" before exploring the ramifications of Batman and Catwoman's engagement and taking us on the world's finest double date, writer Tom King takes a breather in his Batman series, the only way he can -- by giving us a story that's dark, violent and quite unsettling.
The Batman series has spent a great deal of Rebirth showcasing Batman's biggest villains, from Hugo Strange and Bane to the Joker, Riddler, Kite-Man (yes Kite-Man) and Talia Al Ghul. Now, however, King has decided to leave his mark on Batman in a different way, introducing a new villain to the Dark Knight's extensive rogues gallery.
This villain's name? Bruce Wayne.
Wait - Bruce Wayne is a Villain?
Make no mistake, the Bruce Wayne you know and love, the rich orphan who dresses up like a bat and who fights a never-ending war on Gotham's criminals, is left intact. He isn't turned into some evil mastermind. But this also isn't a case of doppelgangers or alternate realities, as seen in the current Dark Nights: Metal event. No, the truth of this issue is much quieter, and infinitely more twisted.
Batman #38 is a one-and-done murder mystery. The issue opens with a gruesome murder, and by the end, we know unequivocally who is responsible. The victims are the parents of a young boy named Matthew Warner. Matthew hails from a wealthy family, and his father worked on the Wayne Enterprises board. The boy is devastated by the death of his parents, and he finds comfort in Bruce Wayne, who went through a very similar ordeal.
After so many big events, we finally see Batman have a quiet night (as quiet as can be for Batman, at least) and focus on being a detective. He proves that his deductive skills have no match, with the case he picks up leading him to Zsasz. More bodies manifest, and Batman continues to follow the trail, this time to Two-Face. But all of this seems too easy, too obvious. It doesn't take long for Batman to arrest Taylor, Matthew's butler, as the man responsible for the murder of his young ward's parents.
But, as it turns out, Taylor was only following the orders of Matthew. We come to learn that the young boy is greatly deranged. He fancies himself to be Bruce Wayne, the tortured soul who overcame the death of his parents to help save Gotham. When Batman finds the boy at his parents' grave, he has scratched off their names, replacing them with those of Bruce's parents. To make matters worse, he's carved the names of Thomas and Martha on his face, the blood streaming down his cheeks like tears. Armed with a knife, Thomas starts referring to himself as Master Bruce, the person he always wanted to be.
For all intents and purposes, Matthew Warner is gone -- he is now a childish and unpredictable murderer named Bruce Wayne. The issue ends with the boy being incarcerated in an asylum (presumably Arkham), with scars and a smile on his face. Clearly, we haven't seen the last of this Bruce Wayne.