By: Tom Taylor (story), Robson Rocha (pencils), Scott Hanna (inks), Pete Pantazis (colors)

The Story: And the new Batman is…

The Review: While the beauty of a Multiverse is in its endless variety, people are most times attracted not to seeing wide-swinging differences between each world, but rather the fine alterations—the What If’s of already familiar stories.  It’s easy enough to see how the reversal of moral polarity on Earth-3 turned it into such a grim, stricken planet; it’s not so easy to pick out where things diverged on Earth-2.

As we move further back into Earth-2’s history, the differences become even harder to spot.  By all appearances, Batman-2 has the same origin story as his Earth-Prime counterpart.  So what was it that set his life off course, so that he could become the well-adjusted vigilante who found love, marriage, and family?  Before now, the only culprit you could have pointed to was his boyhood friendship with Clark.  This annual gives us a bigger, better reason for Bruce’s growth, but more importantly, it gives a good reason for Batman’s legacy to continue.

Spoiler alert—the revelation that Thomas Wayne is the man currently under the cowl would have the wild stimulation of jumping the shark, but Taylor puts in a lot of effort to sell the scenario and somewhat succeeds.  It’s not completely unbelievable that a young Thomas, with his privileged and utterly conventional background, would be attracted to the excitement and unpredictability of the underworld.  The problem is Taylor doesn’t describe that attraction in so many words.  What we see instead is Thomas impulsively deciding to attend a party held by the mobster whose life he just saved, then a few panels later becoming an enthusiastic druggie and supplier.  That’s an important skip in his development, especially since it’s the one moment that’s supposed to justify all the later twists to his character.

But if you can get past or just plain overlook this defect, the emotional fallout when the truth comes to light is pretty well-rendered.  Having stepped into the life of an addict, Thomas has all the personality of one, minimizing his own selfishness by deflecting blame on others.  On top of that, he attempts to portray his faked death and disappearance as necessary protection for his young son, but Bruce, now grown, pierces through that comforting fiction with some good, old-fashioned logic: “All of our money…you could have taken me anywhere in the world.  We could have started over.  New identities.  New life.”

If nothing else, I appreciate Taylor twisting what would ordinarily be a heartwarming reunion into an event that sunders the two men even further than when Thomas was dead.  Although Bruce’s alienation of his father seems harsh, we can’t understate how Thomas’ existence reframes all of Bruce’s life post-Crime Alley.  Bruce didn’t witness a senseless injustice that night; he saw karma catching up to one man’s bad choices.  Instead of taking on the guise of Batman to honor the death of an innocent man, Bruce realizes, in a very sympathetic scene, that he has been training himself for the sake of a man who abandoned him: “[Y]ou decided on a life of revenge instead of a life with me.”  The fact that Thomas carries out his vengeance anyway, still deflecting from his poor choices (“I saved your life.  It cost me mine.”), just proves Bruce’s point.  But Taylor cleverly recognizes that if Thomas wasn’t worth taking on a life of crime-fighting for, then Bruce was, which is a pretty darn good reason for this new Batman to exist.

Rocha’s art is on the more common side of DC’s house style, generally incapable of any memorable imagery at all.  Think Fernando Pasarin, except with a weaker line and the most generic sense of storytelling.  But if Rocha fails to stand out in a good way, then at least he doesn’t stand out in a bad way, either.  His art is too safe to find anything worth complaining about.

Conclusion: Solid in conception, but a bit lacking in execution, particularly with the art.  At least Taylor succeeds in selling you on the new Batman-2.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Dezi Sienty, seriously?  Another lettering snafu?  This time, he’s switched dialogue bubbles again, giving Bruce’s lines to Alberto and vice versa.  I’m surprised he remembered that the person who should be groaning is the guy who got shot.

– It’s kind of nice that Taylor treats Frankie Falcone’s relationship with Alberto as a matter of course, without making a huge deal about it.  Now that’s progress.