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Batman #11

Review by Paul Bowler

After a year that has seen the Batman almost broken by The Court of Owls and their nefarious schemes, Batman #11 brings Scott Snyder’s and Greg Capullo’s sensational Night of Owls to a nerve jangling climax as Batman finally confronts Lincoln March in the ruined halls of The Willowwood Home For Children. Having donned a specially designed suit of armour, this self proclaimed Owlman has revealed himself to be Thomas Wayne Jr – the brother Bruce believed had died after being born prematurely in the aftermath of a car crash. Having betrayed The Court of Owls Lincoln March has set his sights on Gotham itself as the ultimate revenge against the “brother” who abandoned him.

Still reeling from Lincoln’s claims, Batman struggles to defend himself as the Owlman slashes away his cape. As their intense struggle sends them crashing through a brick wall Batman launches a line that snags Lincoln’s armour, dragging him over the edge with him, and sending them both tumbling out into the night – but Owlman uses his suits hidden thrusters to break their fall and propel them up into the darkening sky over Gotham. With Batman flailing helplessly in his wake Lincoln March relives his childhood memories as he drags the Dark Knight across the Gotham skyline: smashing Batman into the Crowne Tower, the building that he saw the reflection of Wayne Industries on as he lay paralysed in Willowwood as a child; haunted by the mother whose visits were replaces by the nightmarish presence of the owls. Then Batman is hurtling into the bell tower that marked the brutal demise of Bruce’s parents, finally swooping up over the airport and into the path of a jumbo jet – a cruel reminder of the day Thomas Wayne was taken under the wing of The Court of Owls as Bruce set off to scour the globe in his quest to acquire the training he needed to become the Batman.

As Batman clings onto the edge of the jets engines Lincoln goads his sibling to let go, boasting how he will take Gotham as his own and destroy everything that Bruce Wayne stands for. While his foe basks in his apparent victory, Batman detonates the small explosive he’d planted on the Owlman’s back during their fight. The Owlman disappears in a ball of flame as Batman loses his grip and tumbles into freefall. Using a high velocity Bat-Rope to break his fall, Batman crashes into a skyscraper under construction It is this centrepiece of Bruce Wayne’s Gotham Initiative where Batman and Lincoln March have their final showdown,. Having rigged the building with explosives, Lincoln intends to hold Batman captive as the building is destroyed, using his regenerative powers to survive and emerge from the rubble of Bruce Wayne’s lifelong dream. As the building explodes, Lincoln tells Batman how the Court betrayed him when Bruce returned to Gotham as the Batman, instead of claiming his birthright as they originally planned, they gave Thomas Wayne a new identity –  Lincoln March – honing his hatred so that he could one day destroy his brothers legacy. Batman smashes his thumbs into Lincoln’s eyepieces and breaks free, throwing himself down an elevator shaft, leaving Owlman to his fate as the Tower collapses.

As he recovers at Wayne Manor, Bruce gets a visit from Dick Grayson. Together they try to make some sense of recent events, confronting the dark secrets they‘ve uncovered, and making a solemn pledge to be ready for the fateful day when The Court of Owls will return…

My Brothers Keeper provides a fantastic conclusion to The Court of Owls storyline; Scott Snyder has masterfully crafted a magnificent nemesis for Bruce Wayne in the form of Lincoln March. For eleven issues this character has hidden in the wings, using the mystery and intrigue surrounding The Court of Owls as smokescreen, watching and waiting for his moment to strike. Greg Capullo’s awe inspiring art has made Gotham seem more threatening than ever before, almost a character in its own right, and together Capullo and Snyder’s grand opus has shaken the Dark Knights legacy to the core – providing one of the most definitive takes on the character we’ve seen in recent years.

Issue #11 of Batman had an awful lot to live up to, but it manages to deliver in almost every aspect as Snyder dutifully allows the plot that has been bubbling under the Gotham’s surface for the past year to achieve some semblance of clarity for Bamtan, only to leave us with as many questions as it has answers by the stories end. It is all the more remarkable, considering this issue is essentially one long fight sequence between Batman and Owlman, that so much is revealed. In fact Lincoln March’s verbal diatribe against Bruce and his former masters carries most of the plot, right up to, and including, the moment of serendipity where Batman points out that Lincoln should take his own advice – before detonating the explosive on his armour and blowing him out of the sky!

This stylishly choreographed ballet of violence and retribution is brilliantly realized by Capullo’s art, at times you feel like you are watching a blockbuster movie rather than reading a comic book as Batman is sent careering into the buildings that have been the source of Lincoln March’s terrible childhood. Indeed, one of the best moments comes after Batman loses his grip on the jet engine and plummets towards Gotham’s jagged skyline. As he falls Batman remembers how the young Dick Grayson always enjoyed this view of Gotham from the plane, and for one, brief, moment you almost sense that Bruce Wayne is ready to face his own mortality with open arms… and then the city, his city, seems to reach out to him at the last possible moment, snatching his lifeline form the brink of doom to swallow him up in her unforgiving embrace once more.

It almost reiterates the symbiotic relationship Batman shares with Gotham City. In spite of the madness and death they bring to one another, they are intrinsically engrained within each others collective history, and as such perfectly embodies the way Bruce feels about Dick Grayson. Indeed, this moment seems to provide the catalyst for this issues final scene where Dick visits Bruce some time later as he recovers at Wayne Manor. The Court of Owls has taken a heavy toll on their relationship, casting doubts and aspersions where there had only been unflinching loyalty, forcing them to face the unpleasant truths that have been exposed by recent events.

Bruce tells Dick that he always knew his mother had lost a child when she was involved in a car accident, that child had only lived for one day, and he is unflinching in his certainty that his parents would have told him if Thomas had survived. In his search for the truth Bruce has uncovered records from Willowwood that detail the admittance of a John Doe baby only a week after Thomas Wayne Jr died – a child whose mother visited him often. We may never know the identity of the woman who visited the young Lincoln March as he lay in a vegetative state in Willowwood, although Bruce’s mother did indeed visit lots of hospitals with her charity work, nevertheless, Bruce remains convinced that Lincoln March was brainwashed by The Court of Owls into believing he was Thomas Wayne Jr. However, Bruce is forced to concede that he is unable to entirely refute the claims made by Lincoln March, but as no body was found in the wreckage of the Tower, and with no DNA profile available, it leaves the mysterious fate of Thomas Wayne Jr unresolved for now.

With The Court of Owls retreating back into the shadows, the Talon’s cryogenically frozen in Blackgate and the people of Gotham safe once more, the final act of The Night of Owls succeeds in usurping the Courts role in supplanting Dick Grayson’s destiny as a Talon. Bruce now realizes just how vital Dick Grayson is to the sanctity of Gotham, where The Court of Owls wanted Grayson for its own selfish ends; Bruce Wayne saw the honourable selflessness that burned within this young orphan – a kindred spirit destined to give hope in the shadows of Bruce’s dark legacy.

The Fall of the House of Wayne by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, and Rafel Albuquerque is a perfect complement to The Night of Owls thrilling conclusion. Detailing the aftermath of the “accident”, it sets in motion the chain events that would forge Lincoln March’s hatred for the Wayne family into the razor sharp talons of his own inimitable destiny. As well as providing a fitting coda to the man storyline, The Fall of the House of Wayne showcases Bruce’s relationship with Alfred, with the horrors of the past slowly peeling away the last layers of a haunting event; the scene shifts to the present day as Bruce and Alfred visit the grave of Alfred’s father – Jarvis Pennyworth.

Batman #11 rounds up a fantastic year for The Dark Knight. With the exciting news that the Joker is set to return this Halloween for the start of Snyder’s and Capullo’s next story arc: Death of the Family, I’m sure the critical acclaim that Snyder’s Batman has achieved so far will be nothing next to what is still to come. Snyder and Capullo have made Batman one of the finest titles to come out of DC’s New 52 relaunch, yet as we eagerly await the Joker‘s revenge, I’m sure we – like Batman – will be watching and waiting for the return of  The Court of Owls…