"Wayne Of Gotham," the latest Batman novelization from Harper Collins imprint It Books, is an eerie tale of mind control and madness, recasting Bruce Wayne's parents in a starkly different light. Gone are the innocent couple who were tragically gunned-down in a robbery-gone-bad -- in their place is a well-meaning doctor who just happens to also work with an ex-Nazi and accidentally unleashes a legion of sociopathic killers, and a spoiled alcoholic socialite of the Lindsay Lohan mold. Caught in the crossfire of the terrible decisions of his parents is, of course, Bruce Wayne himself, who has his gloved hands full when the sins of the past enter the present with a vengeance.
It was impossible for me to read the final chapters of this novel without being reminded of the recent shootings at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises." The last ultra-violent scenes in the book take place in, and immediately next to, a movie theater, in which there is a lot of shooting and blood. Also, the villain of the piece, Disciple, can't help but echo conspiracy theories bandied about in the more "fringe" areas of the Internet regarding real-life shooter James Holmes, with wild rumors of a "Jason Bourne"-type laboratory-created killer and a sudden personality alteration.
Denholm Sinclair is a somewhat flawed but relatively-normal guy who is experimented on while in an asylum (Arkham, natch) and turns into psychopathic mass-murderer Disciple. Thomas Wayne is clearly at fault here -- purposely infecting him with a mind-altering "anti-criminality" virus to "cure" him (!) -- and Sinclair/Disciple wants to make sure he knows it, with lines like "You burned away the impurities in my dark soul, killed everything that I had once been. Now I'll do the same for others..." and "And who will pay for the screams of these children?" Disciple is worse than a villain like The Joker, because he was created out of a fascistic impulse to regulate human behavior by removing free will...created by authority figures in the name of "justice," a brutal justice that the "villain" takes to the extreme. That Disciple is, in this novel at least, the first real wearer of the proto-Batman outfit, is also very significant. In those moments, Disciple is the grim, violence-dealing Batman made famous in Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns."
It's chilling, disturbing stuff. But also a really good story, full of the highly-detailed level of world-building that you can only really get in an actual "text" novel, as opposed to a comic book. Author Tracy Hickman is, I would assume, no stranger to such world-building, being a TSR veteran and noted game designer. Hickman particularly excels at describing the "mechanics" of various comic book aspects we usually take for granted, such as how Batman's armor works, or details regarding the Batmobile's tech. He also thoroughly envelops us in the 1950s world of Thomas and Martha Wayne -- a world of gangsters, cover-ups, and a whole fleet of ex-Nazis brought in on U.S. soil through Operation Paperclip. The sins of the past, indeed.
My only problem with "Wayne of Gotham" is that by revisioning the Waynes -- and "clean-up man" Alfred, for that matter -- as unsympathetic, somewhat sinister characters, the primal iconic quality of Batman is lost. The avenging of slain innocents = Batman mythos. The entire novel builds the case that Thomas deserved to get shot in Crime Alley -- all the way up to placing the blame on him for not only "creating" Gotham's colorful rogue's gallery of criminals, but accidentally putting a "hit" on himself. There's no wiggle-room here. Even Bruce Wayne's grandfather is portrayed as an alcoholic jerk who beat his son. In light of all this, little Brucie really didn't become Batman because of the death of his parents -- he became Batman because his whole damn family were weird morally-ambivalent creeps. And again -- it makes for one ripping yarn of a novel. But should this be the prevailing "revised" version of the character and his origins?
However, the "sins of the past" view is one that's getting more and more of a foothold in recent iterations of the Batman mythos, not only with the movies but the current "Court of Owls" storyline in the comics, and even the recent "Earth One" graphic novel. "Wayne of Gotham" is just by far the most extreme version of it. Will it stick? Or will we ever return to the mythos of the "slain innocents avenged"?
What do you think?
"Wayne of Gotham" is available in stores now.