Warning: SPOILERS for Batman #60
Batman’s father is back in his life, but it’s far from a happy family reunion. No, DC Comics hasn’t reversed one of the longest-lasting aspects of the Dark Knight’s backstory - in the main universe, Thomas and Martha Wayne were still shot and killed by a mugger in front of their young son Bruce in Crime Alley. But in the alternate universe called Flashpoint, Bruce died in Crime Alley instead of his parents.
Racked with grief and guilt, Bruce's father Thomas Wayne turned into Batman and his mother Martha became The Joker. And it's that Flashpoint Thomas Wayne who has returned by crossing over to the main universe, turning against this alternate universe version of his own son... and is working with none other than Bane. But is the Flashpoint Batman as much a villain as he seems?
At least that is what appears to be the case at the end of Tom King and Mikel Janin’s Batman #60. While there’s little confirmed about Thomas Wayne’s reappearance little of it looks positive for Batman’s existing (and crippling) daddy issues. Thomas Wayne only appears (in full) on the last page of Batman #60. However there are enough details sprinkled throughout the issues and in other installments of Tom King’s run since DC Rebirth to theorize about what is going on - and why exactly Batman’s dad has broken bad.
For those who are unaware, the Batman series has currently been exploring an ongoing conflict between Batman and Bane. After getting information from his new ally, Penguin, Batman firmly (and rightly) believes that Bane is responsible for everything wrong in his life, having run a campaign of terror from inside Arkham Aslyum. The only problem with that hypothesis is that everyone Batman has talked to besides Penguin maintains that Bane has been comatose in his padded cell. This is where Thomas Wayne enters the picture, as readers watch Batman trying to get evidence on Bane and his secret plan, and Thomas breaks into the Bat Cave. Wayne leaves Alfred weak and beaten on the floor, and terrifies The Penguin.
It’s this threatening conversation with Penguin that is the most illuminating for Thomas Wayne’s intentions. Oswald Cobblepot is more submissive and desperate than usual in his confrontation with the darker Batman, rapidly trying to explain himself. Penguin tells Thomas that he only told Batman about Bane, but kept Thomas’ secrets. Whatever they may be, Penguin speaking truthfully probably doesn't grant his request that the Flashpoint Batman go easy on him in his coming punishment.
Penguin has been confident and brash in betraying Bane, and the above conversation implies that it’s been Thomas behind Batman's misery as much as Bane. And just maybe, it's Batman's alternate universe father who is the real brains of the operation. Although Bane has been seen giving orders to villains throughout Tom King’s run, it’s been equally established that he’s never left his Arkham cell since being incarcerated. Since none of Bane’s powers include him being able to be in two places at once, some other form of trickery is almost certainly involved.
Bane is a genius in his own rite, but if he’s working for or with Thomas Wayne, the two could quite easily devise a method to make Bane appear to be in Arkham while operating a criminal network in secret (or vice versa). The Bane that has been giving orders to ruin Batman’s life in the outside world hasn't interacted with anyone, meaning he might even be some kind of fancy hologram. Not outlandish enough of an explanation? Maybe the Bane from Thomas Wayne’s home Earth is the one commanding the criminals of Gotham City.
The real mystery of Thomas Wayne’s part in Bane’s scheme isn’t how it’s being accomplished. The motives behind Thomas' actions are the far more compelling mystery. The Flashpoint Batman was a brutal and violent figure when he first appeared, wholly willing to kill criminals for the slightest infraction... but he was still 'a hero.' Which casts serious doubt on how his return is presented in Batman #60.
The last time Thomas Wayne appeared was in The Flash and Batman crossover miniseries "The Button.' In that mini-event Bruce and the alternate Thomas came face-to-face for the first time ever. Thomas wasted no time in telling his kind-of-son to quit being Batman. In Thomas’ view, there’s only misery in being Batman. And with this motivation in mind, Thomas now working with Bane makes a lot more sense.
In the current Batman series it’s been suggested, if not outright stated, that Bane is responsible for Nightwing getting shot in the head in the head, Alfred being nearly murdered and Catwoman leaving Batman at the altar. All of these with - the exception of the Catwoman break-up - are excellent reasons for Batman to hang up the cape and cowl. Bane (and presumably Thomas Wayne) have taken away or attempted to take away every support system for Batman, attacking his son, father figure, and the love of his life. The Catwoman break-up is a little messy as Selina broke up with Bruce specifically so he could remain Batman... but even that can be explained away by the militant former aristocrat Thomas Wayne simply not wanting his "son" to marry a criminal.
If this theory about Thomas is the truth, a lot will still have to be filled in. The least of which would be explaining how Thomas ended up in the main universe of DC Comics. During "The Button," Thomas Wayne's Flashpoint world was being erased from existence. Before Batman #60 Bruce and everyone else reading the comics thought his father was gone forever... again. And as certain as his fate seemed, Thomas Wayne certainly wouldn’t be the first comic book character to escape the destruction of their universe and end up in some other reality.
Yet if anyone was going to survive the end of their entire existence, it's Batman - any Batman - who would be the likeliest survivor. That's a fact worth keeping in mind as Thomas, Bane, or whoever tries to destroy the "real" Bruce Wayne.
Batman #60 is available now from DC Comics.