Warning: SPOILERS up to Batman #73
Nobody expected the "Martha" moment in Batman v Superman, delivering what is likely to remain the most iconic moment in Martha Wayne's story. But believe it or not, the Batman comics have just dropped a "Martha" twist of their own... which puts the shock value of the movie to shame.
On one hand, it's a refreshing change of pace to see Bruce Wayne's mother become such a central figure to his adult life. Something he shares with Superman in BvS, but in comics, it's been Thomas Wayne who casts the largest shadow in recent storylines. Nowhere is that truer than in DC's Flashpoint timeline, where it was Bruce shot to death, transforming his father into Batman. But now that Thomas has jumped from his alternate reality into DC's universe, he's bringing a jaw-dropping "Martha" twist along with him.
In case fans have missed a chapter or two of Thomas Wayne's story, it was recently revealed that the Flashpoint timeline never stopped existing. That allowed The Flash to give Bruce and Thomas a father-son reunion, but they parted with Thomas telling his son to give up the cape and cowl. Bruce elected not to, and... things have gone downhill since. His wedding to Catwoman was ruined. He lost Gotham to Bane. And while Thomas was revealed to be helping the villain tear Bruce down to nothing, Batman #73 begins in the last place fans would expect.
The appearance of Thomas Wayne certainly shows that Affleck's Batman design is alive and well in comics, and the desert setting is also going to conjure up BvS memories. But this is no fantasy or knightmare--Thomas has Bruce on the back of a horse, in the middle of the desert, dragging a coffin behind them as they go. Since Thomas seemed to be loyal to Bane, the first suggestion is the most dire for Bruce: that his father has brought him out into the sands to finish the job. Either that, or dig a grave for himself. But from his first panel, Thomas Wayne, the Flashpoint Batman seems more determined than ever. Yet as Bruce stirs, Thomas doesn't seem desperate, just... content.
As Thomas fights off one group of assassins after another--all sent by Ra's al Ghul--while Bruce sleeps, he assures his son that he'll know where they're going, and why, soon enough. The coffin they're dragging behind them as they go? Well, he'll understand that, too. All things considered, and intended as a compliment, this short vignette from Tom King, Mikel Janin, and Jordie Bellaire is easy to image within the fiction of Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman. Bruce having lost all bearings, relying only on the dreamlike figure of his father to guide him, grinning as if the Wayne family is marching towards its final salvation.
As Thomas promised, Bruce soon realizes why the path Thomas is walking seems like destiny. Why watching the death of his son, losing his wife soon after, and condemning his life to darkness seems to have led him to this death march (referred to as "a dream"). Bruce realizes that the coffin doesn't hold his fate, or even Thomas's... it holds Martha.
That's right, it isn't the death of Martha Wayne that delivers the shocking conclusion to Batman #73's final pages, but her resurrection. Thomas Wayne seeks The Nain Pit, apparently able to do the one thing that even the resurrecting powers of Ra's al Ghul's famous Lazarus Pit can not. It can restore not only the body of Martha, but her soul, intact, and un-corrupted. That may be a requirement, since the original Flashpoint version of Martha didn't just die alongside Bruce, but was driven to becoming that reality's version of the Joker. It remains to be seen if that fate is being considered canon for this Thomas (the cover of previous issues depicted Bruce and Martha dead in Crime Alley).
But regardless of what fate she ultimately met, Martha Wayne has once again become the surprise factor in the redemption of Bruce Wayne. In the DCEU, it was her death and Thomas's final words that traumatized Bruce for the rest of his life--snapping him out of his obssession before he was truly lost. In King's Batman run, Martha once agains enters the story just as Bruce has been defeated in mind, body, soul, heart, you name it. On film, Bruce and Batman's redemption came when he was reminded of the meaning of his mother's death, and a choice to honor it (along with the very reason he chose his mission to begin with). In the comics, will Bruce witnessing his father's attempts to deny, reverse, and possibly dishonor Martha's memory be what begins his own rise and return?
The twist is guaranteed to prove controversial... as just about every story beat during King's run has before it. But it has the potential to do the same thing for King's Batman as the shocking return of Martha did for Snyder and Affleck's. The final page of Batman #73 sees Thomas promising Bruce an ending to his mission, and his tortured journey. Even going so far as to suggest that a reunion with his mother and father is what he has earned. But if the fate of Thomas Wayne is to truly 'undo' the death of Martha Wayne, thereby erasing the meaning and clarity it had to Bruce all of his life... is Batman the life being traded for another? And who does Bruce Wayne become instead?
Fans will need to wait for the next issue to find out if Thomas is successful or not (and which version of Martha he actually has in that coffin). But with Bruce set to return home for "City of Bane," the final run of King's Batman, expect him to rebound just as quickly and completely as his cinematic counterpart. To launch him into his own Batman/Catwoman miniseries, and see if he can find happiness as both Bruce Wayne and Batman.
Batman #73 is available at your local comic book shop, or direct from DC Comics.