Batman has, since his 1939 introduction, become one of the biggest, most successful heroes in comics thanks to his versatility through some excellent stories. However, the Batman mantle isn’t held by just Bruce Wayne. In the last decade, Bruce has shared his cape and cowl with his father, Thomas. The Prime Earth and Flashpoint Batmen offer competing visions of what it means to be the Caped Crusader.
One of the interesting ideas behind Batman has always been the exploration of his methods and who, if anyone, could be better under the cape and cowl. Elseworlds stories have shown readers versions of Batman with different philosophies, tactics, and identities. Often, the message is that anyone who strays too far from Prime Earth Batman and his vision of vigilantism is doomed to fail. However, Bruce’s Flashpoint father, Thomas Wayne, has since made his way into fame in DC Comics as a great counterpart Dark Knight. Stories like Justice League Incarnate and Flashpoint Beyond have only affirmed some readers in their view that the grimdark hero is as good as his son. This leaves open some exploration of what the two heroes bring to the table concerning their brand of heroism and their views of justice.
The Father And Son’s Batman Origins
Bruce and Thomas Wayne have received several comics that explain their origins, but the definitive take for either hero is that they became Batman when the other died. Just as Bruce was pushed into a mission to rid Gotham of crime when he saw Joe Chill murder his father, Thomas was likewise motivated when Chill murdered Bruce. Bruce’s journey to becoming Batman has been explored in much greater depth, with stories documenting his training, the inspiration behind his costume and his “Year One” story. Everything from showcasing his mentors, like Richard Dragon, to explaining the symbol on his chest has been fleshed out, definitively explaining just about every aspect of Bruce Wayne’s character.
Thomas Wayne’s story hasn’t been explored in the same level of detail as Bruce, but readers got a look at his early days through a series of flashbacks in Batman #85 (Tom King, Mikel Jan?n, Hugo Petrus, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles). Thomas, much like his Prime Earth counterpart, took his wife and son to the movies. When they came out, Joe Chill attacked them. However, it was Bruce who took the crook’s bullet, leaving his parents to grieve in their own way. Driven to extreme despair and unable to cope, Martha Wayne became their world’s version of Joker and Thomas became a uniquely brutal Batman. Armed with a pair of pistols and often at the bottom of a bottle, Thomas dispensed his own ultra-violent version of justice upon Gotham City. His world was created when Barry Allen traveled back in time to save his mother from murder, leaving a tangent universe in place and on the brink of destruction.
In the Golden Age, readers learned Thomas Wayne was actually Earth’s first Batman, and directly inspired his son’s own costume and name. Here, Thomas wore an eccentric “Batman” costume to a fancy dress party, and had an encounter with a gangster that required a violent response. This story established Thomas as the progenitor of the Batman mantle. However, like so many of the classic Golden Age tales, this story is now canon to Earth-2, rather than the story of Prime Earth’s Bruce Wayne. Flashpoint wasn’t the first time Thomas wore the suit, but it became the best.
Batman’s Greatest Feats
Whether it’s Bruce or Thomas Wayne, Batman has a long list of achievements behind him. On Prime Earth, Bruce Wayne has done many great things in defense of Gotham, his friends and the world as a whole. Stories like Knightfall showed just how dedicated Bruce is to defending his city and upholding order for the people who live there, when he pushed his body to exhaustion rounding up the city’s worst criminals. Stories like Hush and The Long Halloween showcased his detective skills. Likewise, Batman has built up a great reputation for battling some of DC’s toughest heroes, like Swamp Thing, Superman, and Green Lantern.
In the Flashpoint Gotham, Thomas Wayne’s lethality was incredibly effective, at least when it came to the villains. With unmatched ruthlessness, the alternate Batman used guns and gadgets to murder the city’s worst villains, including some familiar faces from Bruce’s own rogues gallery. Here, the hero’s crusade against crime led to a drop in crime. However, the world around Thomas fell into disrepute, and Gotham somehow became an even darker place. The city was dilapidated, the businesses sleazy, and Batman was far from the hopeful figure he was on Prime Earth. As far as lethal Batmen go, Thomas Wayne is the best and most successful example. It could be argued that, on Flashpoint Earth, Thomas is a more effective Batman than Bruce is on Prime Earth, though the two deal in very different realities.
Elseworlds stories have gone to even greater lengths to show how driven a hero Bruce Wayne is. The Dark Knight Returns showcased a version of Bruce, who left retirement and became Batman once again. He brought down the city’s Mutant crime gang, beat Joker once and for all, and took down Superman himself. In Gotham By Gaslight, a Victorian-era Caped Crusader solved the mystery of his world’s Jack the Ripper. Many Legends of the Dark Knight stories have showcased various aspects of his personality too, from the intense personal resolve shown in “Venom” to his detective skills as shown in “Gothic.” In other words, just about every dimension to Bruce’s tenure as Batman has been fleshed out and then some, both through canonical stories and closely related Elseworlds tales.
Thomas Wayne Crosses The Lines Bruce Won’t
Thomas Wayne represents the idea of a Batman without the firm moral code of Bruce but who still falls on the side of good. Unlike other gun-wielding versions of Batman, such as the Grim Knight, Thomas strikes a balance between using lethal force and abandoning justice (for the most part). In the Flashpoint version of Gotham, the city’s dark protector allowed the Wayne fortune to become disgraced, as his name was plastered over casinos and the like. Thomas Wayne’s world came to resemble a world more like Watchmen than the normal Gotham. The city has always been a darker, Gothic location, but just about everything in the world of Flashpoint was worse.
Tom King’s Batman run featured Thomas getting pulled into Prime Earth by Eobard Thawne, who wanted him to suffer through a world where Bruce was Batman. In Thawne’s eyes, and in the mind of Thomas, this was the worst fate for the son. Rather than seeing his son happy and successful, Bruce was locked into a never-ending war on crime based on grief. Thomas Wayne set about planning the ultimate strategy to get Bruce to hang up his cape and cowl and retire, even enlisting the help of Bane and Catwoman. This story and its flashbacks showed just how great of a strategist Thomas was, and how he had manipulated many of the events of the series from the shadows. Very few characters have been able to outwit Bruce, but this run proved Thomas has a formidable intellect. Of course, in the finale, Bruce and Catwoman teamed up and defeated Thomas Wayne.
Although Thomas Wayne’s Batman lapsed into villainy during Tom King’s Batman run, he was motivated by a twisted sense of what was best for Bruce, no matter the cost. After he sought redemption in the aftermath, he joined Calvin Ellis and his Justice League Incarnate. Along with the likes of Dino-Cop, Thunderer, and Captain Carrot, the multiversal Batman and Superman fought to rescue Barry Allen and save the multiverse from the Great Darkness and Darkseid. When he finally encountered the Great Darkness, the force tragically took Thomas, leaving Darkseid to erase his existence as the only solution.
Flashpoint Beyond Is Thomas Wayne’s Best Story
Flashpoint Beyond deserves recognition not just for being the best Thomas Wayne story, but one of the best Batman stories of all time. It’s here that Thomas really became competitive with Bruce when it comes to being a good Batman. The story followed the hero’s return to his old timeline after someone retraced Barry Allen’s steps and recreated the Flashpoint universe, landing Thomas in the middle of it. Here, in a world where nothing ultimately mattered to Thomas, he set out on a quest to figure out who killed his world’s Barry Allen before he could become the Flash. His mission took him around the world, from a confrontation with Aquaman to facing off against his world’s Super-Man.
Flashpoint Beyond showcased an almost nihilistic Thomas Wayne, trapped in his old timeline and seeking a way to put things right once again. The hero was broken and upped the ante on his violent streak before entering the DCU, proving himself utterly brutal in some scenes. For this reason, Thomas can’t compete with his son on any ethical comparison. However, the story showed his resourcefulness and grit, something he matches with his son. Though King’s Batman run did show Bruce ultimately triumphant over his father, it also showed just how great a strategist and spy Thomas could be. This same skill came in handy when Thomas Wayne snuck into Aquaman’s fortifications and hunted the Clock Killer — who was later revealed to be Martha Wayne the Joker.
Having been contained within a hypertime snow globe, the Flashpoint timeline was in Bruce Wayne’s possession. In the universe, Thomas Wayne had sought every possibility to fix the universe that he thought had been broken, taking his world to the brink of destruction. Faced with an impossible choice, Thomas shocked everyone when he redeemed himself through a selfless act, saving his timeline. Rather than travel beyond his world to save Bruce and end his timeline, Thomas instead rescued Dexter Dent from his Two-Face mother. This proved Thomas wasn’t as nihilistic as he had let on, and that he still had every bit the capacity for good as his son — even if he has a corrupted past.
Bruce Wayne Is More Than Just A Vigilante
Thomas Wayne has shown himself to be a great, Punisher-inspired version of Batman. However, Bruce has endured as the unquestioned king of the mantle for good reason. The Prime Earth hero proved he can move beyond being a simple vigilante and has established himself as a symbol of hope for Gotham in a way Thomas didn’t. Bruce has earned respect, where Thomas was a force of fear. One has always been driven by revenge and anger, the other by a genuine sense of doing the right thing and pursuing justice — even at the expense of personal revenge. Some might argue Thomas’ willingness to kill is better for Gotham, but his tactics are necessary for a world on the brink of death — not the hopeful world of Prime Earth.
Thomas Wayne best explained the differences between his version of Batman and Bruce’s in Flashpoint Beyond. While contemplating a mistake he’d made, Thomas said “my son is a smarter Batman than me. He’s younger. Methodical. I’m old, angry and reckless.” While Thomas can be a great hero and shares some of his son’s qualities, his assessment is correct. The Flashpoint timeline is a corrupted nightmare of a world and, tragically, that truth extends to Thomas. He may be a hero, but he’s very much a product of a timeline that was never supposed to exist. Thomas Wayne is the right hero for his world, and Bruce for his.
Bruce Wayne has proven the most iconic Batman in DC Comics, but compared to his father, Thomas Wayne, he might not be the most effective version. Read More