If there’s been a hallmark of the end of Tom King’s Batman run, it might be that whatever you think is about to happen, it’s not. For example, his final arc on the series is called “City of Bane,” but it’s become increasingly clear that the actual villain of the whole thing isn’t Bane at all. It’s Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s father.
Thomas has been a recurring character in King’s run since 2017, and his more recent appearances make his dangerous antipathy for Bruce and the rest of the Bat-family clear. In Batman #84, King’s second-to-last Batman issue, King and artist Jorge Fornes set up a final showdown between father and son by giving Thomas an expanded origin story that reveals much more about his twisted idea of how to help his son be happy.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for Batman #84.]
Thomas Wayne is dead, but is not dead
The first thing anybody knows about Batman is that his parents are dead. That’s still true: The Thomas Wayne appearing in Batman #84 is the Thomas Wayne of another timeline, one in which young Bruce was killed in an alley as his parents watched, rather than the other way around.
In that timeline, Martha Wayne had a nervous breakdown, carved a smile into her face, and, well — you can probably guess how that turned out. Meanwhile, Thomas Wayne donned the cape and a red-eyed cowl to avenge his son, blowing criminals away with twin pistols.
This alternate history was thought to have been set right in the end, but it turns out that it lived on just long enough for Batman and the Flash to visit it in the 2017 Batman/Flash crossover story The Button, written by Tom King and Joshua Williamson and drawn by Jason Fabok and Howard Porter. And even then, it looked like the whole thing, Thomas Wayne included, faded out into the multiversal ether, never to be seen again.
Right up until that Thomas Wayne inexplicably showed up again as one of Bane’s allies in 2018’s Batman #50. Now, Batman #84 reveals both how he survived the death of his timeline and why he’s so set on destroying Bruce’s life.
It’s for your own good, son
In order to do this, Batman #84 tells the story of Thomas Wayne backwards, beginning with his last confrontation with Bruce, and ending with a night where he knelt over his young son’s bed and — in a parallel to Bruce’s oath to war on criminals — he swore to spend “the rest of my life warring against anything that might cause you pain.” Between, we see Bruce’s murder, Martha’s descent, and Thomas’ first acts as a deadly mirror of Batman.
We also get a new twist: Thomas meets the Catwoman of his timeline, and she became his “Robin.” They fought crime together, she moved into the manor, and she convinced him to lighten up a bit, i.e., to stop killing people. Naturally, Martha/Joker eventually killed her.
Selina’s death seems to have been a final straw for Thomas, the point at which he began to see being Batman as a curse. The issue reframes a scene from The Button, in which Thomas uses his last words to tell Bruce “Don’t be Batman.”
Batman #84 reveals that instead of going out with his dying timeline, the Reverse Flash kidnapped Thomas and dropped him in the main DC Universe in gesture of perverse revenge. There, Thomas noticed that his son was still being Batman, and that’s where the real trouble started. The elder Wayne teamed up with Bane to make Bruce’s life as Batman so miserable that he’d have to realize that it was better to quit.
“Alfred is dead. And you’re not,” he tells Bruce at the close of Batman #84. “Bane is broken, lying in a coma at Arkham. Take off the mask. Marry the girl. Settle into a life of warmth and peace [...] Do what I should have done.”
Or, the message is clear, face the consequences.
Batman #85 is Tom King’s final issue, though his story will continue in the upcoming miniseries Batman/Catwoman, drawn by Clay Mann (Heroes in Crisis). Starting in January, writer James Tynion IV (Detective Comics), and artists Tony S. Daniel (Deathstroke) will take the helm on Batman, with a new story involving the assassin Deathstroke.