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Batman #38 (2016) review: King’s new Bat-villain leaves a lasting first impression in ‘The Origin of Bruce Wayne’

In Batman #38, writer Tom King introduces his first original Bat-villain and it’s one that leaves a lasting mark.

In Batman #38, writer Tom King introduces his first original Bat-villain, “who’ll play a big role going forward.”

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Warning: Semi-spoilers for Batman #38 ahead.

And what bigger role for a Bat-versary to take on than the crux of what turned Bruce Wayne into the superhero vigilante he is today?

In a 2008 interview with renowned comic book writer Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Batman: The Killing Joke), Moore explained his conception of Watchmen character Rorschach as a deconstruction of the prototypical comic book vigilante:

“[Dave Gibbons and I] thought about superhero types like Batman, so I thought, ‘What would he be like in the real world.’ And he’d be very much like Rorschach–if you’re a revenge-driven vigilante, you’re not quite right in the head. Yeah, alright, your parents got killed when you were a kid, whatever, that’s upsetting. But for most of us, if our parents were killed when we were little, would not become a bat-themed costumed vigilante–that’s a bit mental.

It’s a concept that Moore also explored in The Killing Joke and one King flirts with in Batman #38, after leading us through an elaborate mystery whose main ingredients are: a rich little boy whose parents have been murdered (sound familiar?), a main suspect in serial killer and perennial Batman foe Victor Zsasz (who opens the issue self-mutilating his already scar-riddled forearms with an enigmatic letter), a butler burdened with new responsibility and of course, grisly crime scenes whereupon Batman and Commissioner Gordon try to piece together the leads.

Though intricate, King manages to make the story absorbing from start to finish, which speaks for his range as a writer. I’ve been dying to see a full-on, hard-boiled detective tale from King since it was first announced he’d be taking the reins of Batman and he delivers and then some. “The Origin of Bruce Wayne” is a narrative vastly different in tone from the light-hearted double date of Batman #37, but one you’ll want to read again and again all the same to glean all the subtleties alongside the World’s Greatest Detective.

This is the first time I’ve seen Travis Moore (penciler/inker) and Giulia Brusco (colors) on art before and they complement the serious tone of the story very well. There’s myriad imagery from the issue that’ll likely be indelible by the time King’s new character has been fully realized, from Zsaz’s scar-tarnished face grinning fiendishly in a dingy interrogation room to Jim Gordon smoking his pipe about a fog-bleared, bruise-colored Gotham skyline to the looks of anguish, fear and malice on characters’ faces. That and Moore pens what is probably the best “solemn Batman face” I’ve seen in a while.

There’s a question posed early on in Batman #38, the nature of which will take on a very different meaning by issue’s end. “Who doesn’t love Bruce Wayne?” A better question might be “Who doesn’t love ‘The Origin of Bruce Wayne,’?” the latest notch on Tom King’s Bat-Scribe Utility Belt.

Is it good?
Intricate storytelling from King that's captivating from start to finish.
King's characterization and dialogue is top-notch.
Moore and Brusco's art suits the issue's tone very well.
We have some waiting to do to see how the story further unfolds.

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