Tom King’s Batman has been on quite a roll in the last several months. While always a consistent comic since DC Rebirth started these last few months have been on another level. That was all capped off by the perfect comic that Batman Annual #2 ended up closing out 2017 for the series. Now entering 2018 King seems be going back to Bruce Wayne’s origins as a new threat over Gotham City rises. Who exactly is this new threat and what do they have to do with Bruce’s past? Let’s find out with the first Batman issue of the new year in Batman #38.
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Travis Moore
Colorist: Giulia Brusco
Story Rating: 10 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: Bruce comes home to spend the night with Selina.
Meanwhile a kid named Matthew comes home and finds his parents dead in their house.
Sometime after this, while in a state of shock, Matthew has his butler, Mr. Taylor, call him “Master Bruce,” something he did to make himself laugh. The kid ends up breaking down asking Bruce how to deal with his parents being killed.
Later that night Batman meets with Commissioner Gordon to go over how Matthew’s parents were murdered by Zsasz.
Batman interrogates Zsasz on how he escaped prison and killed the two people. Zsasz just says he likes cutting much to Batman’s frustration.
Batman then goes to inspect Zsasz prison cell. From how the cell is kept and the video footage Batman can tell Zsasz didn’t kill the two people and only took credit for them. Batman then requests the letter Zsasz was cutting himself with
At the Batcave Batman goes over the contents of the letter and is able to decipher an address from what initially looked like junk mail.
Batman goes to the address but is too late as he finds two other people dead in their bedrooms.
Batman goes back to speak with Zsasz on how the address was his childhood home. He then indicates that Zsasz killed his own parents back in the day which sets the villain off only to be knocked out by Batman.
The next day Bruce goes back to meet Matthew, who is both angry and sad over the GCPD going back and forth about who is responsible for his parents deaths. Bruce says he will make sure the cowards responsible will be brought to justice.
Sometime later Batman meets Gordon at a murder scene where the clues now point to Two-Face being responsible for all the killings.
In bed while Selina is sleeping Bruce talks about how sloppy all the murders have been to point the clues to Two-Face and Zsasz being the culprits. He suddenly thinks of something from all the information he has gathered and goes to check on a hunch.
Later that night Batman goes to Mr. Taylor’s apartment. Mr. Taylor quickly jumps out his window but is caught by Batman.
Batman takes Mr. Taylor to a lion’s den and demands to know why he committed the murder. Mr. Taylor admits he did it for the money he would get as the trustee of the estate.
Bruce goes to Matthew to let him know the police caught Mr. Taylor. Matthew thanks Bruce for helping him and says he hopes to be like Bruce after this.
Bruce then goes to have dinner with Selina. While they talk about the case Bruce realizes that everything that happened had a feeling of being childish, which gives him an epiphany.
Batman finds Matthew at his parents grave scratching their names off and putting Thomas and Martha Wayne on the grave stones. Batman says he knows Matthew killed his own parents. Completely deranged he says that Batman does not understand and repeats what Bruce said about being scared. Batman notices that Matthew carved “Thomas” and “Martha” in his cheeks. Matthew slaps Batman and says “Master Bruce” is the cure.
Sometime later Bruce gets back home after taking Matthew to a mental institution, sad at the events that just occurred.
At the mental institution Matthew is happy that he is what he believes “Master Bruce” would be. End of issue.
The Good: Continuing the trend of recent issues Tom King delivers another fantastic story with Batman #38. What makes Batman #38 stand out in particular is how in one issue we are able to see the complete origin of a brand new villain to add to Batman’s Rogues Gallery. Not only is the new addition terrifying in how he is built up but what he actually represents within the best comic book Rogues Gallery.
From the beginning of Batman #38 King is able to establish an uneasy feeling around what is going on in this issue’s story. There is a sense that like Batman we are discovering what is really going on with each page that goes by. Crafting the issue in such a way made how King presented the various clues into what was going on even more key in developing Matthew as a character and Zsasz as a secondary antagonist. That build up made how things turned out an even more horrifying result than expected.
It’s from that beginning that King is able to craft Batman #38 as a Bruce Wayne story rather that Batman. There was a personal stake that Bruce immediately took with the case of Matthew’s parents death that did not need the Batman cowl to be involved. In doing so it makes reading all of Bruce’s dialogue, whether in or out of the cowl, read in his voice rather than Batman’s. This point of view made following all the clues Bruce made the case feel more personal than the normal adventures we have seen him in as Batman.
Giving the story that personal stake also made each time Bruce interacted with Matthew take on a different meaning from other villains. Because for Bruce, he saw in Matthew someone that went through the same exact thing as he did. In projecting that feeling of fear and loneliness Bruce possibly made it even harder for himself as Batman to figure out what was going on. That blind spot perfectly played into how Bruce can at times be so narrow focused that he doesn’t see every angle of a situation.
Seeing Bruce act in such a way added to how we end up discovering Matthew as the one behind everything. In many ways Matthew is a vision of how Bruce could’ve taken an even darker path people like Alfred to raise him. Adding in how Matthew kept having his guardian, Mr. Taylor, call him “Master Bruce” added an extra sense of creepiness to his obsession with Bruce. That was clue enough to show that there was something off with Matthew even before his parents were killed. There was a shivering aura that King was able to create that was unique to Matthew as a character.
That all made the final few scenes of Batman #38 even more chilling. It’s in these scenes where we see how far gone Matthew is with his obsession about being “Master Bruce,” especially with how he scratched Thomas and Martha Wayne’s name on his face. That visual alone was enough to see how this entire case threw Bruce off when he confronted Matthew as Batman. Seeing Batman clearly taken aback, even if it was for a moment, made the scene even more powerful as he realized Matthew was beyond being saved. That all added to how King positions Matthew as a Bruce Wayne villain rather than a Batman villain. That clear distinction between a Bruce Wayne and Batman villain elevates what Matthew represents within the franchise.
As all of this goes on King does a good job making Zsasz into a compelling secondary antagonist. King does a good job at showing how Zsasz takes pleasure in all the deaths going on that he was willing to take responsibility for them all. Going back and reading Batman #38 there was an added creepiness to how he interacted with Batman once we knew the full extent of Matthew’s evil nature. It also does make the reader wonder if Zsasz, after all the death and destruction he has caused, is mentally ready to meet his end.
While not given a lot of dialogue it was good to see King continue to integrate Selina into Bruce’s day to day life. Not having Selina in her Catwoman costume was actually refreshing. Because this actually shows how Bruce and Selina are all in on making things work this time around that they want to be what the other comes home to at the end of their respective days. That sense of normalcy adds to how King is developing Bruce and Selina’s relationship in a way that is more relatable to real couples.
Adding to King’s story was how Travis Moore executed on the tone of Batman #38 through his artwork. Moore made every scene have a sense that there was something off throughout Batman’s investigation. That added to how Moore crafted each page involving Bruce and Matthew’s interaction to have an aura of creepiness as you could see there was something not right with the kid. Moore delivered on that aura by how he drew Matthew as a complete psychopath.
The Bad: Nothing.
Overall: Batman #38 is one of those comics that gets better each time you read it. Tom King created such a fascinating new Batman villain in the kid named Matthew that when you read the issue again you take the story in differently. The fact that Matthew ended up being more of a Bruce Wayne villain added to how terrifying the kid was during the final few pages of his issue. If you are a Batman fan and did not pick up Batman #38 yet do yourself a favor by purchasing this comic book. This is a must buy for Batman fans.