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Cover date: July 2003
Writer: John Byrne
Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: John Byrne
"Century 24: Family Secrets"
Reviewed by: Michael Bailey (GarrickMcNider@aol.com)
As Batman searches through wreckage Wonder Woman calls to him from a distance. Bruce turns to see Diana holding the dying form of Batman's son B.J. Broken and bleeding B.J. asks his father if the plan worked. Batman tells him his idea worked perfectly and that he knocked out all of their weaponry long enough to stage a successful counter attack. Diana summons her robot plan and shortly B.J. is under a physician's care.
The news is not good. The doctor informs Batman that while B.J.'s reinforced costume protected him from some of the damage there are still massive internal injuries. A second doctor adds that there is something not quite right about his biology. Batman explains that the anomaly stems from the lingering effects of Ra's Al Ghul's Lazarus Pit. He instructs the doctor's to do what they can. Diana tries to comfort Bruce saying that she is sure that the physicians will be able to save his son. Batman muses over the words my son before turning and tells her despite the fact that the two of them have been together for a century he never got around to telling her that particular story.
2008 - Gotham City
From her death bed Bruce Wayne's wife thanks him for coming. Dressed in his Batman uniform Bruce thanks her for asking him adding that it would have been too bad if they had not had the chance to say good-bye. He asks her how she feels and she smiles asking him if he means how she feels other than the fact that she is dying. Finally she replies that surprisingly she doesn't feel too bad, adding that she doesn't have to ask how he feels. As Batman draws back his cowl she continues by telling him that he doesn't look a day older than he did on their wedding day. The two continue to talk about Bruce's rejuvenation and the fact that he no longer makes a secret of his double life before B.J. arrives. Bruce seems surprised, but B.J.'s mother points out the fact that he is Bruce's protégé after all. B.J. tells his mother that it has been too long. She agrees saying that she regrets that just as she regrets a lot of things and before she breaks up the family for the last time there is one last thing she needs to tell them.
Days later after her funeral Bruce and B.J. visit a bank to retrieve the contents of a safe deposit box. B.J. locates the box and finds a micro-disc inside. Bruce comments on how it's pretty old technology, which pointed to the fact that his mother must have recorded it some time ago. Soon the two enter the mothballed Batcave giving B.J. a sense of sadness over the fact that the Cave isn't used anymore. As Batman loads the disc into the viewer he explains that while the Cave served him well he can now carry all of the equipment in his utility belt. The disc plays and an image of B.J.'s mother appear and drops the bombshell that B.J. isn't really Bruce's son.
2325 - Metropolis
Archeology students comb through wreckage inside an old hardware store in search of relics from before the Blackout Bomb disaster. One of the female students, Miss Anderson is jubilant after finding a whole box of mini-flashlights in near mint condition. A classmate becomes excited as well telling her that he has seen them in old magazines and that the manufacturer claimed that they would hold a charge for a thousand years. The professor smiles explaining that twenty first century promoters used to claim a lot of thing. Despite this Miss Anderson believes it would be amazing if the flashlight worked. She presses a button and to the surprise of everyone the flashlights works sending a beam of light through the room.
Shortly Superman, grandson of the original, and his daughters, Lois and Lara, are summoned to the scene. Lois tells her father that this could mean that the effects of Luthor's bomb must have finally worn off. Lara agrees adding that it is the only way pre-disaster technology could work. Superman is curious and takes the girls to the Fortress of Solitude. When they arrive the girls remind their father that he always said the Fortress was off limits. As he grabs the giant key Superman explains that he had no way of knowing how the Blackout would have affected the Kryptonian technology. Lois and Lara realize simultaneously that if the effects have worn off then the Fortress if a treasure trove of twentieth century artifacts in addition to all of the items Superman collected from all over the galaxy. Superman flies to the Smallville exhibit hoping that the field generator within the display should have held everything in perfect preservation since before the disaster. Climbing into an antique truck Superman and the girls are all overjoyed when the engine turns over.
2008 - Gotham City
Bruce and B.J. continue to watch the holo-image of B.J.'s mother, who explains that she realizes the revelation must come as a shock and that she also knows the first question must be who is the father, but she chooses to keep that information on a another disk that will be left where she recorded the disc they are watching. She expects that one day it will be found but asks Bruce not to go looking for the information. After the message ends Bruce asks B.J. if he is okay and B.J. replies that he is. He then walks over to the sound analyzer to pour over the message for clue. Bruce asks why he is doing this considering that she asked them not to find the second disc. B.J. counters that she said that Bruce shouldn't find it, not him. B.J. hears a faint sound in the background, which Bruce says is Big Ben, pointing to the fact that the message was recorded in London.
B.J. was determined to follow the clue, but the two made a stop before heading to London. As the two near the landing bay of their destination Bruce tells him there is still time to reconsider. B.J. explains that he is too old for the job, but he doesn't have to stay that way. The two are greeted by Talia, daughter of Ra's Al Ghul, who appears quite young for a woman of sixty. She explains that she had used the Lazarus Pit, which can be used for resurrection but can also be used to restore youth and vitality since Batman's battle with Ghul left the chemistry of the Pit changed. B.J. enters the pit and comes out looking all of eighteen years old. Shortly thereafter he dons a new Robin costume. Batman is surprised how calm and prepared B.J. is for all of this. B.J. explains that he and his mother discussed it at length when she wanted B.J. to first use the Pit.
Soon the duo arrives at Wordenshire Manor. Batman had kept in touch with the Lord of the Manor who had fallen on hard times since the fascist takeover of England. When they knock on the front door a voice tells them to go away and that his taxes are all paid up. Batman calls out and the man lets them in after recognizing their voices. Robin tells his lordship that it has been a long time, but Cyril Worden informs them that those titles have no meaning anymore. Batman tells his old friend that he should have made the visit years ago, but Cyril understands saying that like he and his father used to Batman fights crime, not political upheaval. After saying that not much of anyone fights that anymore since the resistance has shrunk to almost nothing he finally asks why Batman and Robin have come to England.
After a quick explanation Cyril leads them into the old city and takes them to where he thinks Mrs. Wayne would have made the recording. Robin muses on how amazing it is that the neighborhood looks so run down since it used to be the most upscale in not only London, but the world. Suddenly uniformed men appear and demand to know why they are there. Batman warns them to stay out of it causing one of the men to tap Batman with his night stick. A battle begins with Robin and Batman making the first strikes. Batman tells Cyril to stay back. Cyril grins and as he takes out two of the officers tells Batman to worry about himself since he hasn't forgotten what his father taught him when they were the Knight and Squire.
The melee ends quickly and Cyril leads them to the last studio to go out of business and was one of three that Mrs. Wayne owned stock in. Robin looks at the dilapidated studio and wonder what they could find there, but Batman is focusing on the fact that she said the message would be hidden. Just as he finds a faint power signal the police arrive. Men burst into the room through the window and another fight starts. As Batman, Robin and Cyril battle a message from Mrs. Wayne begins to play. She reveals that B.J. is really Bruce's son. Mrs. Wayne explains that she had become fixated on the new properties of the Lazarus Pit and was disturbed that B.J. would not use it to extend his life. She wanted more for her son so she thought if she told them that B.J. wasn't Bruce's son and worded the message carefully that it would entice B.J. to look for the truth and hopefully use the Pit to do so since he would be too old to effectively do the job.
2325 - Smallville
Batman finishes his story and adds that they stayed in England for five years after that getting the resistance back on its feet and see Cyril Worden become Prime Minister of a reborn democracy. The doctors come to the ledge and tell Batman that they have the means to save his son's life but that B.J. has forbidden it. Batman goes to his son to ask why and B.J. tells him that he wants to die in peace. Bruce wonders why he should have to die at all and B.J. explains that he has lived five lifetimes by any normal count. Not only that, he feels he has kept her waiting long enough. Bruce wonders what he is talking about when the ghost of Kara makes herself known. Suddenly B.J. appears as a spirit as well and tells him that Kara has waited three hundred years for it to be B.J.'s time and that now the time has come for them to be together again. They say good-bye adding that they'll see him again when he's ready to stop fighting, though they're sure that won't be for a long, long time.
Story - 5: Superman and Batman: Generations III #5 made me realize how much I want an ongoing Generations series.
I don't usually make these kinds of statements. I am mature enough as a comic fan to realize that just because I like a concept doesn't mean it could hold an ongoing series. A lot of times ideas are built for a limited series or one-shot and that's it. Generations, however, has enough potential in terms of story and character to carry an ongoing series of story-arcs and this issue is one of the reasons why.
Issue five was a nice breather from the main story that has been running through the series thus far. I had wondered how John Byrne would pull off a story like this through twelve issues. I mean doing a century an issue is a great concept, but making it work is another thing. There are certain centuries that haven't been covered all that well in the history of DC comics and I wondered what he was going to do in those centuries that were wide open. The other problem was that Byrne ran a risk of repeating himself by having them fight the Parademons every single issue. Sure the heroes learned better strategies, but the danger of having the story drag was there. It seems that Byrne got around this problem (at least how I saw it) by taking a breather and telling an "untold" tale, which works both in terms of the overall story and the vibe Byrne had been going for.
The story begins and ends with death as we say good-bye to two of the most important people in Bruce Wayne's life. First was his wife (glad to see that there were enough feelings on both sides to keep the two from making their divorce official) whose identity is still a mystery. Personally I always thought it was Catwoman, but that seems kind of obvious. Unless there was something I missed I also thought that maybe it was Batwoman, which would also be fitting, but that's probably just my fanboy side coming though. I always dug Batwoman and while her appearances in the '50s made her seem very one dimensional I still thought the character had a lot of potential.
Besides, everyone associated with Batman (and most other characters) were one dimensional in the '50s.
At any rate Mrs. Wayne's death proved moving and led to an old school Batman story. I've always liked these types of stories with action, suspense (in a "who could it be" kind of way), and a twist ending that make sense in terms of plot and character. The merry chase Bruce and B.J. go on harkens back to the Silver Age but still remains modern in terms of storytelling and characterization.
The introduction of Cyril Worden into the continuity was great. For those of you who don't recognize the name the Knight and Squire were the Batman and Robin of England during the fifties. In reality they were the Earl of Wordenshire and his son Cyril who inhabited stately Wordenshire Castle. The two heroes, inspired by Batman and Robin, would roar into battle on motorcycles made to look like medieval war-horses when the ringing of the bells in the Wordenshire rectory warned them that their services were needed. They were even part of a group of heroes Batman invited to Gotham City in a story called "The Batmen of All Nations" that appeared in Detective Comics #215 (January 1955). The group consisted of the Knight and Squire, the Musketeer (France), the Ranger (Australia) and the Gaucho (South America).
The realization that Bruce is indeed B.J.'s father did not surprise me one bit. I mean I can't see the woman who married Batman having an affair. It doesn't make sense. What does make sense is the fact that Mrs. Wayne turned out to be every bit as manipulative and cunning as her husband, which why I don't think Vicki Vale or Julie Madison are Mrs. Wayne because I don't think either would have had it in them. I mean they would have cared about their children, but it takes a certain mind set to want to use the Pit that belonged to one of the most dangerous men alive to prolong the life of your son. Not only that, but you make the man who is the father of that son doubt that he is the father just get the two of them to work on the case together. While her means were a touch Machiavellian (as Byrne had Batman say in the Man of Steel mini-series) it did get Batman and Robin back together as a team and there is something that feels right about father and son fighting side by side.
Mrs. Wayne is one shrewd woman.
Her actions do seem less manipulative when you compare them to Batman's in the previous issue. I mean Batman used her daughter's injuries to get Wonder Woman back in the game. My feeling is that Mr. and Mrs. Wayne were made for each other.
Like his mother B.J.'s death was touching and, in many ways, fitting. He had lived for centuries and all he wanted was to be at peace with the woman he loved. It was very sweet and while I'll miss B.J. I can't say that it disappoints when he's gone because he finally found peace.
Another thing I liked was the relationship between Bruce and Diana. Most people want to see Superman hook up with Diana. I'm more for Batman. It makes sense that the princess would go for the aristocrat than the farm boy.
I am also curious to see what happens with the sub-plot of the pre-disaster technology suddenly working again. It was interesting to see and a nice excuse to introduce Lois and Lara to the Fortress of Solitude, but there is something about all of this that doesn't feel right.
All in all this was a really solid issue. It had a lot of heart and fit well in the scheme of what Byrne has done before. The whole sub-plot of England being under totalitarian rule was really interesting and kind of echoed Alan Moore's V for Vendetta, which took place during the late nineties in a fascistic England. I don't know if that is what Byrne was going for, but it's what I took from it. Overall this type of information shows how an ongoing series could work. Batman tells Wonder Woman that he and B.J. spent five years in England helping Cyril rejuvenate the resistance. I mean you could do a whole story-arc on Batman and Robin fighting an unjust political system.
This was a great comic and while I look forward to getting back to the main story I also look forward to seeing another issue or two like this one.
Art - 4: Overall the artwork was pretty good this time around. There were times when it was really good and times when it felt like Byrne just wasn't doing his best work.
The good: The Fortress of Solitude for one. There wasn't much in terms of length, but it was kind of cool to see inside the Fortress. The detail on the truck in the Smallville exhibit was a nice touch.
The entire sequence in England was solid. The scenes in and around the castle had some nice detail from them from the vines of the covering the outside of the manor to the painting over the mantle. I loved the Robin outfit and goes well with Generations theme of new costume designs. Byrne seems to have a lot of fun with the new costumes and Robin's just looked cool. It had a nice, swashbuckling look to it and the new shirt and Robin logo was a great touch. I liked the cape as well.
Both fight sequences had a great Kirby feel to them. Page sixteen was especially interesting in displaying that despite the Cyril was an elderly man he was still pretty quick. But the fight scenes were quick, violent and seemed to leap off the page, which made them a delight to look at.
One of the better shots in the comic was on page seventeen and shows that sometimes computer coloring can enhance a scene. The lighting in the last panel was eye-catching and the look on Batman's face was priceless. The look of the fascist police force had a good Nazi feel to them.
The real subtlety to Byrne's art was in Batman and Wonder Woman's relationship. Even before it was revealed that the two were an item they held each other like they were more than friends. They way they held each other towards the end of the story was telling as well. I don't know if the relationship is that of convenience, Byrne drew the two as if they were completely comfortable with each other.
B.J.'s death was touching and I liked the fact that his astral form was in the first Batman uniform he wore. It said volumes to how B.J. thought of himself.
The bad: The smiles. There was a lot of grinning in this issue and in some places it looked very lopsided. Towards the ends everyone was grinning and they all looked crooked. It took away from the art a bit and was distracting.
Talia looked... odd. On page twelve she looked like an airhead with her huge grin. Maybe it was just odd seeing her smile at all since the character hardly ever did so. But I guess if you found the way to eternal life and were free of a monster of a father you would smile a lot too.
Page for was a bit off as well. Batman looked fine, but Mrs. Wayne looked more like an old Indian than a dying woman. This isn't meant to be funny, but the detail seemed a bit off and not like the quality of work that Byrne has done in the series thus far.
There was more good and bad in this issue. A lot more actually and Byrne managed to match the mood that the story seemed to be going for.
Cover Art - 4: While I thought the figure work wasn't as solid as it could have been this cover had a serious feeling of desolation and sadness. The background work was detailed and made me feel isolated since the only figures were Batman, Wonder Woman and the dying form of B.J. The figure work was my main problem. Batman looked fine, despite the fact that the uniform didn't match the one he wore on the inside (saying that made me feel like a serious fanboy, I just thought you'd like to know that). Wonder Woman looked stiff and that took away from the cover slightly.
On the other hand the cover did make you want to see what was going on inside the comic. If a reader had picked this up as his or her first issue they would be faced with Batman holding the broken form of a Batman type character with Wonder Woman looking on. I'd give it a "grab me" factor of nine out of ten.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2003.