Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Return of Batman’s ‘Opposite Number’—The Wrath

You can relax now. FanBoyWonder has escaped our day job-induced captivity deep within the bowels of Walt Disney Hell for a conference. All it took was a $70 cab ride, 30 minutes in line of the clusterf**k that is otherwise known as the security line at Orlando International Airport and a 2 hour flight. Free at last!

Now that we’re back, here’s a little nugget about the return of an obscurely classic member of Batman’s rogue’s gallery.

Some 25 years after he made his first and only appearance, one of the best Batman villains many younger comic book fans never heard of—The Wrath—is on the cusp of a renaissance of sorts with new appearances this month in the comics and on animated television.

Created by writer Mike W. Barr and artists Michael Golden and Mike DeCarlo, The Wrath debut during the early winter weeks of 1984 in Batman Special #1 in a story titled “The Player on the Other Side.”

He was the Dark Knight’s dark mirror twin in skill, ability and obsession as it turns out 25 years earlier on the night of June 26 he was orphaned when his parents were shot and killed before his eyes—the same night, perhaps the same moment as a young Bruce Wayne.

Bruce Wayne’s wealthy parents were killed by a mugger named Joe Chill while the boy who would become The Wrath saw his petty criminal parents shot then Patrolman James Gordon when he returned the father’s gunfire.

Besides the social-economic differences between the two orphaned boys, the key difference was the on-the-scene intervention by social worker Leslie Thompkins embraced him at the scene and the memory of her compassion drove Bruce Wayne to become the world’s most driven crime fighter.

Wayne’s counterpart had no such intervention and was thrown into a world of crime. “A world that threatened to break the child…unless he broke it. So he became the master of the dark world and he knew he would never leave it…until he slayed the slayer of his parents.”

Like the Dark Knight, the Wrath was a mysterious and fearful character. His costume though crimson colored with a W-insignia on the chest and cowl, was quite similar to Batman’s and his silhouette left an identical shadow and impression.

The Wrath (like Batman) distinguishes himself for perfection and obsession in what he does and wears a costume that is very similar to Batman's (though colored in crimson and purple with a W-insignia on the chest and cowl).

As Batman tries to protect now Commissioner Gordon from the Wrath, the clash between the two mirror twins becomes inevitable. Interesting that Batman knows precious little about his opponent—not even his name—while the Wrath (who is referred to by name only once during the introduction) swiftly and figures out Batman is Bruce Wayne and targets first Alfred and then Leslie Tompkins.

During pulse pounding personal combat on roof top between Batman and Wrath—expertly illustrated by Golden and DeCarlo—the Wrath dies when he falls burning from atop of the building.

We loved this story as a kid as we read it again and again but the story was not without flaws. The most glaring was the tremendously implausible circumstance of boys the same age having their parents killed in similar ways on the very same night as well as the Wrath’s costume design that just happen to look amazingly like Batman’s.

Despite this, it was an intriguing look to see the path that Bruce Wayne might have traveled if not for the compassion of Leslie Tompkins to say nothing of his fabulous wealth keeping him out of the clutches the social-welfare system and the clutches of state custody.

Published a year before the CRISIS on Infinite Earths, “The Player On The Other Side” and the creation of the Wraith has never been either definitively sanctioned as canon or repudiated as an “imaginary” Batman story within the continuity of the DCU.

While a classic and an great example of Batman as fighter, detective and avenger, Batman Special #1 was essential a one-off story that we hadn’t thought of in years and a story that’s never been revisited since---until now.

This month The Wrath is back in a big way—first as the villain of the week in Kids WB animated series The Batman in an episode titled “The End of The Batman” which airs this Saturday.

Here’s the episode’s Upshot from the Kids' WB: "Batman and Robin meet their criminal twins, Wrath and Scorn, a dynamic duo dedicated to helping villains. Matters get even more complicated when Batman and Wrath uncover each other's secret identity. Guest characters include a cavalcade of villainy: Joker, Penguin, Ventriloquist, Killer Croc and Wrath/Will Mallory & Scorn/Andy Mallory."

Then writer Tony Bedard with artists by Rags Morales and Mark Farmer revive The Wraith in a story starting in this month’s Batman Confidential, on sale Feb. 20.

Here’s the Upshot From DC Comics: Beginning the 4-part arc "Wrath Child," with art by Rags Morales! Batman and Nightwing become embroiled in the return of a major nemesis who was thought to be dead long ago: The Wrath has returned!

Call us old-fashioned or just plain old but we really didn’t see the need to re-visit The Wrath and frankly we’re afraid of seeing Mike Barr’s classic story diminished by a weak, unworthy sequel.

But that said we are curious and intrigued and the fact that Nightwing is a part of the story hurts not at all. Stay tuned.
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