I’ve been a big fan of comic book doppelgangers since I started reading super-hero comics. I don’t why, but those kinds of stories have always proved to be an entertaining concept when executed correctly. That was why in 1984 when I saw a comic book called Batman Special #1 featuring a purple Batman on the cover called the Wrath, I was hooked. The book was written by a comics legend Mike W. Barr and drawn masterfully by Michael Golden; an artist so far ahead of his team. I’ll talk a little more about that book in a moment, but when I heard DC Comics was going reintroduce The Wrath and his teenage sidekick Scorn as part of the New 52, I had mixed feelings: pleased to see the Wrath return, but worried that it would be an unrecognizable character. Certainly the concept art for DC New 52 Wrath, and the various costume options DC had to choose from for him, and the concept art for Scorn were promising.
Writer John Layman brought The Wrath and Scorn into the DC Comics New 52 in Detective Comics #22. The Wrath was pitched as the anti-Batman and his sidekick in the issue was eager to please.
Layman is best known for cult comic classic Chew from Image Comics focusing on a cop who can use his sense of taste (initial reaction: gross) to solve gruesome crimes (ultimate reaction: entertaining). Certainly it would be expected that Layman would bring his out-of-the-box thinking to the DC Comics New 52. And boy, did he! I didn’t know what to expect from the arc, but I can say that I was shocked by the cliff-hanger to Detective Comics #22. And that ending had me hooked! It is unfortunate that the DC Comics New 52 Wrath arc was only three issues (Detective Comics #22, 23 and 24), but all the issues were fast-paced by Layman and beautifully drawn by Jason Fabok.
In October’s Detective Comics #24 we learned of The Wrath’s origin. Before we get to that, DC Comics released preview pages that continue to showcase how Batman and his anti-Batman The Wrath are similar yet dissimilar. The preview pages also reveal The Wrath’s revenge plan against the Gotham City Police Department.
The DC Comics New 52 Batman seems to be very sleek and subtle in his and his equipment’s designs whereas The Wrath has his toys too, but they’re more bulky and intimidating. In fact The Wrath may have more in common with the silver screen’s Batman The Dark Knight Rises caped crusader, played by actor Christian Bale, than the two-dimensional comic version. The Wrath’s plane (see below left) looks very much like or inspired by The Dark Knight Rises’ batmobile “Tumbler” (see below right).
The origin of the DC Comics New 52 still has the anti-police angle of the original 1980’s Wrath, but updated and not involving James Gordon directly. However, Gordon is involved in getting justice for The Wrath’s alter ego Eric Caldwell. Which was actually done well before Batman subdued The Wrath.
In the 1980’s, Batman and The Wrath were both spandex clad characters. In the DC New 52, Batman’s costume is no longer spandex, but tough yet durable leather over metal and other protective equipment (see below left). Even with that, the Batman is mismatched by the DC New 52’s The Wrath armored costume. To even that playing field, Batman gets new Bat-armor (see below right) to help him take down The Wrath.
The Wrath is captured and despite knowing that James Gordon brought the dirty cops that wronged his family to justice, the imprisoned Eric Caldwell doesn’t care and is open to a partnership with…
… former Ignatius Ogilvy, former Emperor Penguin, current Emperor Blackgate.
With Blackgate prison torn asunder during Forever Evil and the escapees predominantly aligned with Bane in his fight to claim Gotham City from the lunatics that were freed from Arkham Asylum (playing out in Forever Evil: Arkham War – see big issue #1 spoilers to get caught up), will we see The Wrath during Forever Evil somewhere? I sure hope so!
Let’s now look back the history of DC Comics’ Wrath pre-New 52.
The Wrath debuted in an amazing one-shot in 1984’s Batman Special #1. Legendary writer Mike W. Barr and top artist Michael Golden. It was a story about a villain with a vendetta against police and whose look was very much inspired by Batman. I don’t believe we ever knew the Wrath’s alter ego at this time, but the one-shot still gave us his origin. Which in its telling was contrasted with Bruce Wayne, The Batman’s.
The Wrath strived be the top hitman and specialized in offing Police Officers after a rookie James Gordon killed his parents. However, what made Batman Special #1 — um — special (beyond the coolness of the writing, the art, the introduction of The Wrath and his contrasting with Batman) was that fact that it had a definite ending.
The Wrath was dead and like with the death of Batman’s second Robin Jason Todd or the death of Captain America’s first sidekick Bucky, that death meant something and lasted a long time. But Jason Todd is back in DC Comics New 52 as Red Hood and Bucky is back as the Winter Soldier in Marvel Now. And now, a/The Wrath is back and alive in the DC Comics New 52. Different from his 1980’s incarnation, but still around to tangle with the Batman.
The year 2008 was a big year for The Wrath as he returned to comics and made his TV cartoon debut.
In Batman Confidential #13 through #16, a/The Wrath returns in the “Wrath Child” arc by writer Tony Bedard and uber artist Rags Morales.
The original Wrath is still dead, but someone has assumed his nom de guerre and his war on the police. In the issue we eventually learn that the new Wrath is Eric Caldwell (the name used by DC Comics in its New 52 incarnation of the character). And, before Batman surmises who this new Wrath is, the character shares further information on the slightly tweaked back story of the original Wrath.
We learn that this new Wrath was the original’s “Robin” doppleganger. He had a deadly audition for the role of Wrath’s sidekick that several kids before him didn’t survive. At the end of the arc, this new Wrath loses, lives and is sent to Blackgate prison. Essentially never heard from again in the pre-New 52 continuity.
In that same year, a/The Wrath and his newly named sidekick “Scorn” debuted on WB Kids’ The Batman cartoon in the Season 5, episode 10 offering titled “End of the Batman”.
This time, the criminal characters are brothers William and Andrew Mallory who work to help villains by slowing down Batman and his sidekicks. Through the episode they discover Batman and Robin’s secret identities. When The Wrath and Scorn are eventually defeated, they threaten to expose the Batman and Robin’s identities, but are poisoned by Joker’s laughing gas as he sees it has his role to defeat Batman and crew.
It was pretty cool to see The Wrath make the jump to the small screen.
In 2009, a trade paperback was released that pulled together the 1984 Batman Special #1 and the 2008 Batman Confidential arc. All-Wrath, all the time, folks!
Batman: The Wrath
The Wrath returns from the shadows of the past in this new collection featuring BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL #13-16 and 1984’s BATMAN SPECIAL #1, which introduced The Wrath! But how does this mysterious foe know so much about Batman’s past?
Written by: Mike Barr / Tony Bedard
Pencilled by: Michael Golden / Rags Morales
Inked by: Mike DeCarlo / Mark Farmer / Rodney Ramos / Mick Gray
Cover Color by: David Baron / Peter Pantazis
Lettered by: Todd Klein / John J. Hill / DC Lettering
Page Count: 144
U.S. Price: 17.99
On Sale Date: Dec 23 2009
Christmas is coming up. I highly recommend that you pick up this classic tpb for yourself or a friend. The stories are well written. The art is AMAZING. And the characters are compelling even if they aren’t in the DC Comics New 52 continuity. See what the current Wrath is derived from!
To circle back to where this column started, for 2013’s DC New 52 offering of The Wrath, John Layman and Jason Fabok crafted a summer movie blockbluster type arc that had high drama and equally high action. An excellent arc with its concluding chapter in Detective Comics #24 still on stands now. Hurry, run.
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Tags: Batman, Dark Knight Returns, DC Comics, forever evil, Forever Evil: Arkam War, Jason Fabok, John Layman, New 52 (DC Comics), Rags Morales, The Dark Knight Rises, Tony Bedard