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Batman Would've Died With His Parents, But [SPOILER] Secretly Saved Him

Contains spoilers for "The Endless Staircase" appearing in Are You Afraid of Darkseid?

DC has given a new, eerie layer to Batman’s origin by revealing the Phantom Stranger’s involvement. In “The Endless Staircase” a short story appearing in the new Are You Afraid of Darkseid? one-shot, on sale now in print and digital, readers see the important role the Stranger played in one of the most monumental, and tragic, events in DC history.

Created by writer John Broome and artist Carmine Infantino, the Phantom Stranger first appeared in the first issue of his eponymous title in 1952. Fans know him today as a ghostly figure who handles supernatural threats, but in his earliest appearances, he was merely a normal man. When the character was revived in the late 1960’s, he was changed into a supernatural being; he has never been given a true concrete origin, and multiple accounts of how he came to be circulated. Nearly every major hero in the DC Universe has crossed paths with the Phantom Stranger, and he was even a reserve member of the Justice League at one point. The Phantom Stranger always seems to be playing a deeper game, playing his cards close to the chest, and nowhere is that more apparent than in “The Endless Staircase.” The story is by Collin Kelley, Jackson Lanzing, Jesus Hervas, Eva De La Cruz, and Clem Robins.

Related: Batman Actually Succeeded in His Original Mission Before Joker Arrived

The Phantom Stranger is moving through time, collecting individuals at specific moments, ushering them to the Endless Staircase, telling them: “I am sorry. Come home.” One person is in ancient Egypt, forging a sword of Nth Metal, another is a comic artist who can inadvertently destroy the multiverse; the Stranger even comes for the now-extinct dodo birds. One of his stops is Crime Alley, in Gotham City, where Joe Chill has just shot and killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. Narration reveals that Chill almost pulled the trigger on Bruce too, but something stopped him. The Phantom Stranger then appears to take him up the Endless Staircase, telling Joe Chill that he must go because if he does not, Bruce will grow up to be an ordinary person—and the world will be deprived of Batman.

The story is mysterious and elliptical, remaining vague about the Stranger’s motivations, and what he means by “I am sorry. Come home.” Every individual the Stranger collects is a threat in some way, be it to the multiverse, their families, or to a future Batman. The Phantom Stranger’s reasoning that Bruce would never become Batman if Joe Chill was caught is solid. Chill’s immediate capture may have brought closure to the murder of Bruce’s parents, and somehow prevent him from becoming Batman. The Stranger made Joe Chill “disappear.” Bruce, seeing that his parent’s killer was never caught, will now have the drive to become the Dark Knight, and make a greater impact on the world.

The Phantom Stranger’s involvement in Batman’s origin adds layers. It adds a spooky layer, but also reinforces the origin’s story tragedy, that Bruce Wayne had to suffer to become a great hero.

Next: Batman's Name Almost Got a Hilarious New Origin in DC's New 52

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