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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Monday’s episode of Gotham, “This Ball of Mud and Meanness.”]
Who is Matches Malone?
For those who saw Monday’s episode of Gotham, he’s a professional assassin who certainly seems to have killed Bruce Wayne’s parents — or, at least, certainly wanted to give the impression that he did. To fans of Batman’s comic book adventures, however, neither of those facts are true. Indeed, not only did Matches not kill Bruce Wayne’s parents in comic book lore, but he has a secret identity all of his own: Bruce Wayne himself.
Matches first appeared in 1972’s Batman No. 242, created by writer Dennis O’Neill and artist Irv Novick. The comic book Matches was far from the haunted killer in Gotham. Instead, he was a small-time criminal who had a reputation for defusing conflict between mob bosses. He was also especially unlucky; during a confrontation with Batman, his gun went off accidentally, killing him immediately. But that, surprisingly, was just the beginning of Matches Malone’s career.
While the “real” Matches was dead, Batman assumed his identity as a means of infiltrating the underworld. Not only the world’s greatest detective, Batman was also such a good gimmick that he could mimic Matches’ look, voice and mannerisms so well that no one could tell that he wasn’t the real thing. It was as a fake identity for the Dark Knight that Matches made the majority of his irregular comic book appearances, from the 1970s all the way through to the 2012’s Batman, Incorporated No. 3.
Of course, that there had been a real Matches at some point would allow for the fact that he had killed the Waynes to be true, if it wasn’t for the existence of Joe Chill — the real comic book killer behind the origin of Batman.
The mugger that killed the Waynes in Batman’s comic book mythology — the original version of the story favored a random mugging over Gotham‘s hit man theory, at least to begin with — made his debut in 1939’s Detective Comics No. 33, but didn’t get a name until nine years later, when Batman No. 47 showed Bruce Wayne solving his parents’ murder and confronting Chill by unmasking and declaring, melodramatically, “I am the son of the man you murdered! I am Bruce Wayne!!”
Chill’s status has changed many times across the years: He has been a mugger, a hit man hired by a mob boss sick of the Waynes‘ influence on society, an assassin who teamed with Batman to deal with a second vigilante in Gotham City and even a low-level crime boss who murdered the Waynes as part of his rise to prominence.
For a brief period, he was even written out of the comic book mythology altogether — it was decided that Batman worked better if his quest to bring his parents’ killer to justice never ended — but in today’s version of events, he’s an alcoholic who killed the Waynes for the money to buy booze. It’s not the happiest version of events, but one arguably in keeping with Gotham‘s outlook on the world.
Following the events of “This Ball of Mud and Meanness,” it certainly seems as if the televisual Bruce Wayne has ended his quest to find his parents’ killer, but questions remain: Was Malone (Michael Bowen) telling the truth about remembering killing the Waynes, or just telling Bruce what he wanted to hear? And if he was, who hired him to kill the Waynes in the first place? As with everything else on the show, there’s a lot to unpack in order to find the truth, but one fact should be remembered while searching — Gotham hasn’t introduced a Joe Chill into the show just yet.
Gotham airs on Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox.
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