“I’m reviewing the situation;
Can a fellow be a villain all his life?
All the trials and tribulations!
Better settle down and get myself a wife.”
— Fagin, Oliver!
The plane eventually reached a rather palatial compound deep in the snowy Himalayas, where the passengers disembarked. They were greeted by obsequious servants who ushered them inside a luxurious building where their senses were briefly dazzled by an impressive array of exotic sights and smells. Rich tapestries lined the walls as aromatic spices and a variety of foods covered tables.
Owlman and Raven dined as directed, and then Owlman followed the Red Hood into a round chamber marked by the stark absence of any furniture except for two chairs and a desk. A tall man with deep-set dark eyes, a balding forehead, and the graceful, tapering hands of a musician or sculptor sat behind the desk. He wore a high-collared robe of dark green. His face betrayed little emotion, but there was something in his demeanor that suggested he was more than capable of feeling extreme emotions.
“You are welcome here, Protector,” he said.
“I assume you are my son’s mysterious benefactor,” said Owlman. “You and I have much to discuss. What gave you the right to steal my child away from me and raise him according to your own eccentric whims? How dare you interfere with me? Do you even realize what kind of man I am and what I’m capable of doing?”
The seemingly ageless man smiled and said, “I brought you back here for the express purpose of answering those exact questions, Protector!”
“I have no taste for wordplay,” said Owlman. “What do you want from me? What do you mean you brought me back here? I’ve certainly been in this part of the world before, but I’ve never met you!”
“In truth, you and I have often sat across from one another in this manner,” began La Mano Aperta. “Allow me to lift the veil that has until now blocked those memories. You see, I too possess mental talents, and it was I who brought your own powers into activation!”
Owlman frowned and touched one hand to his brow for a second before recovering an impassive expression.
“It — it was you!” he cried. “The memories I have of recovering from the coma in Gotham City were false ones, as were many of my recollections about how I spent the time following my recovery. You placed them there to conceal the fact that you–!”
“That I gave birth to Owlman!” said La Mano Aperta.
“You and your group trained me! You taught me the very skills I’ve used since I adopted the Owlman persona! Tell me why you bothered to do it. Why did you turn me into the man I am?” he demanded.
La Mano Aperta said, “I saw the potential you had to be a truly remarkable man. I recognized that, in many ways, you were already exceptional. I also realized that you might have your own plans, and those plans might differ from my own! I deliberately raised young Thomas as I did because I sensed that he could, in time, become as amazing as his father!
“Come with me, Protector!” he continued, rising from his chair behind the desk. “I would like to show you something of which even your newly restored memories have no trace. It is called the Waters of Rejuvenation!”
The ancient man led Owlman and the Red Hood down a narrow pathway to an enclosed pool of crystal clear water, while Raven and Red Raven remained behind at the table. Each youth seemed to sense that his respective mentor needed time apart from reminders of his costumed career.
“You put me in those waters when you first brought me here!” said Owlman. “Those waters brought me out of the coma! I’m starting to remember!”
The Red Hood added, “Those same healing waters cured me of my childhood ills and enabled La Mano Aperta to help me control my own mental powers. You and I always had the potential for such a power, but it took the waters to bring forth the ability.”
“You said I had been here before, but something tells me you meant I’ve been here numerous times!” said Owlman.
La Mano Aperta nodded. “Shortly before the strange events known to our world as the Big Sleep, but referred to elsewhere as the Crisis, I summoned you here, and you once more bathed in the waters. (*) They not only revitalized you, but they made you physically superior to almost anyone! I felt it was necessary, since I wanted to make certain you would be at your mental and physical peak when at last you and I faced each other.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Crime Syndicate of America: The Forgotten Earth, Chapter 1: Crisis Averted.]
This was perhaps the answer to something that had long puzzled Thomas Wayne. As Owlman he had been rather gaunt throughout most of his career with the Crime Syndicate, preferring to develop his mental powers over his physical prowess. However, by the summer of 1985 he had quickly and effortlessly regained the same athletic shape he’d once had in his youth, but he had never known why until now. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Summoning,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 (April, 1985).]
Owlman looked over at his son and said, “It may be pointless for me to tell you that I love you, or that I sincerely thought that clinic was the best place you could be. Nor can I truly say that I feel remorse for the path I’ve walked since I first left this place and became Owlman. But I will say that I see now why you brought me here. You hate me, and you want your adoptive father to kill me!”
The Red Hood looked at his father with an intense gaze that revealed strong emotion. “I brought you here, father, because I love you, and I wanted him to save you!”
“He speaks the truth,” said La Mano Aperta. “I call you Protector, because that is what you may yet become! It is not too late for you to use your talents to safeguard your fellow man. You have been placed in a position where you alone are suited to become the leader of my organization upon my eventual demise. I have groomed you to become my future heir! It is true that you have walked through much darkness, but you are now more fully equipped than most to dispel such shadows!”
“Father, listen to him!” said the Red Hood. “You understand what he’s saying! I know you do!”
Owlman glanced from his son to the mysterious ancient and said, “I can’t believe it, but I do understand it. You are right. I may be the one man capable of bringing down the Crime Syndicate for good! I’ve already taken certain precautions along those lines, but neither of you can force me to become some kind of hero!”
La Mano Aperta spread his arms and said, “Nor would we try to force you to do anything. We have merely reacquainted you with your true origin and pointed the way toward your possible future! Go from this place when you choose, and consider my offer! Should you decide to become the man we believe you could be, return to us. We will be waiting!”
Thomas Wayne, Jr. took his father’s arm and said, “Join us! Fight by my side! I couldn’t ask for a better partner! You know that you could defeat the other villains. You could do it easier than Luthor ever could!”
Owlman took his son’s hand for a moment, then dropped it. “Can a fellow be a villain all his life?” he said. “That’s the old lyric I remember. I promise you that you have given me much to think about. You will hear from me, and we will see each other again. I promise.”
As he walked away from the waters, La Mano Aperta stepped over to Thomas Wayne, Jr. and said, “Do not worry. We may have reached him. He may leave this place a villain and return to us one day as this world’s greatest hero!”
If Owlman heard them, he made no sign. He merely walked back to his ward and gestured for Raven to follow him out of the compound.
“What’s going on?” asked Raven. “Are we going to fight that old creep? Are we going to kill another hero?”
Owlman looked back at the boy and said, “It’s too early to say.”