Kite Man, a villain whose only ability is his proficiency with the huge kite he flies around with, has been one of the most consistently charming parts of Tom King’s run on Batman Rebirth. In this week’s issue, we finally learn the origins of his signature catchphrase and as is often the case in Gotham City, they’re tragic.
For the better part of the past 26 issues of Batman, we’ve really only seen Kite-Man gliding around the Gotham skyline enthusiastically shouting to himself: “Kite Man, hell yeah!” before being apprehended by the authorities. Kite Man’s appearances have mostly served as comedic relief to Batman’s larger brooding tone, but issue #27 is a flashback to Kite Man’s days before he was a villain back when he was a modest aerodynamics specialist who went by Charles “Chuck” Brown, which is without a doubt the greatest name for Kite Man that could ever have been selected.
Charles Brown never quite realized his dream of going into legit aeronautics, instead turning to a life of crime-by-proxy when he agreed to work as one of the engineers responsible for creating the Jokermobile. In an attempt to track the Joker down and put an end to his feud with the Riddler that’s tearing Gotham apart, Batman corners Brown in a bar one night and orders him to arrange a meeting with the Joker, which Brown begrudgingly agrees to do.
In a perfect world, Batman would have stepped out of the shadows at Brown and the Joker’s meeting, apprehended the two criminals, and brought the War of Jokes and Riddles to a prompt end. But again, this is Gotham City, where everything is terrible.
Now mind you, while all of this is going on at night, by day Brown is still managing to live a relatively normal life raising his son. In a scene that nicely contrasts Brown’s life as a criminal stooge, we see him with his son Charlie (uh-huh) enjoying their shared fondness for flying kites. After chastising Charlie for saying “hell yeah,” Brown tells him that he won’t be able to come to a party being thrown for the boy that upcoming weekend—news that doesn’t initially seem to bother Charlie all that much. Brown’s missing the party, he explains, because he’s got a meeting to attend.
But Brown has to make further changes to his schedule when the Riddler catches wind of Batman’s plan to use Brown to flush out the Joker. The Riddler arranges a meeting with Brown of his own and tells the man that he’ll kill Brown so unless Brown double-crosses Bats and the Joker, giving him a chance to kill them all and be done with their feud.
When everyone eventually meets up, chaos ensues and Brown’s dragged away from the fracas in one of the darkest, most perfect shoutouts to Charles Schultz of all time.
The Joker’s surprisingly understanding about why Brown betrayed him and gives the would-be engineer a shot at redemption in the form of a suicide bombing. Joker sends Brown to Batman again, this time armed with explosives meant to blow them all to smithereens, but when Brown tries to detonate the vest.. nothing. At first, he thinks it’s a joke, but we soon learn the meaning of the bomb failure in the form of a riddle.
At this point in the story, Batman’s assured Brown that, despite the Riddler’s threats, his son is safe, save for a cold. But in his riddle delivered over the phone, the Riddler asks Brown:
“I love to dance and and twist and prance. I shake my tail as away I sail. I high fly up into the sky. What am I?”
Horrified, Brown realizes that the Riddler is speaking about a kite—a kite much like the one Brown took his son to fly in a park before his most recent meeting with the Riddler. Off-page, the Riddler lets Brown know that his son’s mysterious sickness isn’t a cold, but rather the early effects of a lethal poison the Riddler arranged to have the string of Brown’s son’s kite coated in.
Not long after their phone call, Charlie dies and Brown, distraught, retreats into his home where he’s bombarded with newscasts discussing the Joker’s war with the Riddler. Despite the fact that their beef is technically over whether who gets to kill Batman, the Joker and the Riddler’s conflict is continuously impacting the citizens of Gotham who have little to no direct dogs in the fight.
It’s in that moment that Brown decides to formally fall in line with the Joker in his war and adopt a brand new identity for himself: