Team Batman may have escaped from the Colony, but the war is far from over. Colonel Kane’s dangerous plan to take out the League of Shadows is set in motion, and the Dark Knight’s band of vigilantes has nary a moment to catch their breath with the safety of Gotham’s citizens on the line. Can the heroes prevent bloodshed? And can the fractured relationship between Kate and her father ever be mended? Spoilers follow, so turn back now or proceed at your own risk.
A dysfunctional family
After a poignant flashback, our story opens as Batman and company return to the Belfry, which is in a sorry state after the Colony’s incursion. As the base sets about healing itself (yes, you read that right—now go read the comic for yourself if you haven’t already!), Tim gains a startlingly clear perspective on the Colonel’s strategy. As the team scrambles to protect against collateral damage, the solution becomes evident to Red Robin, but it comes at a cost Batman cannot bear.
Whether intentionally or not, DC is currently publishing two books about opposite family situations. In Superman, we’ve been getting a look at a strong home responding well to a deadly threat. Secrets have a short life on the Kent (White) Farm, and the family’s trust is evident even in battle with the Eradicator. Superman was raised in this sort of home, and his own house is in similar order.
In Detective Comics, on the other hand, James Tynion has been giving us a very different picture. Batman’s family comes from tragedy and broken trust, and that brokenness follows it into the present. Kate is at odds with her father. Batman keeps things from Kate. Tim is afraid to tell Bruce about his future plans. Clayface is only on board because there’s something in it for him. These people have lost so much, but are too damaged to take refuge in the arms of those that can help them. Dysfunction is the throbbing heart of this book, and Tynion lays it bare in all of its tragic beauty.
We need more time together
“Rise of the Batmen” has been a fantastic ride so far, and I’m not sure there’s anything Tynion should be doing different. Even so, I think in the future we’ll need a closer look at individual team members. We’ve been getting that with Batwoman and—to a lesser degree—Tim, but Steph and Cassie haven’t had a lot of development, and Clayface remains a big question mark. I love him, and I’m ready to buy into him sticking with the team through all of this, but I’m hoping we’ll understand why in the near future. I know Bruce offered him a chance at a normal life, but I want to know why his faith in the cure is strong enough to withstand the threat of danger and loss of life.
With all of that said, we do get more insight into the villain in this issue, and I find myself feeling sympathetic toward Jake Kane for the first time. The grave scene from two weeks ago helped a little, but in that case, we saw more of Kate’s pain than her father’s. Here, after a dose of the stern, jerkish Jake that we know, there is an unexpected show of humanity as he grieves the loss of his sister, Bruce’s mother, Martha Wayne. I think the story would have been okay had he remained pure, psychotic evil, but this depth is far more satisfying, and it justifies the trust that Batwoman showed Jake at the beginning of the arc.
Batman needs a Robin
I warned you at the top, but I’ll do it again, just in case: I’ll be discussing specific details from this issue of Detective Comics, and if you continue reading the next several paragraphs, you will be spoiled.
If there is one member on this team—in this entire book—who has risen above the dysfunction, or at least is taking steps to get there, it is Tim Drake. He’s experienced his share of tragedy and broken trust, but he doesn’t seem dragged down or defined by it the way the others do. In that way, Tim is the best of them. So when his answer to the Colony’s attack is to send all of its drones after himself, I am overcome with anxiety. I don’t know what Tynion has planned, or if Red Robin makes it out of the next book alive (though Albuquerque’s variant for #940 may well spoil that one). From what I can tell, especially from Batman’s reaction, Tim has effectively sacrificed himself to save Gotham.
While Tynion handles all of this well, my initial reaction was “if Tim can change the target for the drones, why doesn’t he make the target the bay?” After thinking it over, it makes sense to me that if the drones can target individual human beings, then they could just as easily have an operational specification that requires targets to emit a heat signature, or something even more specific that identifies targets as human. If that’s the case, it all makes a lot more sense, and the only choice Tim considers justifiable is to (potentially) sacrifice himself so that no other lives might be lost. Of course, at this point, I’m reading a lot into the scenario, and Tynion probably could have worked in some more detail while Tim was at the computer to make it clearer. Regardless, we’re left with one heck of a cliffhanger, and I don’t know how I’m going to wait three weeks to find out Tim’s fate.
Welcome back, Barrows
I had the pleasure of meeting Eddy Barrows in New York last year. He was working on Martian Manhunter, and I was (still am) a huge fan of his work on that book (he’s also a really sweet guy, and if you have the chance to say hi to him at a con, you should do it). He often struggles with human faces, but his layouts and other anatomy are first-rate, and any time he got to draw some bonkers Martian or monster, he nailed it (he drew a mean Trigon for Teen Titans a few years ago, too). If you look at our “Best of the New 52”, you can see one of my all-time favorite panels from any artist, and it’s one of Barrows’ from Manhunter.
Barrows on Detective has been a mixed bag. His layouts and anatomy are still good, and when he’s drawing Clayface, it’s amazing, but his regular human faces are still not as impressive as the rest of his work, and sometimes I find them distracting. More than that, he’s mixing two finishing styles, without any obvious pattern for when he uses one or the other. Most of his work relies on lines for detail, but there are panels and spreads here and there where he goes very spare on the lines and lets the color artist create detail instead. The latter approach makes the artwork look painted rather than pencilled, and it actually looks better to my eye, but I think the mixture of the two approaches is more distracting than simply sticking with the less attractive, line-dependent style. It didn’t ruin the book for me, but it is jarring, as it made it seem like the artwork was divided between multiple pencilers and/or colorists with clashing aesthetics.
Greater than the sum
My complaints about the artwork are ultimately irrelevant—both because the complaints are not substantial and because the writing elevates even the worst of it. When this issue ends, I care about all of the major players (except for you, Ulysses), even Steph and Cassie out on the fringe, even Jake Kane, in spite of all his evil-psycho-colonel thing. And if I care about all of these characters, and I’m itching to know what’s coming next, then I’d say Tynion and his crew have done their jobs.
- You enjoy books with a well-crafted team dynamic.
- You aren’t too particular about finishes if the artwork otherwise tells a good story.
- You love the Drake. You know you do. Everyone loves the Drake.
Detective Comics once again serves up an action and character-packed adventure. The stakes are higher than they’ve been, and my investment in the cast continues to deepen as the characters are developed. James Tynion has said that he would love to take this book to #1000; after such a hot start, I’d be happy to follow him all the way there.