[WARNING – This review will contain SPOILERS.]
There are many who enjoy Batman as the brooding, lonely figure, perched high on a building and protecting Gotham City from the shadows. But that version of Batman is a lie. Batman is a family man. He may pretend to isolate himself, put up walls, guard against anyone getting too close, but in actuality he cares immensely about those closest to him.
The arc in Detective Comics that culminates in this issue is all about those closest to Batman. It’s about a team he assembled in order to train and protect from an impending threat. It’s about his cousin and newest ally, Batwoman coming to terms with her father’s betrayal. It’s about those, like Orphan and Clayface, who’ve never really been a part of family finding a place to belong. It’s about the bonds formed between the members of the Bat-Family, and in this issue in particular, the bonds between Batman, Spoiler, and Red Robin.
At the conclusion of Detective Comics #939, Red Robin AKA Tim Drake was left in a most precarious position. Having rerouted an army of enemy drones to his location, making himself their sole target, Tim effectively saved the lives of his teammates and thousands of Gotham’s citizens. But in doing so, Tim placed himself in deadly peril – peril that I, foolishly, figured he would somehow manage to escape in Detective Comics #940. After all, Tim is probably the most capable, best trained Robin there’s ever been. If anyone could come up with some miracle, some plan for survival, it’d be him.
Well, I was wrong. Though issue #939’s cliffhanger made it terribly clear the odds Tim was facing were insurmountable, I just couldn’t believe DC Rebirth would visit such tragedy on Batman so soon. That such a blatant sacrifice caught me off guard is a huge credit to the story James Tynion has been weaving throughout this first arc, “Rise of the Batmen.” The impact of Tim’s death is almost palpable, reverberating throughout the team and laying bare the grief felt by those who were closest to him.
No where is this more clear than in a scene between Batman and Spoiler. It’s a poignant moment in where Bruce arrives to comfort Stephanie in the hours after Tim’s death, only to have himself rendered speechless when Stephanie reveals that Tim had begun thinking about a life outside of the costume, beyond the nighttime patrols and crime-fighting. Tim was looking at the bigger picture, looking towards his future, and still he chose to make the ultimate sacrifice. Learning this leaves Bruce visibly shaken and the moment where he and Stephanie embrace is a powerful one, bringing together two people who have never been especially close with each other but both loved Tim very deeply.
This scene and others – like Tim defiantly facing a barrage of laser fire or Bruce cradling Tim’s abandoned bo staff (a clear nod to A Death in the Family) – have great emotional heft and that comes from the artwork more than anything. The team of Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreria, and Adriano Lucas do a marvelous job conveying a wide variety of responses, from Batwoman’s unbridled rage to Batman’s desperation; it’s all there on the page, resonating in every line and shade. Switching between defined linework and panels depicted in a more painterly, softer style, the art in Detective Comics is easily some of the best and most consistent of DC Rebirth. It fits the story and the characters, giving us a deeper look at how our heroes are feeling and what they’re thinking.
Returning one of their flagship titles to its original numbering was meant to symbolize a return to the way things used to be, but I’d argue that what Tynion and his team are doing with Detective Comics isn’t returning but rather redefining what the title means for the DC Universe. For decades the Bat-Family has expanded to include a wide variety of characters, all of whom engage with Batman in different but no less important ways. This arc has been all about those relationships and how dear they are to Batman. Without his family, he flounders, and in the wake of Tim’s death, what Batman and the rest of the family choose to do will have a resounding effect. (Especially considering where this issue’s epilogue leaves us, hinting at more universe-wide implications yet to come.)