By James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows & Adriano Lucas
Straight out of the gate, Detective Comics has been one of the highlights of DC’s current Rebirth initiative. Writer James Tynion IV has struck a compelling balance between action and character, especially in recapturing the spark of individuals such as Tim Drake and Stephanie Brown who had been treated rather poorly by DC during the New 52 years. Primary artist Eddy Barrows has been turning in some dynamic art, which was ably supplemented by Alvaro Martinez’s fill-in issues. This trend continues with #940 which brings the initial storyline to a mostly satisfying emotional climax. Tynion, however, does make a story choice decision at the end, which may or not undercut the resonance of the proceeding pages. For this reason, it is difficult to fairly discuss this issue without mentioning key plot twists. A brief summery would be that, despite reservations, this issue is another terrific installment of the series. For a lengthier spoiler filled analysis, continue reading.
For the past several issues, Batwoman has been leading a team of recruits (Red Robin, Spolier, Orphan and Clayface) in an investigation of the mysterious Colony. The Colony turned out to be a renegade Pentagon project led by Batwoman’s father Colonel Jacob Kane. Jacob was convinced that a shadowy organization was about to destabilize Gotham City and his group was preparing a preemptive strike against them. Modeling themselves after Batman, Jacob saw himself as following in Batman’s extra-legal footsteps. The heroes disagreed, viewing the Colony’s mission as a case of warped good intentions. Tynion did an excellent job of building the tension between Batwoman and her father, who had long served as her main steadying force over the years. Readers could feel Kate’s pain as she stood up to him.
This is where #940 begins, as Kate dramatically faces down her father, stealing him away from his floating base before it can teleport to safety. Barrows invests these pages with the sense of excitement that readers of the series have come to expect from him. His Batwoman is a strong imposing figure. Her resourcefulness is on full display on one stunning page as Batwoman simultaneously snatches Jacob while crashing through a window. She lands both of them on a nearby rooftop, delivering a knockout blow to the colonel withput losing a beat. Barrows captures the flow of action quite naturally.
However, this is only the beginning. The Colony had launched a drone strike against select targets in Gotham. Tim Drake had been able to hack into their operating systems, redirecting the drones to a single target: himself. Thus, the narrative rapidly shifts to a race against the clock as Batman’s team, scattered about the city, rushes to Tim’s aid. It increasingly becomes clear, though, none of them are going to make it. Tim, already severely injured from a first wave of attacks, braces for another. Calmly he says his goodbyes to Bruce and Steph over the coms before making a heroic last stand for Gotham. His plan works. The drone terminate their target and fade into the night.
The second half of the issue consists of the various heroes’ reactions to Tim’s sacrifice. Some, such as Clayface, are brief as they only knew Tim for a short time. Batman’s first response is anger as he kneels with Tim’s discarded staff. In this moment of weakness, he allows Batwoman to speak to him as an equal. A wordless panel depicting Kate’s hand on Bruce’s shoulder suggests a calming presence, a reminder, even in this moment of tragedy, of why The Dark Knight is at his best when he allows others near him.
This human side of Batman is viewed at greater length when he goes to console Stephanie. Stephanie and Tim’s romantic attraction to each other means that her grief is hitting her quite hard. Tynion smartly choses to play this sequence nearly silently. The only significant dialogue is Batman’s speech about how Tim chose to live this life, knew the risks, etc. etc. Comic book readers have heard it countless times at moments such as this. Tynion undercuts all that with a reminder that Tim was actually on his way out of that life. Stephanie hands Batman Tim’s recent acceptance letter to Ivy University, where Tim would have already been studying, if Bruce had not recruited him for the mission against the Colony. In reply, Bruce has no words, letting the paper gently float to the floor. He turns away, about to leave when, as with Kate earlier, Stephanie offers her support to The Dark Knight. It is a powerful image of two people lost in sorrow, yet finding some solace in each other, evocatively rendered by Barrows and colorist Adriano Lucas. Throughout his Detective run, Tynion has shown a knack for demonstrating Batman’s human side, and this scene is a quite moving example of that motif. As in the Batwoman scene, it reinforces that Batman is most appealing not as a cold-hearted loner, but, as the compassionate head of an extended family.
Detective Comics #940 could have ended on that page and been a wholehearted success. It is complicated, however, by an epilogue revealing that instead of dying, Tim Drake was spirited away by the enigmatic Mr. Oz. Not much is known about Mr. Oz at present, though, many fan theories link him to the revelation of “missing years” from the Rebirth Special. His dialogue here seems to support those speculations, as Mr. Oz criticizes Tim for being “so loved . . . so deeply interconnected . . . we [had to] take you off the field.” This lines up with how DC writer/Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns has discussed DC’s heroes tendency to grow too dark in recent years, a trend that hit its zeneith with the New 52 era. While there is some potential thematic material which could be worked out of this (as demonstrated by the strength of the earlier Batman/Spoiler scene) it does not really come through in this epilogue. Instead the reader’s primarily reaction is rolling their eyes while muttering “oh great, another seed for some forthcoming Johns Event I probably won’t care about reading.”
There is also the question of whether the revelation comes too soon after sorrow, undercutting the poignancy of the proceeding pages. There is something that could be said for this argument, though, to be fair, none of his teammates have any hint that he still alive, which leaves their emotions 100% valid. As for readers. Well, this is a comic book. The idea that DC would already have a plan for Tim Drake’s return could hardly be surprising. Plus, for some longtime fans (such as this reviewer) it does soften the blow of Tim Drake leaving so soon after DC finally getting his character right again. Perhaps DC learned something from all those Kyle Rayner devotees who really thought Tom King offed their favorite Lantern in an eight-page Omega Men preview.
Despite these qualms, however, Detective Comics #940 is overall a strong issue, which continues to demonstrate that it is one of the best series of Rebirth.