There’s something magic about a book that can be casually excellent. Because that’s exactly what Detective Comics under Tynion has achieved: casual excellence. And this issue is far from an exception.
Ever since Jacob Kane name-dropped the League of Shadows back in Detective Comics (Tec) #937, I’ve been waiting for this. Not just because it sounded like an awesome story setup, but also because it…well, frankly, it validated Jacob’s attempted actions during Rise of the Batmen. It’s interesting, really. So many people thought he was crazy, or that he’d gone too far. That he was a full blown Well-Intentioned Extremist.
Me? I saw him as the antagonist and nothing more. The hero of another story. Sure, “Needs Of The Many” isn’t in Batman’s playbook but it’s difficult to take his mentality seriously when you put an Army Colonel right next to him. His “rules” seem almost childish and naive in a military context, as they should. The standards that Batman holds himself are, by design, completely impossible to maintain.
Enter someone like Jacob and his Colony. Batman-level strength with military precision. An army of one-man-armies fighting an organization that Batman has long since “debunked”. Of course Batman and Co. were going to stop the Colony, since that’s what they always do. And normally, that would be the end of it. Supervillain defeated. Day saved. Tim Drake died a hero.
Except it wasn’t, and now we all have to decide whether or not our heroes were in the right to stop the Colony in the first place.
The answer is overwhelmingly, and beautifully, no. No, they were not. And don’t that just beat all?
All Work And No Play
After a particularly gruesome and terrifying flashback introduction to Lady Shiva, we’re greeted to…an actual status quo. I know, it surprised me too! Tynion’s Detective Comics has yet to truly establish a sense normalcy as things keep shifting around. Which, so far, has been one of its greatest strengths. But, after The Victim Syndicate and the Batwoman Begins prologue to Batwoman Rebirth, there finally appears to be one.
The breather that was Tec 950 paved the way for our heroes to actually exist in a state of not-constantly-exploding.
Bruce and Kate discuss how things are pretty quiet in Gotham at the moment, and Kate’s too caught up in her success as a teacher and team leader to remember that dramatic irony has a vendetta against her. Seriously, I know I want her to be happy but everytime she actually smiles I can’t help but assume that she screwed up big time and hasn’t realized it yet. Or she’s drunk. But, since she’s probably not drunk during training montages (that’s a whole other montage), so she probably did something stupid.
What? That’s how this works. No, really…everything bad is, in some way, her fault.
Anyway, Kate is concerned that, since Steph left the team at the end of The Victim Syndicate, Cass hasn’t had any significant human interaction. She’s been training excessively in the Mud Room, and naturally they both come to the conclusion that Cass could use a little break. A nice reminder that there are people out there that care about Cass, not just Orphan. And—wait, did I just have a stroke?
Because it looks like I just wrote that Bruce…actually learned…from his mistake by not allowing Steph to grieve? Due to a lack of proper communication? Surely I’m just misreading everything and need to got the hospital. I’m sorry, but that—there’s no way this is actually happening.
Oh my God it’s actually happening. I mean, sure, I’ve talked about Bruce’s humanity becoming a stronger focus in Detective Comics before, but it never really occurred to me that it would, well, stick. These things just normally don’t, y’know? Much less admitting that he would lose in a one-on-one fight with Cass, even though everyone else already knows that. I doubt I have to explain just how surreal this is even though it makes perfect emotional sense.
Notably, this is very much reminiscent of a specific overarching arc that took place over quite a few issues of Cass’s original Batgirl ongoing. Except instead of Barbara Gordon, then Oracle, advocating for Cass’s emotional and mental health to a very resistant Bruce (though not anywhere near his War Games-era peak), it’s…Kate and Bruce? Working together? Look, I’m still against this whole fandom concept of Kate being the den mother to a bunch of the younger members of the Batfamily but there’s a ton of precedent for Bruce being a father figure in far more ways than one.
Kate’s more like the fun aunt, but I digress. This is really cool and crazy to see. What a time to be a comics fan, eh?
Soft Targets, Redux
Bruce shows up at Mayor Sebastian Hady’s office, yes Mayor S. Hady, to get some new evidence about corrupt judges. Apparently, that little bit from Tec 950 was genuine and the Mayor was turning over a new leaf. I mean, that’s not how Gotham works, so when Bruce shows up they don’t get far into their conversation before the Mayor ends up dead.
Whoops! Sorry, got my head stuck in 2004 for a reason we’ll get back to later! Nah, but the Mayor is dead except he wasn’t shot. The League of Shadows, in a similar fashion as depicted in the opening flashback, impaled him with a bunch of swords and let him bleed to death. Also they crucified him, which seems oddly similar to the opening of Tec 934 when the Colony beat Azrael into a coma. Hm.
Before he dies, Hady tells Bruce that it was the League of Shadows that did this to him. The cops show up, of course, at the worst possible time and take notice of the dead mayor, Batman, and the swords with bats on them. Batman escapes, but gets shot in the shoulder in the process because I guess they’re just handing out armor-piercing rounds to regular police officers now? Weird.
Jacob Kane And The Nephew Who Can’t Shut Up And Listen For Two Seconds
Bruce makes it back to the Belfry and Kate accompanies him so that they can try and get some information out of Jacob. Since, y’know, he still won’t talk to anyone unless Kate is physically there. Jacob reiterates what he’s been saying for literal months. The League of Shadows is a terrorist organization designed to be as far reaching as possible without leaving a trail. From what I can gather, since this is some Cold War thriller stuff right here, it seems like Tynion is going for a sort of…semi-autonomous cell framework.
That is to say, the League of Shadows can insert agents anywhere in the world, be it a civilian population or other extremist groups and co-opt the community they inhabit to greater serve the larger goals of the League without the people around them realizing it. Manipulating targets, focusing hate, and fostering ideologies that encourages a certain level of guidance and control.
Think of them like a sentient virus. The more people an agent can “infect” and reappropriate, the stronger the effect. The harder they are to kill.
And apparently the harder it is to believe, because at first the entire conversation is just Bruce countering everything Jacob says with “NO, YOU’RE WRONG”.
I can’t help but appreciate the fact that Kate doesn’t say a damn word at first because if she did she’d just verbalize the headache she’s getting by watching Bruce act stubborn for the sake of being stubborn. And also seeing herself in that, since she had a very similar conversation with her father back in Tec 935 regarding her decision to join up with Bruce. Which is just so apt.
Eventually, Jacob manages to plant some seeds of doubt into Bruce’s brain by more or less daring him to just do his damn research instead of standing there and arguing with him about basically nothing.
Hm, now that almost sounds like a challenge to readers, now doesn’t it? What is the one thing that could destroy Gotham that Batman cannot possibly stop? Well, considering Tynion’s penchant for Dixon-era Batman stories, there’s really only one answer to that question. Well, three, but I don’t think two subsequent plagues are going to be what brings Gotham to its knees.
No, I’m gonna go with an earthquake that clocks in at around 7.6 on the Richter scale. But that could never happen! Gotham’s built on bedrock—
Long story short: Gotham became unincorporated territory for an entire real-life year, leaving those too poor to leave to fend for themselves in a lawless, walled off tribal living nightmare. Any and all aid humanitarian aid was denied or shot out of the sky. Superman tried to help, but social norms had adapted so fundamentally that he couldn’t do a big “thing” without causing more problems. It was also the story that introduced Cassandra Cain, so that’s definitely not a coincidence.
No Man’s Land was basically Escape From New York from the perspective of the everyday citizen. I touched briefly on this in our Lady Geniuses piece a while back, but that really doesn’t do the story justice. Anyway, I guess the League of Shadows could have an earthquake machine. Oh, and you know what storyline happened directly after No Man’s Land? As they were rebuilding the city? Little series of tales called New Gotham, which is exactly what Bruce was reading about when he was in the Mayor’s office!
This is—it’s why I put the opening to Gotham Central’s Soft Targets storyline up there instead of Hady’s death. There were literal narrative aftershocks from that quake up until the New52 reboot, so it’s only fitting that these things connect. Plus, y’know, Rebirth wonky-ness.
Anyway, Bruce stomps off, still not convinced, and Jacob shows actual concern for his daughter because…why wouldn’t he? He’s not the bad guy. He’s still her father, and judging by Kate’s responses she’s been getting used to having him back in her life. Sure, he’s still in that cell, and he’s not going anywhere for the time being, but their relationship isn’t nearly as strained.
It’s moments like this that I can’t help but wonder where the hell Beth is, but we’ll find that out in the pages of Batwoman. Eventually.
Joke’s On You!
Luke calls Bruce and Kate up to the main room, and the entire team watches a recorded broadcast of news anchors laughing themselves to death on live television. It’s clearly a derivative of Joker Gas, which Luke recognizes and reminds Bruce that he isn’t really ready for a Joker-level event. Not that anyone ever is, but y’know, last time he showed up—it doesn’t matter. He’s the Joker. There’s no way to prepare for him.
Thankfully, it’s not actually the Joker. Just his gas that appears to be rising out of the sewers around Adams Square Park. People are laughing and attacking one another seemingly out of nowhere. Before Bruce can mobilize the team, Kate reminds him that this sure does seem a whole lot like what her dad said about ten minutes ago.
Man, this just keeps getting crazier. Batman admitting he could be wrong? What’s next, is Damian actually going to get to spend quality time with his father outside of Nightwing? Pbbbth, nah. It’s not like Batman and Robin are like, a thing. Oh wait.
No, but seriously, the simplest explanation is that he’s wrong. And, as we already know, he very much is. The team gets on the scene in nothing flat, presumably thanks to those crazy Bat-Trains Tim revealed way back in Tec 937, and Cass surveys the scene with Clayface. Who totally isn’t scared at all.
Cass notes that they’re being watched, but doesn’t seem to be worried by it. It’s probably Shiva, since she was watching Bruce after he got shot, which only lends credence to the idea that she’s still Cass’s mom. If she were watching Cass with any amount of physicality that could possibly be perceived as a violent threat, Cass would pick up on it and focus her attention. But there isn’t, so she doesn’t.
So, they all leap down into the fray—because of course they do—and it takes all of thirty seconds for Cass to recognize through body language that the “rioters” aren’t actually rioting. They’re pretending. And that’s when the katanas, sai, longswords and pikes come out. But that’s not even the best part of the cliffhanger! This is:
Little bit to unpack here. First, the title. The Five Fingers of Death. Some of you may recall that this was part of the warning that Colony Prime gave to Jacob near the end of Batwoman Begins. Second, and this is a bit of a rehash but no less relevant: the first Batwoman Rebirth arc is entitled The Many Arms Of Death. Fingers? Arms? No such thing as a coincidence.
And lastly, of course, their eyes. Direct callback to that one moment in Tec 939 that many, apparently correctly, assumed was a League of Shadows tease.
Hiding in plain sight is a little different than hiding from Cass. She couldn’t see that man’s intentions, so that seems to suggest that they know how to hide them from anyone who may be able to pick up on subtle physical cues. Or they just have perfect control over their bodies.
Regardless, it might not be Shiva that our team is up against but, oh man, things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get…not terrible. I hesitate to say good because, really, when is it ever?
Hah. They are so boned.
DETECTIVE COMICS #951
Writer: James Tynion IV
Pencils/Inks: Christian Duce
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Sal Cipriano