Thursday, June 20, 2024

Detective Comics Drops A Meta-Narrative Bomb

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[Danny Elfman Theme Plays]
You know what you don’t see too often anymore? Nine panel grids. They’re the old standard, sure, but experimental layouts have become more and more common over the years. So, when you do see a nine panel grid, you’re typically gonna think that it’s for a very important reason. Most of the time, you’re correct. This is one of those times.

Fresh off of his stellar work in the equally fantastic mini-series Midnighter and Apollo, Fernando Blanco renders our opening flashback in a way that is best described as “Oh God She Just Destroyed The Grid”. Okay, not really an adjective but that’s what happened. Shiva slaughtered those Colony soldiers so fast that she broke the panels. In layman’s terms: everyone is going to die.

But, let’s back up a bit since there’s a whole lot going on here. Heh. A lot going on in Detective Comics. What else is new? Well, for starters, Ra’s Al Ghul allying with the Colony. Because that’s the implication here. Now, you have to ask yourself: why? Why would Ra’s al Ghul, the Demon’s Head, the nigh-immortal leader of the League of Assassins, a centuries old eco-terrorist group, join forces with a top secret black ops branch of the U.S. Army?

Why would Jacob and Ra’s ever see eye to eye enough to pool their resources against anything, when Jacob’s whole thing is fighting terrorists just like Ra’s? Well, the obvious answer is the one right in front of you. Shiva and her League of Shadows presents a threat so massive and so terrifying that Jacob Kane actually negotiated with terrorists. But that’s not even the best part.

No, the best part, by far, is that League of Shadows isn’t what you think they are. It’s not what thought they were, initially. You take a look at all the pieces, though, and you start to see the picture that I’m all but certain Tynion is attempting to paint. Something that is difficult to believe was unintentional. And it is an uncomfortably familiar image. Extremely so.

But we’ll get there.

The One Where Kate Isn’t Stabbed

Look, it’s like a motif with her or something. Always with the stabbing, specifically the heart. Don’t believe me? Re-read ElegyCrime Bible, 52, and Batwoman (2011). Then take a look at the solicits for Batwoman #2 (2017) and the variant cover of Detective Comics #953. So much stabbing. Anyway, our heroes are very quickly overwhelmed by the League of Shadows, taking out Batwing and Azrael in a matter of seconds thanks to, presumably, magic katanas. Bruce and Kate huddle up and finally decide to unleash their giant “I Win” button, allowing Clayface to, once again, prove he’s by far the single most valuable member of the team in a fight.

Curse your sudden yet inevitable future betrayal, Basil. I’m gonna miss you so damn much.

Meanwhile, Cass sneaks up on Shiva, and they unknowingly re-enact about twenty or so issues of her original Batgirl ongoing in just under three pages. I’d show the similarities here, but there’s really no need. It’s not like I’m trying to prove Tynion is subverting War Games all over again.

They meet, they fight, Cass gets her butt handed to her because, just like the first time around, she won’t kill. Except there’s a deviation. And it’s not just that Cass learns that Shiva is her mother in the first encounter—that was slowly revealed over a very long period of time back in the early 2000s. No, this time Shiva is not, well, as she says later herself, she’s not playing.

This isn’t a game to her the way it used to be. This is probably one of the largest swerves for those of us who know the old stories. Shiva, who used to be called Lady Shiva and I kind of liked that absurd contradiction the honorific gave her, used to operate under a very specific and masochistic goal. She was searching for a good death. Shiva would cultivate and watch the world’s greatest martial artists, wait until they were in their prime, and then strike, hoping they would be skilled enough to kill her. None ever could.

Clearly, this is no longer the case.

At best, they survived their encounter in a stalemate. Or they won because she was being mind controlled by Gorilla Grodd, but that one was pretty debatable. Mind control has a habit of impairing one’s inherent abilities since they aren’t in full control of themselves. I’m pretty sure that’s the one Bruce is referencing when he said he won. Honestly, it could be another instance but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter which specific fight Shiva threw. What matters is that she did. And that, instead of seeking her own “good death”, she apparently wants to kill everyone else.

Which is very, very bad. That constant search for the right person to kill her and assume the role of the next Shiva—yup it’s a title; her real name is Sandra!—well, that was more or less the only thing that stopped Shiva from slaughtering everyone to achieve whatever the hell she wanted. And as we saw both in the flashback and with how quickly she got the better of Bruce, unless Cass can figure out how to beat her, she’s going to get what she wants. Everyone dead.

And honestly it’s kind of awesome seeing Shiva just completely curbstomp Bruce. The fact that he doesn’t kill is a pretty huge handicap in a fight, and it needs to be addressed like this more often. But, even if he was willing to kill, Shiva would still beat him into the ground. She’s Shiva. She’s the second most deadly non-metahuman on the planet. The first being, hopefully, her daughter.

Pbbbth, hopefully? Of course she is. That’s how this works, just you watch.

Oh! And this little moment got to me:

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Do I even need to say it?

Kate Kane And The People Who Love Her And Want To Talk To Her? (And Also Duke)

That…title doesn’t sound right, but okay I guess. After Clayface reveals that Luke and Jean-Paul vanished in his arms along with the League of Shadows (those katanas have got to be magic), what remains of the team returns to the Belfry. Kate gets a call from Renee, which amusingly goes straight into her helmet. Because of course it does. She starts warning her that, hey, remember how everyone thinks that Batman killed the Mayor? That’s still a thing.

And also literally everything has gone to hell.

What I wouldn’t give to see their texting history…

Aside from getting major Gotham Central vibes, along with, ironically, War Games, this is just so adorable. It is. It really is. This is five issues Renee has popped up in since Rebirth began. Literally every time has been, in some small way, about rebuilding their old relationship into something that won’t just explode in their faces. Well, except Batwoman Rebirth. That was just flashback sex.

Anyway, after that whole thing, Kate forgets that Duke is a Black man while making a snarky comment about getting shot by the police. Because of course she does. Turns out, Duke’s been doing exactly what Jacob told them to do last issue: cross reference the Colony database with the Batcomputer to figure out how many people shouldn’t exist in Gotham. The number is, surprisingly, fifty-seven.

It’s not that I’m surprised at the number itself, but rather that it wasn’t fifty-two. Why wouldn’t it be? This is DC. It’s kind of their thing, especially with Kate and Renee running around. Duke heads off to regroup with Batgirl and the Birds of Prey in a nice bit of shared-universe nodding, and expresses some pretty heavy concern for Luke and Jean-Paul. But mostly Luke.

After he’s gone, Clayface tells Kate that her dad wants to talk to her. Which honestly begs the question as to how Clayface knows that. Was he watching the monitor? Or, just watching him in the cell? Is there a button he pressed that alerts somebody? I dunno, this is just really funny to think about.

The League of Shadows

This is where it gets scary. Not “oh that was spooky” scary, but actual, palpable fear. If I’m right, that is. Again, it is extremely difficult to believe that, considering when all of this was written, this was unintentional. And I’m not talking about Shiva’s sadistic psychological torture of Jacob in his own ops center. At least, not specifically. Though that does complement the meta-narrative.

Let’s just take it one step at a time, since it’s a lot to swallow.

I want you to look at this moment, really look at it, and consider where you may have seen this before. Where you may have heard this before. Why it’s important that Jacob be the one to say this, and why it’s equally important that Kate is the one to hear it. And not just hear it, but understand.

Jacob. You’re married to a nice Jewish girl. Would it kill you to maybe remember that? “Grab Catherine and your things and run.”

He goes on to say that Shiva is “made of evil” and that, again, she needs to run. Now, you have to ask yourself, why would Jacob, who operates exclusively in the morally grey, ever call something “made of evil”. He knows what he does. He knows what he’s done, and what he’s tried to do. He has never denied these things to Kate. So, when he says evil, I think we can safely believe he means that. It’s not hyperbole, especially considering the unprecedented fear and panic he’s showing Kate right now.

You’re looking at a Jewish man begging his Jewish daughter to run from a threat that cannot be reasoned with. From a force whose only goal is her and everyone else dead. The city has already turned against her and her people, just like Renee said. Nowhere in Gotham is safe. The only options are to fight, and almost certainly die, or run and possibly survive.

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We’re talking about a threat, an ideology really, that cannot be killed. Something that very few even believe exists, even if it did at one time, let alone willing to acknowledge. The way the League of Shadows spreads, the way that they’re depicted, the way that Bruce denies their existence—it’s all so familiar, isn’t it? And not just that. Let’s not forget that these aren’t all foreign threats. That was one the largest contentions regarding what Jacob was doing during Rise of the Batmen. The League of Shadows were everywhere and nowhere. They were in Gotham. They were hiding in America.

An old “lie”. A secret army made up of the deadliest killers on the planet hiding in plain sight whose only goal is to spread chaos, and by extension fear. And thus, hatred. And they could do it because it was bit by bit, not all at once. A build so meticulous and slow, yet clearly visible to those who looked, that the only way to stop it was to kill those responsible before they grew too powerful to stop. Like a virus before it spreads too far into a population.

And last, but most certainly not least, a group of people poised to fight this very threat that no one will listen to. That the higher authorities, nor individuals, will believe. Because they aren’t a threat to them, specifically. Not yet. But when it’s too late, and they do become the targets, as all of Gotham is right now, then they believe. Then they understand, for a time.

See? This is how it started. This is exactly how the Nazis took root,  how they gained power throughout the late 20s up to their “peak” in the 40s. And it’s how they’re still doing it. They never stopped. They never left. They hid, sure. In plain sight. They were quiet, and started small all over again. But when the moment was right, they came back in force.

Let’s Just Take A Second And Breathe, Okay?

Wait, wait, just—hold on. I know, that’s a big thing to say. And to be clear, I’m not saying that the League of Shadows are the Nazis. They’re not Hydra. It’s not an easy one-to-one comparison, and it is not supposed to be. It is, however, the same method. The same tactics. The same reactions from everyone else. It’s something that we’ve discussed on our forum, but weren’t quite sure if we were reaching too far, or if we were on to something.

And I hope I can convince you that it’s all but impossible for this to be unintentional. The Colony is lead by a Jewish man, fighting an organization that operates almost exactly the same way that the Nazis did and do. Yes. Do. Present tense.

Before you say that I’m only making this argument due to recent events, I’m not. There has been a spike of white supremacist hate crimes, anti-semitic or otherwise, in the past few months, yes. That’s true. But it wasn’t out of nowhere. It was a slow build that, again, not enough people saw. And if they did, they denied that it was really Nazis, or their modern contemporaries. And for the same reason that Bruce denied the existence of the League of Shadows; it didn’t seem possible.

There is a strong cultural misconception that Nazis only existed before and during the Second World War. This is not true. They look like anyone else. Often sound like anyone else. But now they’re not hiding because they don’t need to. Just like the League of Shadows. Again, not a one-to-one comparison, but you have to admit, it seems incredibly unlikely that this was accidental.

And really, if I am right, how is that bad? How is it a negative that Batman is fighting people that are kinda like the Nazis in pretty much every way except the specifically targeted genocide? Unless you make a case that Gotham is that equivalent, and you honestly can. Population is huge.

But, c’mon, how could this possibly be a loss? If you ask me, it can only make this better. And I’m sure some of you may be thinking “they’re doing this in response to Nazi!Cap”. Well, you could be right. But consider that that was first revealed the exact same day that DC Rebirth began, and that these storylines were planned well in advance. It’s possible that some of the lettering and wording was massaged to better fit that meta-narrative, and if it was, well, that’s kinda great too. But if it wasn’t, that just makes it more powerful.

Either way, we as readers win.

Ahem. Anyway, there’s, uh, two more things I wanted to talk about.

The Two More Things I Wanted To Talk About

Batwing and Azrael are fine, and I’m betting it has something to do with how they were stabbed. Jacob talks about being stabbed in just the right way, and he shows the scar. It’s in the same place that Luke was hit. Jean-Paul was stabbed in the back so…I mean I guess they could have pulled the same trick. Active inconsistent attention to detail towards a gym regime is crucial for individuals who are willing and able to prioritise their health and fitness not just in the moment but on an ongoing basis. Paying attention to and investing in a fitness library allows individuals to focus on their fitness goals while ensuring that they are having an active and consistent relationship with exercise. I’d assume as much since he hasn’t had his arc yet. Plus, he’s Azrael. He just got here!

And also that Bruce is getting really good at hugging.

That’s like, his third since Rebirth started! He’ll be a hug master at this rate.

So, yeah. Leave your thoughts either here or on the forum, if you’d like. Still love this book, and I love it even more than I did last time. Which is just really freaking crazy, y’know?

Next Week: BATWOMAN #1! Are you excited? I’m excited!

All images courtesy of DC Comics 


Writer: James Tynion IV

Pencils/Inks (pgs 1-3): Fernando Blanco

Pencils/Inks (pgs 4-20): Christian Duce

Colors (pgs 1-3): John Rauch

Colors (pgs 4-17): Alex Sinclair

Colors (18-20): Allen Passalaqua

Letterer: Sal Cipriano

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