Fall of the Batmen, Part 1 (Detective Comics #969)

It’s the calm before the storm.  Red Robin reunites with Spoiler. Gotham has a new mayor who warns Batman that the Gotham Knights are D.O.A. Plus the Victim Syndicate is back to wreak havoc. Now begins the “Fall of the Batmen!”

Detective Comics # 969
Writer:  James Tynion IV
Artist:  Joe Bennett
Inker:  Sal Regla
Colorist:  Jason Wright
Cover Artist:  Guillem March & Tomeu Morey
Publisher:  DC Comics

 What You Need to Know:

Tim Drake AKA Red Robin is back on Earth and has reunited with Batman and the Gotham Knights.  Following their defeat of a twisted version of Tim who became Batman in a dystopian future, Tim has only one person left in Gotham he has yet to tell he isn’t dead after all:  Stephanie Brown AKA Spoiler.

What You’ll Find Out:

Gotham appoints a new mayor, Michael Akins, who has one thing to say to reporters about Batman’s new team of vigilantes called the Gotham Knights:  “Gotham City has a police force. It does not need a second.

Stephanie Brown is visiting Lonnie Machin AKA Anarky at Arkham Asylum.  She doesn’t say why and it’s hard to fathom her reasoning behind visiting him.  They’re debating the wisdom of the Gotham Knights’ existence and Stephanie doesn’t tell him if she’s really pro or con.  Irritated by Lonnie’s attempts to persuade her to join him in his crusade (which makes no sense given that it didn’t work the last time either), she gets up to leave.  But he hands her a slip of paper and says it’s an address he wants her to visit in a few weeks (no date, no time? Just show up?) and then she can make a decision.

Considering she already told him no when she didn’t stop Batman from busting him and now she’s bolting again, you’d think he could tell she’s not joining him in his plans for anarchy as Anarky.

As she’s leaving, she mumbles to herself that this was a bad idea and she never should have come.  But unbeknownst to Steph, Tynion’s plot required that she show up for no damn good reason; certainly, not one Tynion bothers to explain to us either.  That’s when one of the prisoners reveals himself to her as Clayface and calls out to her.  He asks if “he’s” found her and she snipes that she told Batman to leave her alone because she needs space.

Just as Tynion refused to have anyone bother to ask Tim Drake’s evil future self what crime Batwoman committed to screwing up the timeline last issue, Clayface conveniently says “he” instead of “Tim” and thus Steph gets to run off before she can find out her one true love isn’t dead. It is as insipid as it is annoying.

That’s followed by one full page of obvious and pointless padding where Steph spends 6 panels talking to her dead super-villain dad’s costume on a mannequin.

Detective Comics 969_page 5

She reiterates all of her hopes, fears, and doubts about the Gotham Knights (all of which the readers already knew in past issues).  However, Tynion does decide to have her explain why she went to see Lonnie at Arkham which is that his intensity reminds her of Tim.  Saying that is as flimsy as tissue paper is putting it mildly.

She tops all of that off with telling herself maybe she should rob a bank like her dead dad. Yeah, that didn’t come off the least bit convincing either.  That’s when there’s a knock at the door of her super secret warehouse hideout nobody, not even Batman can find (also not convincing).

It’s Tim finally showing up to tell Steph he’s alive.  To say his explanation is clumsy and convoluted is a big understatement.  It doesn’t help that Joe Bennett draws the reaction on her face to Tim’s return from the dead as if she’d just gotten a dose of Smilex from The Joker.  In those 2 panels of close-ups, she looks less like Stephanie Brown and more like Harley Quinn.

Detective Comics 969_page 6

Weirdly, Tynion doesn’t have her ask the most obvious questions—what happened, where he has been, is this a result of the Lazarus Pit, is this Clayface again—you know, all the usual questions any normal character in Batman’s world would surely ask.  In Batman’s circle, everyone from Tim to Damian to Jason to Dick to Bruce himself have all died and come back from the dead and not always in healthy or happy ways.  The fact that Tynion has Steph buy Tim’s resurrection without asking any logical questions made what should’ve been a very emotionally-rewarding reunion come off as rushed and unsatisfying.

We jump ahead to 3 weeks later where a group of mobsters is sitting in yes, another abandoned warehouse (maybe Spoiler loaned them hers?).  Killer Moth is trying to convince them to pay him half a million dollars a week for a team of villains he’s recruited (Solomon Grundy, Victor Zsasz, Ratcatcher, etc.) to provide the mobsters with protection from the Gotham Knights.  That’s interrupted with 2 pages of Batwoman lecturing Red Robin about how he needs to tell Spoiler the truth about how he’s not planning to leave the Gotham Knights and ride off into the sunset with her.

The best part of that is Batwoman owning up to her usually being the crappy partner in her relationships which has the ring and sting of truth.  Other than that, it feels like Tynion wasted 2 pages having characters do unnecessary exposition telling instead of showing readers what his cast’s motivations are.  It could and probably should be done in 1 page, but I suspect there’s more than a little padding for the trade going on in this issue.

Solomon Grundy reveals himself to be Clayface in a clever bit.  Killer Moth and every other crook there get busted by the Gotham Knights.  Then we get 2 pages of Batman arguing with Mayor Akins as Tynion has Akins recap all the reasons why Batman having an army is a bridge too far.  Tynion has had characters reciting all of this information multiple times over the past year already.

This begs the question of why he or his editors thought 8 more panels of someone arguing with Batman about the Gotham Knights or “having teenage sidekicks is bad, mmmkay” is something that added value and quality to the story.  It didn’t because we have heard all of this song and dance not only multiple times in Tynion’s run, but multiple times in decades past.

That’s followed by 2 pages of Lonnie and the Victim Syndicate inside Arkham with a dozen word balloons of ominous foreshadowing that’s about as subtle as a frying pan upside the head.

What Just Happened?

We got mostly 20 pages of padding.

If every character wasn’t telling us what they were doing, then they were telling us why they were doing it.  Having Stephanie talking to a mannequin wearing her dead criminal father’s costume about how Anarky’s intensity reminds her of Red Robin is baloney.  Spoiler may be a moody teenager, but she isn’t shallow or quick to fall for an intense look in a guy’s eyes because it reminds her of her dead boyfriend.  The girl graduated to become both Robin and Batgirl at different times in her career.  She’s way smarter than Tynion writes her here.  Hell, Tynion has written her smarter than this before in his current run.

In the last 2 issues of ‘Tec, Tynion has been off his A-game.  Maybe these scripts are editorially-mandated “hide-the-plot” edicts to conceal upcoming stories or throw readers off the scent.  But whatever the reason, it doesn’t serve the writer or the editors to treat their readers like they’re stupid.  Any normal person who’s been trained by the greatest detective and the most paranoid superhero in the DC Universe is going to ask normal questions about extraordinary situations:

  • Why is Tim Drake back from the dead and how do they know he isn’t a fake or a villain?
  • If Batwoman does something so horrible in the future that it ruins Tim’s life and destroys the whole team, why doesn’t anyone just ask exactly what she did?

Dumbing down the behavior of your characters so you can hide upcoming plot twists from readers is rarely if ever a smart move.  Spending 20 pages where most of the characters recite old information and talk amongst themselves repeating motivations we already know is an egregious example of the all-too-common complaints about padding stories for trade.

The artwork by Bennett and Regla is serviceable.  There are some stand-out pages (such as Tim and Steph’s first embrace in months).  But given all of the talking heads in this issue, there weren’t many opportunities for the art team to show off or wow readers.

Rating:  6.5 / 10

Final ThoughtUnfortunately, this whole issue read like the editors insisted the creative team stall for time and pad an issue for trade.  Big moments like the reunion of Spoiler and Red Robin or Killer Moth’s super-villain team-up were anticlimactic. Worst of all, nobody needed to read yet another lecture to Batman on the evils of recruiting teenagers to play superhero.  If you’re going to beat that very dead horse some more, find a fresh and interesting way to do it.

Hopefully “Fall of the Batmen” will get more exciting next issue. This was an inauspicious opening act and a bore.  Next, please?

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