Tim Drake (a.k.a. Red Robin) had a plan.
Years earlier, he had taken up the mantle of Batman’s sidekick, realizing that Batman functioned best when he had a partner. Tim also realized that Bruce Wayne – much as he might deny it – was mortal and would not be able to be Batman forever. Tim devised a plan – to take all of the many vigilantes operating in Gotham City, and unite them officially as one group, training together and working to watch one another’s backs. This would establish a chain of heroes who could continue Batman’s legacy, generation after generation.
Dubbing this group The Gotham Knights, Tim pitched the idea to Batman, who approved it. He then placed the assembled team – consisting of Red Robin, Stephanie Brown (a.k.a. The Spoiler), Cassandra Cain (a.k.a. The Orphan) and a reformed Basil Karlo (a.k.a. Clayface) – under the control of Kate Kane (a.k.a. Batwoman).
Now, Clayface is dead by Batwoman’s hand and she has left The Gotham Knights to join with The Colony – a militaristic vigilante group established by her father, who aim to protect Gotham City with lethal force. Stephanie Brown has hung up her cowl and broken off her relationship with Tim. And Cassandra – who was never all that stable to begin with – is in an even worse state following the death of Clayface, who was her closest friend.
Tim thinks he knows how he can fix The Gotham Knights but Batman is refusing to give him that chance, retreating into himself as he always does when he loses someone close to him. And as Tim Drake is approached about a new partnership by a most unlikely ally, The Colony moves to recruit more of Batman’s disillusioned trainees.
Detective Comics seems to be the least appreciated of DC Comics’ many Batman comics at present. It lacks the flash of Tom King’s Batman, which has redefined the Batman and Catwoman relationship and has now inspired a wedding between the two. It lacks the weight of Scott Snyder’s and Greg Capullo’s Dark Nights: Metal, which has built upon seven years of Batman comics by one of the longest partnerships in American comics. This is unfortunate, because James Tynion IV has done the impossible with little fanfare, restoring many beloved Gotham City vigilantes who were long neglected during The New 52 era to new prominence and introducing them to a new generation of readers.
Sadly, Detective Comics #976 – the first chapter of the Batman Eternal arc – is not the best issue of this series to start with. While all of the new arc openings on this series to date have been good entry points for new readers, the mythology James Tynion IV has established has finally become too involved to be easily summarized and absorbed. While a new reader could pick up this issue, it would lack the punch that is felt by those who are, much like Cassandra, still coping with the loss of Clayface. There’s also a distinct lack of explanation regarding who certain characters are and why they are significant to the story.
A larger problem is the artwork by guest artist Javier Fernandez, which is incredibly inconsistent. Fernandez’ style is largely sketchy and thinly outlined, save for the occasional panel that is drowned in black ink with shading that almost seems to be randomly applied. This leaves the book with an odd look that is further distinguished by the muted colors chosen by John Kalisz. Those who have been reading Detective Comics since the start of DC Rebirth won’t have much trouble muddling through the artwork for the sake of the story, but new readers would do better to start with Vol. 1: Rise Of The Batmen and work their way up to this issue.
Detective Comics #976 releases March 14, 2018.
Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.