WARNING: The followingcontains spoilers for Batman #81 by Tom King, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, Mitch Gerads, Tomeu Morey and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
Batman's crime-fighting family has grown in recent years, but many of its members have been largely absent during Tom King's run on the title. The Dark Knight's closest family, such as Damian, Tim Drake and Dick Grayson, have been integral to the story. Others, however, have remained mostly in the shadows in the fight against Bane and his allies.
That all changes in this week's Issue 81, in which the extended family is brought in to stand against Thomas Wayne, Flashpoint's version of Batman. In addition to Damian and Tim, the battle is also joined by Batwoman, Orphan, The Signal, Huntress, Batgirl -- and one other.
The Gotham Knights Return – Almost
At the end of the previous issue, Bane ordered Thomas to kill Damian, in retaliation for Batman's return to Gotham. Batman had counted on Thomas' unrealized grandfatherly instinct to ultimately spare Damian -- and that gamble paid off. Thomas fails to carry out Bane's order, and as Damian frees himself, the proverbial Bat-cavalry arrives to join him against his pseudo-grandpa.
The surrounded Thomas is initially stunned by the team's unexpected intervention, and one by one, each takes advantage of the surprise. Several well-placed blows to the head later, Thomas goes down. He's not out, though, and buys time to recover by lamenting about his "son" recruiting children to fight his battles.
Not buying Thomas' line, Huntress has enough and fires an arrow directly at him. But the recovered Thomas demonstrates a speed that's perhaps even beyond that of his alternate-reality son, and snatches the arrow in midair. Even more surprisingly, he immediately plunges it into the chest of the incredulous Tim.
The unexpected move turns the battle in Thomas' favor. And as quickly as the ad-hoc Bat-team seemingly took down Thomas, he now dispatches them much more decisively. Perhaps most importantly, he uses their communication devices to signal to Batman that he's been taken out of play. Whether Batman -- who's on his way with Catwoman to confront Bane -- falls for the ruse remains to be seen.
So Many Guests, So Little Time
Batwoman and Orphan played large roles in James Tynion IV's run on Detective Comics, but have not been players in King's Batman run. Huntress and Batgirl have likewise remained absent. Duke Thomas -- The Signal -- has been featured, but he's mostly been sidelined since Bane's attacks on Batman's crime-fighting partners. Tim and Damian, however, have been important participants; Bane nearly killed Tim once, and Thomas just came close to doing the same to Damian.
Guest appearances haven't been limited to the Bat-family, either. Batman enlisted Bronze Tiger in some of his earlier confrontations against Bane. Poison Ivy did the same with Superman, Supergirl and the New Super-Man when she briefly took control of the world. Superman, as Clark Kent, and Lois Lane also participated in a double date with Bruce and Selina. And don't forget the smackdown Gotham Girl gave to Captain Atom not long ago.
Right now, though, most of those heroes have their hands full with Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom. There's no time to come to Batman's aid in Gotham, as there are plenty of other recently enhanced super-villains to deal with, thanks to DC's "Year of the Villain." Luthor, of course, ceded Gotham to Bane as that event kicked off, precluding most, if not all, involvement by Batman's allies outside of the Bat-family.
Say, Whatever Happened to …?
There is one other important character from Tynion's Detective run who has gone unseen -- or rather, has been hiding in plain sight. In that title, Basil Karlo -- aka Clayface -- turned from a life of villainy and joined the Gotham Knights, an extension of Batman's operations led by Batwoman.
In Detective Comics, Batman developed technology that allowed Karlo to better control his transformations into Clayface, and to regulate the resulting disastrous effects the changes had on his mind. When that tech was tampered with, Clayface lost control and had rampaged through Gotham, and was eventually stopped by Batwoman, who in fact had actually appeared to kill him. Karlo was revealed to have survived, however, but hadn't been seen since.
Karlo not only survived and retained his powers, but has also maintained his status as one of Batman's allies -- and an important one, at that. Batman reveals that, as a master of disguise, Karlo could remain in Gotham undetected by Bane. Batman even states that he appointed Karlo as a kind of guardian while he was away, to ensure at least some of the worst crimes allowed under Bane's rule were foiled.
In a flashback sequence narrated by Batman, Clayface is seen disguised as The Joker, taking out an unsuspecting Riddler. By extension, Clayface could have temporarily assumed the identity of any of Bane's allies, potentially undermining his rule. For that matter, he could have assumed the identity of anyone – friend or foe. This subterfuge may very well have been what saved Alfred's life, as previously speculated. Alfred has been revealed to be safely away from Bane, so it may have been Karlo sitting in for the butler when he was seemingly murdered by Bane.
So, Batman and Catwoman are on their way to face Bane, but the allies they expect to have at their side have been taken out -- although one remains. "City of Bane" continues in Batman #82, on sale Nov. 6.