SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Detective Comics #971 by James Tynion IV and Miguel Mendonca, on sale now.
James Tynion’s “Fall of the Batmen” arc seems more aptly named than ever, as rifts continue to grow among the members of Batman’s Gotham Knights. The Victim Syndicate has taken over Arkham Asylum in the arc’s third chapter in Detective Comics #971, citing past human collateral supposedly created by Batman and demanding his surrender. Batman, of course, has a trick or two under his cape, but another secret isn’t exactly an ingredient to endear trust in his allies.
The tensions in Batman’s organization have been escalating since Tim Drake’s return from Mr. Oz’s prison, but elements of discord were already in place. Kate Kane’s (Batwoman’s) father headed up the neo-militaristic group known as the Colony and tried to destroy Batman, and seemingly killed Tim in the process. Future Tim Drake arrived pegging Batwoman as a traitor. Stephanie Brown’s (Spoiler’s) ties to Anarky have caused suspicion. And Clayface has historically acted as an outright villain. Batman has allowed each of these figures into his inner circle and further enhanced their capabilities, but has his training actually fertilized these seeds of volatility?
As shown in “A Lonely Place of Living,” one possible future for Tim Drake entails him becoming a darker version of Batman, one who believes Batwoman to be the cause of a grim and unsettling future. Tim of tomorrow had traveled back to present day to kill Batwoman, but was stopped by the collective efforts of the Knights and Batman’s other allies. Present day Tim, meanwhile, has changed since his return. Darker and more driven, he seeks to essentially militarize Batman’s Knights across Gotham – a trait that certainly plays into his future demeanor.
This issue reveals the lengths Tim would go to achieve that end. Kate forces him to disclose that he had secretly been seeking to leverage the military might of none other than The Colony itself. The Colony, of course, recently encountered the Knights after trying to flex its own military muscle. This obviously brings Kate into conflict with Tim – a moment that could potentially be the genesis of their eventual falling out. Tim’s willingness to ally with a villainous organization serves as an early logical step towards possible villainy.
Is their dispute over The Colony the issue that puts Tim and Kate at odds? If her resistance is what ultimately prevents Tim from enlisting her father’s organization, does future Tim see that as some kind of setback? Does some calamity that is yet to be seen occur because Kate stopped Tim’s plans? Or is that merely an opinionated view that Tim holds against her out of spite? This first dispute between the two might also merely be the first of many that leads to a wider rift between the two.
Of course, Kate did once have a strong relationship with her father, so perhaps it is she who eventually allies herself with Jacob Kane’s forces. If the Colony remains in opposition to Batman and the Gotham Knights with Kate standing at her father’s side, Tim would have a solid case for pegging her as a villain. If blood really is thicker than water, Batman has been taking quite a chance by giving Kate such a prominent position on the team. As the de facto leader of the Gotham Knights, any betrayal by Batwoman would likely decimate the team. The loss of such a force for good in Gotham could certainly leave a void that might align with tomorrow Tim’s dark future.
Stephanie Brown’s loyalty to Batman, and to the Gotham Knights, has always been somewhat dubious. As the daughter of the villain known as Cluemaster, Steph’s allegiances might have been called into question, although she ultimately adopted her Spoiler identity to try and stop her father’s activities. She had also fallen under the sway of the villain Anarky, though she stood against him in the end. Additionally, Stephanie was once wooed by the plight of the Victim Syndicate, and even threatened to expose her allies at one point.
With the Victim Syndicate again staging a move, Stephanie’s sympathies for their movement are restoked. She also admits that she was not totally forthcoming to her teammates regarding the Syndicate’s intentions. Steph has repeatedly waivered from her commitment to the team, but has historically stopped short of opposing them. Can she maintain her faithfulness to her allies, or will her inner conflict eventually lead her to face her mentor Batman in battle?
And then there’s Basil Karlo, who had long been a member of Batman’s rogues gallery. Clayface has plausibly been given a place in the Belfry, but his inherent instability has always made that position somewhat uncertain. And face it – seeming moral transformation or not, Clayface just doesn’t look the part of a superhero.
Nowhere is that truer than at the end of this issue. The Syndicate’s Glory Griffin, who was disfigured as the result of a past confrontation between Batman and Clayface, has triggered a horrific change in Karlo. Losing the mental capacity that had allowed him to keep himself in check, Karlo is transformed back into Clayface’s villainous incarnation. In fact, this transformation arguably appears to elevate the villain’s threat level. Now finally looking the part of a top-tier Batman villain, a reinvigorated Karlo might mean his days as a Gotham Knight are over.
At this point, at least Orphan seems loyal, Azrael’s been going with the program, and Batwing is Lucius Fox’s son, so his loyalty seems assured. But Batman’s other proteges seem on the verge of taking everything they’ve learned from him and turning it against him. Part four of “Fall of the Batmen” continues in Detective Comics #972, on sale January 10.