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Detective Comics #974 Shows the Bat Symbol's Ultimate Meaning

SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Detective Comics #974 by James Tynion IV and Philippe Briones, on sale now.

With a monstrously transformed Clayface posing a deadly threat to Gotham, Batwoman's assassination of her one-time ally has also triggered an ethics discussion amongst the Gotham Knights in James Tynion IV and Philippe Briones' Detective Comics #974. While Kate sees her drastic move as one that potentially saved countless lives, other members of the Bat-team argue that being a hero means something else entirely.

Along the way, the discussion turns to the meaning of the Bat-symbol specifically, and Tynion just might have established what the longstanding icon ultimately stands for.

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The first to confront Batwoman regarding her actions is logically Batman himself, but outside of angrily chastising her, he doesn't immediately have much else to say. It's Tim Drake who provides some reason, with the oft-told motif that heroes simply find a better way, because that's what puts them above their foes. Batman doesn't really need to say this himself, though, because he's practiced this code for the entirety of his existence – some early odd exceptions notwithstanding. What Tim states is no different from anything Batman has likely preached to him countless times already.

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It's Orphan, though, who hammers this point home most effectively. It was Cassandra who had put herself in danger confronting Karlo last issue, and she had also administered him a possible cure. Clearly the most emotionally impacted by Karlo's murder, Cassandra violently confronts Kate. Ripping the Bat-emblem from Batwoman's costume, Cassandra – the daughter of two assassins and herself raised as one – reminds her of the symbol's true meaning.

That meaning? That those who wear it don't kill. Ever.

These words carry extra weight as they come from a girl who was literally raised to be a killer. That she's the first in the wake of Karlo's death to come out completely against killing is perhaps a bit of a surprise, lending extra heft to her statement. Even after putting herself in possible danger, and even after Batman's one-time foe had become deadlier than ever, Orphan believes in what the symbol stands for.

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Sure, the symbol represents a hero of the night. It's meant to instill fear in criminals. It's even a symbol of protection when it shines in Gotham's nighttime skies. But it's ultimate meaning transcends all of that, and while there are those who kill who can rightfully be called heroes, one important distinction has been reinforced: that those who wear the symbol are not among them.

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Everyone knows Batman doesn't kill, and by extension, neither should anyone under his command, especially if they're wearing his symbol. Detective Comics #974 is a well-positioned, modern-day reminder of that.

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