WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Detective Comics #981 by James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Adriano Lucas and Sal Cipriano, on sale now.
Despite Batman's reputation as a loner, Bruce Wayne has long been willing to expand his ranks to fight for justice, as fans have seen over the years with various Robins, Batgirls, the Outsiders and even the Justice League factoring large in the Dark Knight's life. But as Detective Comics recently showed, these plans require meticulous care or else things go can awry pretty quickly.
In the wake of James Tynion IV's "Batmen Eternal" arc, Bruce has realized if he's to keep forming such groups of vigilantes, he needs a better training program to equip them, not just physically, but mentally as well to ensure they're prepared for the rigors ahead. At the end of Issue #981, he takes this notion a step further, actually revealing to Alfred he may be considering founding a school for young vigilantes.
This recent storyline took an extensive toll on the Bat-family (Nightwing, Red Hood, Barbara 'Batgirl' Gordon and Damian 'Robin' Wayne), as well as Tim Drake's Gotham Knights (Kate 'Batwoman' Kane, Luke 'Batwing' Fox, Azrael, Stephanie 'Spoiler' Brown and Cassandra Cain). They all fought against Ulysses Armstrong and his use of Brother Eye to bring the OMACs back into play to control Gotham. This, of course, all tied into the dystopian future where Tim became a dark Batman after Batwoman killed Bruce, an enemy of the state. As Tim tries to prevent this future from happening, it became highly apparent to Bruce he wasn't conditioning his proteges properly and the Batman symbol had become a burden to them.
It was especially obvious with Tim, who was having a mental breakdown trying to stop the future, and Batwoman, whose rash killing of Clayface drove a wedge between the Knights and the Bat-family. Eventually, the crisis was averted and each hero re-evaluated their crimefighting stance. Batwoman continues, but with a bit more caution; Tim and Stephanie head off to find their destinies together; Cassandra is being tutored by Barbara; Luke is studying the OMAC nanotechnology; and Azrael is looking at a higher calling under Cyborg's watch.
The Dark Knight recognizes they're carving their own identities now, and it dawns upon him, he's not meant to show them the final destination -- he's merely there to guide them towards a path where they can fulfill their potential. In a conversation with Kate, Bruce jokes about how he recruited her into the Knights, which he saw as a secret training program for young heroes, but there's a lot of truth to his humor.
He knows there'll always be young vigilantes with the rage he had when he lost his parents, and this needs to be properly channeled. Bruce couldn't do this for his Robins because he had other priorities, such as working with Jim Gordon and the League. But with a template like Batman Inc. -- an international program where he had various Batmen working under one banner -- he knows a formal system can work; an institution where young heroes can be groomed without the fear of living up to the Batman mantle.
We get teased confirmation of this when Alfred asks Bruce about the aftermath of the Knights project, with everyone going their separate ways... for now.
"Perhaps next you'll start an entire school for young vigilantes?" he asks the Caped Crusader.
"No... not yet," Batman replies, gearing up for battle.
"Yet?!" replies a stunned Alfred, who asks him if he's seriously considering the concept. Bruce tables the conversation, telling him the future "can wait a little longer," but for him to even respond in this manner, clearly he's at least begun thinking about starting an academy where upcoming heroes can avoid the pressure of Batman's legacy. After all, he's already been training Damian from a young age, although his son came with a lot of mental baggage, including the feisty al Ghul bloodline, and has helped Superman get his own son, Jonathan, ready to take on the mantle of Superboy.
Ultimately, the idea of a Bat-school isn't just about Bruce healing his own wounds with the Bat-family, it's about making sure he doesn't fail the next generation of crimefighters. As we all know, whenever a school's involved, hope isn't too far behind, and "Batmen Eternal" certainly shows the Bat-family is finally a hopeful one, eager for what tomorrow brings.