SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Detective Comics #974, by James Tynion IV, Philippe Briones, Allen Passalaqua and Sal Cipriano, on sale now.
Basil Karlo’s long and tumultuous road to self-destruction has been being paved in the pages of Detective Comics for quite some time. A powder keg forged from clay, the villain-turned-hero’s descent began all the way back in “The Victim Syndicate,” when an unexpected reunion with Glory Griffin, whom he doused in the same chemicals that turned him into Clayface years ago, reminded him that no amount of good deeds can fully erase the sins of his monstrous past.
Things truly came to a head in the recently concluded “Fall of the Batmen” arc, in which Clayface had a criminal relapse of mud-shattering proportions. Bigger, badder and deadlier than ever, it didn’t take long for him to systematically dismantle the Gotham Knights; Tim was concussed, Cassandra was heartbroken, Azrael and Batwing were sidelined in the sewer, and everyone else not busy licking their wounds was left wondering what it would possibly take to dethrone the newly crowned King Clayface. Everyone, that is, except Batwoman.
In Detective Comics #972, Kate’s father, Col. Kane, offered his daughter a permanent solution to what the rest of the team still hoped was just a temporary problem: a Colony-engineered gun capable of destabilizing Clayface’s molecules. And while Batwoman made it a point to tell her father that Batman would never “allow the killing of any of his villains, let alone an ally,” Col. Kane posited that perhaps she could simply “break [the gun] apart, put it back together in a way that’s not lethal,” instead.
Thanks to this throwaway line, it stood within reason to presume that when Batwoman put a bullet through Clayface’s head in the next issue, it was because she essentially found a way to set the rifle from “kill” to “stun.” However, in Detective Comics #974, we quickly discover that wasn’t the case at all.
The issue begins with a tear-stricken Cassie holding Basil’s steadily deteriorating body in her arms. She begs Dr. October to save him, but upon scanning what’s now nothing more than a pile of malleable mud, Clayface’s inevitable fate is confirmed.
“This is just cold, dead clay… no more life to it than its mundane counterpart,” Dr. October tells Cassie.
Naturally, Batwoman’s decision to kill their rogue teammate doesn’t sit well with the rest of the Gotham Knights, particularly the famously anti-gun, anti-killing Batman, who grabs the rifle and snaps it over his knee. However, it certainly falls in line with Kate’s military background, which she even alludes to by comparing her actions to those of a police officer or a soldier. Still, by blurring the lines between her time in the army and her time as a vigilante, Kate also crosses a major line in the eyes of her teammates – so major that Batman is compelled to place her on a mandatory and indefinite leave of absence from the Gotham Knights.
Obviously, one can’t help but wonder if Batwoman killing Clayface is the inciting incident that ultimately leads to the fall of the Bat-family, which was foretold by the future version of Tim Drake in “A Lonely Place of Living.” In fact, that same thought even crosses the present-day Tim’s mind. For now, though, the only thing that’s certain is there’ll be a few empty seats at the Gotham Knights’ roundtable for the foreseeable future.