SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for "Batman" #16 by Tom King and David Finch, on sale now.
Tom King and David Finch start off a new story arc in "Batman" #16, and the mere title of the new "I Am Bane" storyline indicates that Batman and Bane aren't finished after the extraction of Psycho Pirate from Bane's clutches in Santa Prisca. The issue's shocking climax, in fact, makes Bane's presence known in a surprising and grisly manner, although he's not actually seen in the comic. While the issue begins on a serious note and ends on a downright disturbing one, in between King takes the opportunity to establish a lighthearted dynamic between the "sons" of Bruce Wayne, both actual and figurative.
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The Former Robins Hang Out
There have been plenty of stories featuring Batman's current and former protégés teaming up in the field, but getting together out of costume for lunch at a fast food joint is a comparative rarity. As Bruce, Dick, Jason, Damian and Duke Thomas all dine out on Bat-burgers and "Jokerized" fries, Bruce makes the boys aware of Bane's pending return to Gotham, and citing the recent and seeming demise of Tim Drake, mandates that they leave the city for their own safety.
While newbie Duke is all too willing to follow Bruce's orders, the former Robins have other ideas, and dismiss Dad's warnings, vowing to fight Bane at Batman's side. This resolve yields to seemingly dire consequences later on, when Batman, Alfred and Claire (Gotham Girl) make a horrible discovery: three bodies appearing to be those of Nightwing, Red Hood and Robin, all found hung by the neck in the shadowy depths of the Batcave.
If the trio of Robins are truly dead, this would be one of the most unexpected developments and best-kept secrets in comics history. The off-panel murders, the characters' obscured likenesses, and the amount of page time spent on developing their family dynamic, however, indicate that the prominent members of the Bat-family haven't been taken off the board -- yet. It's possible that they may have been captured by Bane, though, and with Tim also absent (believed dead by his family), the loss of this triumvirate, even in the short term, would leave the DC Universe without a Robin for the first time since Jason's death – that is, his first certain death – a possible scenario paving the way for Duke to officially take over as Batman's new crimefighting partner.
Bronze Tiger Isn't A Bad Partner, Either
Ben Turner played an important role in "I Am Suicide," and he plays one again early in the issue. Batman observes the newly-imprisoned Psycho Pirate inside Arkham Asylum, while Bronze Tiger infiltrates the facility, posing as an attacker and flushing out one of Bane's operatives sent to break out the Pirate. The strategy is one rarely used by Batman with any of his sidekicks, involving a seeming attack on Batman himself, which might stand as the likely reason why Batman employed Bronze Tiger for this operation rather than Duke or Nightwing. The move plays into Batman's expansion of his crimefighting circle, and Ben makes a case for himself to be part of that, although nothing further along those lines is explored this issue.
The seeming elimination of Batman's longtime partners, though, makes its own case for others to play a more crucial role; in addition to Duke, Bronze Tiger seems to be a likely candidate to appear later in the storyline, especially now that he has an even more vested interest in protecting Psycho Pirate from Bane. King's usage of the bizarre team assembled by Batman in "I Am Suicide" showed the workability of less-seen characters under command of The Bat, and as "I Am Bane" is clearly shaping up to be a continuation of the past arc more so than a brand new one, Bronze Tiger's continued involvement seems to be a likely scenario.
Here's The Story Of A Man Named Batman, Who Is Busy With Three Boys Of His Own
Bruce Wayne has long played the role of father figure to the young men who called themselves Robin, and as decades of storylines have forged a bond between all of them, these stories have largely been focused on these characters as a team, but less so as a family. In the span of eight pages within this issue, King arguably does more to forge the roles of Bruce as a father, and the three remaining current and former Robins as siblings, than has been done in years of Bat-family stories. Having done so, King throws Duke in as the newly adopted son who needs to find his place at the dinner table.
After Bruce and Duke have ensured the Psycho Pirate's security within Arkham, Duke, Bruce and his three sons enjoy the aforementioned and relatively normal lunch at Batburger; at least, as normal a lunch as such a family can have. Despite all the talk of supervillains, about the only thing outwardly noticeable about the group's meal is Bruce's overly refined ways of consuming fast food. King reminds readers that Damian is indeed just a kid, by way of his grudging excitement over the toy contained within his meal, and then his subsequent food fight with his older "brother" Jason. Jason fills the role of the middle kid by picking on his kid brother while turning to Dick for comforting reassurance. Dick is the oldest, and wisest, brother who's experienced all of this before and carries a calmness that bridges the youngsters' immaturity and Bruce's stern and serious ways.
Duke, as the new kid, doesn't quite fit in yet, so he's content to hold onto Dad's approval, even if he doesn't agree with the rest of the family. While Damian, Jason and Dick may not necessarily play a key role in future issues of "I Am Bane," Duke's role is shaping up to be significant one, at both Batman's side and Bruce's.
The storyline's second part will be featured in "Batman" #17, on sale February 15.