SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for "Batman" #17 by Tom King and David Finch, on sale now.
After last issue's lighthearted and relatively normal Bat-family outing for a quick lunch at Batburger, Tom King and David Finch continue the far more serious tone that capped off that issue in "Batman" #17, part two of the "I Am Bane" storyline. As Bane closes in on The Psycho Pirate, Batman closes in on Bane, but not before the villain delivers several more shocking blows to the Dark Knight's allies that rival the surprising extremes he took last issue. Batman makes a few unexpected moves of his own to protect those close to him, employing unusual but effective tactics that aren't always the among his typical operating standards for a chapter that dramatically escalates the story's tension.
Was That Really The Three Former Robins Found In The Batcave?
Readers learn early on that, yes, unfortunately, the three individuals Bruce, Alfred and Claire Clover (Gotham Girl) discovered hanging by their necks in the Batcave really were Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Damian Wayne, and not three other hapless fellows in their garb obscured by shadows. Fortunately, though, the trio were apparently discovered and rescued before succumbing to their seemingly fatal situation, as they are next seen safely within the confines of Superman's Fortress of Solitude, unconscious within a set of stasis tubes. Batman asks Superman to keep them safe in his icy home until Bane is dispatched.
As Bane has again apparently become Batman's deadliest foe, the move is one that effectively provides a plausible reason for the World's Finest not to face Bane together, keeping Superman off the board unless the fight comes to his Fortress – an increasingly possible scenario given King's penchant for unexpected developments. King conveniently doesn't explain the condition of the three heroes, though, nor give any indication of just how all three survived a tried-and-true method of execution – nor why they simply weren't killed by other means in the first place. It's not the first time within the course of the issue that King dodges any kind of explanation for what seems like a definitive demise.
Who Else Survives Certain Death?
Dick, Jason and Damien aren't the only Bat-team members to survive seemingly fatal confrontations. Before the fates of the three former Robins are revealed, the issue opens with one of Bane's henchmen showing up at the door of Ben Turner (Bronze Tiger), still suffering from Venom withdrawals, who takes a point-blank gunshot straight to the gut. While Finch's depiction doesn't definitively convey any kind of fatal result, the preponderance of blood and the size of the wound make things look pretty dire for Ben. Nonetheless, he turns up later, alive, as a captive of Bane himself.
Similarly, Selina Kyle is ambushed by the same henchman later on, and likewise takes a bullet, but her shot in the back, from a distance, doesn't come across as a certain fatality like Ben's shooting did. Also like Ben, she ends up alongside him as a captive. King and Finch's storytelling in moments like these take on an unfortunate deceptive quality, succeeding at evoking shock but then backpedaling by ignoring its effects in an otherwise strongly composed storyline.
Speaking Of Guns, There's One Pointed At Psycho Pirate's Head
Bane's not the only one stepping up his game – Batman and his crew are using some unusual tactics of their own, and yes, that includes the surprising use of a firearm. No, Batman doesn't finally resort to using a gun, but Alfred does, although his pointing one on The Psycho Pirate in order to coerce him to cure Claire is likely a high-stakes bluff. Alfred's papa grizzly tendencies have been drawn out before, particularly with Bruce and his pseudo-family, but rarely in such a threatening fashion, and not for a relatively new member of said family with whom Alfred lacks a longtime bond. If Psycho Pirate doesn't cooperate, it's more likely he'll take a pistol whipping rather than a bullet.
Alfred and Claire get into Arkham Asylum in the first place via a rather unconventional method: Alfred puts his theatrical background to use and disguises himself as Jeremiah Arkham, while Claire is wheeled in masquerading as Tommy Elliott (Hush) by way of a bandaged face. The subterfuge is necessary, as King and Finch give the term "asylum" a fitting context here, by establishing it as a fortress (comparing it to Superman's, in fact) whose most important function isn't to keep those inside from getting out, but those on the outside (Bane) from breaking in (to kidnap Psycho Pirate). While inside, Alfred commences his efforts to force Psycho Pirate to cure Claire's current emotional trauma.
Duke And Jim Gordon Hold Their Own... Almost
Bane's goons didn't limit their sights to Bronze Tiger and Catwoman – they also take on Jim Gordon, who actually fares a lot better than either of them did. That's in no small part due to the arrival of Duke, who shows up in time to help Jim take down Bane's henchmen. While they're fortunate enough to come out of that skirmish better than Ben or Selina did, they're not lucky enough to avoid Bane himself, who is now revealed to have made his way to Gotham, making Duke and Jim his final two captives. Batman arrives shortly thereafter, facing down Bane from an adjacent rooftop as the issue comes to a close.
With Duke kneeled alongside Gordon, Selina and Ben, his role on the Bat-team is solidified as that of an ally, rather than as an addition to the Bat-family like Batman's past and present sidekicks. Not that Batman's allies have fared any better than the Robins did, but the story continues to define Duke's role in the Bat-family, even if his latest efforts weren't all that successful. Batman finds himself in the exact situation he was trying to avoid: Bane has placed his closest allies in direct jeopardy.
Although only the second chapter of the arc, the issue delivers a vibe more akin to the lead-in of a final showdown. Final or not, that confrontation will continue in the next installment of "I Am Bane" in "Batman" #18, on sale March 1.