Detective Comics #976 cover

Review – Batman: Detective Comics #976: Trauma and Superhero Violence

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Detective Comics #976 variant cover
image via DC Comics.

Batman: Detective Comics #976 – James Tynion IV, Writer; Javier Fernandez, Artist; John Kalisz, Colorist


Ray – 9/10

Corrina: The Good Is Overshadowed


Ray: James Tynion’s final arc on Detective Comics kicks off with guest art by former Nightwing artist Javier Fernandez, in an issue that splinters the Bat-family further and sets them off in different directions – some for better, some for worse. The issue kicks off with a flashback segment that shows Cassandra and Clayface teaming up to stop a group of human traffickers – in a story Cass tells to her therapist, Leslie Thompkins. This segment, which really lays bare Cass’ awful self-image and explains why she was so devastated by Clayface’s death, beyond losing a friend, is the best of the issue. I also much enjoyed Leslie continuing last issue’s pattern of people calling out Bruce for his bad choices and in particular for how he’s ignored Cass and treated her like a weapon rather than one of his kids. Although her warning to Bruce makes me wonder if Cass is going to continue being part of the Bat-family in the future.

Having a better time, meanwhile, are Batwing and Azrael, who have joined Batwoman in the Colony. This was a story that could have gone really badly, but this issue makes clear that the Colony in this story is not the one that kicked off the run. Jacob seems to have let Kate take the lead on reforming the black ops group, and her perspective on what she had to do three issues ago is a lot clearer now. Batwing and Azrael are still my least favorite members of the cast, but they’re fine here. Probably the best segment of the issue deals with Tim Drake, as Batman finally confronts him about his increasingly unstable behavior – Tim’s PTSD has been a slow burn plot since he returned, and while Bruce tries his best to help him, there isn’t the level of trust there needs to be, and by the end both of them are isolated – leaving Tim vulnerable to the plans of the final arc’s villain.

This run hasn’t gotten the hype of King’s run, but it’s a great run that has delivered excellent storyarcs for some of the Bat-family’s best characters.

Detective Comics #976 page 7
Cassandra will break your heart. Image via DC Comics (Also, beautiful use of light and shadow in these panels.)

Corrina: There is so much good in this story. Ray lays it all out, including Tim’s PTSD and Cassandra’s heartbreaking insistence that she’s no good. Rather than go over the same ground, I want to talk about the two concepts that Tynion is dealing with in this run and why I cannot, as a reader, buy fully into them.

The first, as I’ve been vocal about, is the direction for Jacob and Kate Kane. I’ve never been happy about Jacob accepting the possibility of collateral damage to save a city, especially since his wife was collateral damage in a terroristic attack. I believe the point was that Jacob became what he hated out of fear, which is common enough, but the way the story has been explored, Jacob has been forgiven for all the bad things he’s done–including the attack that has helped create Tim’s PTSD–and now we’re supposed to believe he’s on the side of the right and, what’s more, that Kate herself has looked past that too? (And perhaps even that Jacob was right initially?) Kate’s response to having been pushed to kill–an action that should result in charges and an actual legal trial or, at the least, an investigation–is to double down and say she might do it again and all with the help of an organization that answers to no one and nothing. That’s pure fascism, Kate, and it ill-suits her or her father.

Perhaps this will be shown to be a dead end for Kate and Jacob, perhaps that’s where this story is going, and I hope so, and then I will eat my words. But it doesn’t seem to be so far.

Batman knows that the one thing that separates what he does from being, well, the Punisher, is refusing to dole out the ultimate punishment. If he decides who lives or dies, then he’s crossed the line to an executioner. It’s not that he never makes the wrong choices, it’s that he knows where the ultimate line is.

The other concept that’s been explored brilliantly but may not ultimately fit is that perhaps superheroes are doing more harm than good, especially to themselves. He’s explored that concept with The First Victim, with Steph’s arc, and now with Tim and Cassandra’s PTSD and depression. Having bought real-world considerations into the realm of Batman, it seems to me that real world answers would now apply, such as removing Tim and Cass from the caped crusader situation and providing them with something different but also worthy to do.

Yet going down that train of thought, a reader might  ultimately conclude that, hey, maybe EVERYONE should give up working for secret organizations like the Colony or Batman’s group and switch over into politics or charity work or become FBI agents or police officers, or any profession that avoids the PTSD triggers and allows recovery. (It seems to me that Batman: Creature of the Night is exploring this exact concept.)

So I’m not sure where the good ending for our heroes will come from, for anyone in this story. Maybe there isn’t one but that makes me very sad.

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Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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