The Rebirth era of Detective Comics hits a crucial turning point with Fall of the Batmen.
With Red Robin back in the fold and desperate to prevent the bleak future glimpsed in the previous arc, the “Gotham Knights” team becomes more aggressive, sparking concern as the team’s activities come into the public eye. After lying low, the Victim Syndicate, allied with Batman foe Anarky, seizes Arkham Asylum and sets off a series of anti-Batman protests at the same time they capture the reformed Clayface and weaponize him against his teammates. Facing a dire situation, Batwoman makes a brutal choice that fractures the Knights and pushes the city to the edge of a crisis that could destroy it.
James Tynion IV’s run on Detective Comics has been one of the unqualified successes of the Rebirth era. The writer has a strong feel for the concept of “Batman as mentor” and surrounds him with a dynamic cast that he uses to powerful effect. Those contrasting viewpoints and interlocking relationship dynamics have been driving the drama for almost two years and much of what Tynion’s been building comes to a head in this arc.
At the outset, Clayface’s place in the ensemble wasn’t entirely clear, even if his inclusion was rather intriguing. As the character’s run hits its crescendo, it stands as the emotional high point of Tynion’s tenure. The writer has a fascinating take on the villain trying hard to reform, digging into the psychological scars that drove his actions but demonstrating the true possibility for redemption. The tragedy at the heart of the story comes across powerfully in this climax, but isn’t the end. Indeed, the clash that results between Batman and Batwoman has been building from the outset, the events of this story starkly delineating the differences between the cousins, with Bruce’s inflexible moral code contrasted against the military-trained Kate’s more relativistic ethics. Tynion works similar ground playing the twisted idealism of Anarky off of the fanatical First Victim, with the latter willing to sacrifice hundreds of innocents to discredit Batman. Add in a powerful emotional conflict between Red Robin and Spoiler and Orphan’s devastating reaction to Clayface’s fate and Tynion has constructed a powerful dramatic mix that adds depth and texture to his original take on superhero action.
As has become standard with books on DC’s twice monthly schedule, Fall of the Batmen has a small army on art duty. Pencillers Joe Bennet, Miguel Mendonca, Jesus Merino, Philippe Briones and Eddy Barrows all contribute first rate work, in collaboration with a multitude of talented inkers and colorists. All of the art team combinations work in a similar clean, classic style, so that there are no real outliers in the mix. That allows for a smooth transition from chapter to chapter, without any unnecessarily distracting contrasts. Instead, fans get dynamic visuals that move the drama along with a true sense of momentum and impact. It’s one of the more successful examples of managing a multi-artist approach without sacrificing an identity for the series in the name of scheduling.
With Detective Comics building to Tynion’s grand finale, anyone who’s read previous installments needs Fall of the Batmen, though if you haven’t been following the title, you really should start with the earlier volumes, in sequence, to get the full impact.