Batman had only existed as a character for barely a year when he acquired an apprentice dressed in bright colors and modeled after Robin Hood. This young “Boy Wonder” was followed by Alfred the butler, then later by Batwoman, and other characters who came to collectively be known as the “agents of the Bat” or simply the “Bat-Family.” Some of these characters featured heavily in last year’s Batman and Robin Eternal series. Now, DC Comics is relaunching its superhero titles under the banner Rebirth, and that includes the new Detective Comics #934. A new mystery means the return of the Bat-Family in a multi-part story entitled “Rise of the Batmen.” If you’re a veteran fan or have never picked up a Batman comic in your life, I can recommend this new issue produced by writer James Tynion IV with art by Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira and Adriano Lucas, with Marilyn Patrizio on letters. It’s full of character and wit, and provides a story that means Detective Comics will live up to its own title.
“It’s a mystery.”
If you need more information, no problem, but be aware that also means we’re getting into spoilers now.
Jean-Paul Valley, the assassin-turned-vigilante called Azrael, is attacked by a man dressed not unlike Batman, a new enemy (or possibly one of many agents of a new enemy) who is rising not only against the Dark Knight but all of Gotham City’s heroes. Bruce Wayne decides that the other, younger vigilantes need more serious training now and to start working like a unit. He decides that the best person to whip the troops into shape is not him but rather Kate Kane, the Batwoman. This issue marks a change in the relationship between Batman and Batwoman, with a greater level of trust and cooperation. It also means Kate will be taking a more powerful role in Gotham City, as now even Bruce’s trusted apprentice Tim Drake will be under her command.
Along with Tim, who’s still calling himself Red Robin, the new Detective Comics team includes Stephanie Brown AKA Spoiler, Cassandra Cain (formerly a Batgirl, now calling herself Orphan), and … Basil Karlo, the actor-turned-villain called Clayface?
Yep! Clayface, a villain who gained greater popularity due to the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series, is now going to try his hand at being a good guy. This is not just a shake-up done for its own sake. Previous to the 2011 DC Comics reboot, Basil Karlo was the first of several villains called Clayface (the version in Batman: TAS was an amalgam of him and the second villain, Matt Hagen) and arguably the most evil. In this issue, we see him as a person who longs for the life he had before his mutation, one where he was a rising star who could inspire emotions in others. We get a touching scene of Karlo escaping Arkham Asylum just so he can have the change to watch one of his old movies and enjoy a bit of nostalgia. Rather than attack him, Batman offers him a chance to change his life and join the crew he’s assembling with Batwoman. Clayface, humbled and surprised, accepts.
It’s a wonderful moment that makes this issue stand out from what could have been a standard “assemble the superheroes” prologue. James Tynion IV understands that Batman (in many interpretations) is a person who works in darkness but is ultimately an idealist more interested in creating a better future than he is in causing bad people pain. He may not expect his enemies to often turn a new leaf, and we’ve yet to see if Clayface will live up to this second chance, but he still believes in hope at the end of the day. Gotham City is not just Hell on Earth, as some comics imply. Gotham is a place for second chances, where a child who saw lost their family can take that pain and be a hero instead of a villain, and in turn inspire others to be heroic too.
This is an excellent jumping on point if you’re not familiar with the Bat-Family or haven’t been reading for a while. Give it a shot!
Alan Sizzler Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) is a pop culture historian and the NYT Best Selling author of Doctor Who: A History. He is so ready for this new Bat-Family.