Review: Detective Comics #981
James Tynion concludes his run on Detective Comics with smiling, hugs, and the simple refrain that maybe one should take things one day at a time instead of coming up with complex algorithms and plans for the future. His first artistic collaborators on the series, Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, and Adriano Lucas, return for Detective #981 and provide chilling double page spreads of possible futures and more solid ones of the present of the Bat-family. The Brother Eye/Ulysses Armstrong/future Tim Drake plot is resolved fairly quickly so that Tynion, Barrows, and Ferreira can dig deeper into the characters’ emotions and relationships and tease out the different paths that the members of Batman and Batwoman’s hero training squad follows.
Probably the most unexpected hug is the first one between Tim Drake, who has been possessed by Brother Eye technology, and Batwoman as they realize that finding a perfect algorithm to fight crime involves pushing away friends and family and giving into one’s darker nature. It’s not punching or gadgets that brings Tim back to his real self (I love how Sal Cipriano gradually “de-Brothers” his word balloons.), but Stephanie Brown’s voice on the other end telling him she loves him no matter if he’s Red Robin, a future autocratic Batman, or just Tim Drake the college student. The split screens between her and ruthlessly manipulative and pragmatic Ulysses Armstrong represents the warring side of his psyche as Tim wants to efficiently prevent crime in Gotham City and elsewhere, but the human cost is too great. Batwoman experiences almost the same thing in a potent vision of the future where she is hunting down Batman for the government and is content to let him go, but because Bruce is dying of radiation from Brother Eye, she executes a mercy killing. Even if it’s a potential future timeline, Lucas uses a full color palette and Barrows uses tighter knit panels to show the tears on Kate’s face as she puts down an aging Bruce, who has realized that Bat-symbol is a powerful force for good, but it’s not one that needs to be eternal. It’s a direct refutation to the machine set up by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy back in 2014’s Detective Comics #27 where Batman set up a way for a Batman (and Alfred) to exist in every era perpetually.
Detective Comics #981 is all about being able to love your family members, but also knowing when they need to go down their own path. Especially in the early part of Tynion’s run, Batman, Batwoman, and Red Robin have all been about control with strict training protocols and focus on efficiency and results at the expense of emotions, which caused Stephanie Brown to leave the team, poor Cassandra Cain to be estranged, and Clayface to die. The second half of this comic sets this all to rights with honest conversations, smiling, hugs, and yes, breaking up the proverbial band. Kate and Bruce share drinks at a fancy restaurant where their parents used to “parley”, and Bruce admits that the fact that she’s one of his only living relatives is why their relationship is so frustrating. Also, Kate talks about starting to figure out where she fits in this world of vigilantes and high tech paramilitarism as more of a solo act like she was back when J.H. Williams was writing her comics. But everything isn’t all sunshine and rainbows because this is a book predominantly set in Gotham City so, of course, Jake Kane is listening on their entire conversation. Kate might wear the Batman symbol and have respect for Batman and her other cousin Bruce, but she doesn’t answer to him.
Even if she isn’t technically the “star” of Detective Comics #981, the short scene with Cassandra Cain and Barbara Gordon is definitely the most heartfelt as Cass moves from Wayne Manor to a room in Leslie Thompkins’ clinic where she can be a student and young woman and not just a crime fighter. In contrast with her completely face and form obscuring Orphan costume, Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira draw Cass and her surroundings as open and dynamic before slowly pivoting to this issue’s saddest moment. At the clinic, she isn’t her codename, and Barbara Gordon is “Babs”, not Batgirl. Even though the glimpse of Cassandra picking up her pre-Flashpoint mantle as Batgirl in the previous issue was glorious, it is good to see her learning how to speak and function in society as a human being and not just as a human weapon and nicely caps off the arc that James Tynion has set up for her throughout Batman and Robin Eternal and Detective Comics.
Although it features alternate timelines, crazy future tech, and of course, masked vigilantes who wear a flying rodent on their costumes, Detective Comics #981, and by extension James Tynion’s whole 47 issue run on Detective Comics, has been a family drama with Batwoman playing the badass aunt and Tim Drake as the son, who wants to please his father and also wants to do his own thing. It ends with Batman going into action alone while his surrogate family members forge a path of their own. Sure, Tim and Stephanie are investigating alternate timelines and not going to college, but Batman trusts and loves them enough to let them strike out on their own. Batman fighting crime in Gotham City is a constant, but there is room for change in that constant.
Story: James Tynion IV Pencils: Eddy Barrows
Inks: Eber Ferreira Colors: Adriano Lucas Letters: Sal Cipriano
Story: 9.5 Art: 8.0 Overall: 8.8 Recommendation: Buy
DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review