Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 6: Fall of the Batmen trade paperback (DC Comics)

James Tynion's Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 6: Fall of the Batmen is a controversial penultimate chapter in this saga. Parts of this run, and even this very volume, have had me singing for joy; yet the events of this volume are right up there with the most problematic developments this series has had to offer. I am not averse to writers making these character suffer in dramatic and cogent ways, and given that this is indeed Tynion's penultimate volume, I have some sense maybe things are darkest here before a very intentional dawn. So I would not rail against Tynion for his treatment of this or that character (much); rather I'm just fervently hoping for a satisfactory resolution a couple of months from now.

[Review contains spoilers]

I took issue, ironically in my review of Batwoman Vol. 1: The Many Arms of Death, with this trope of whatever character being "badder than Batman." That is, Batman doesn't kill, ostensibly doesn't compromise or team-up with villains (except when he does), and so on, so more than occasionally we get these stories where whatever character crosses Batman's line and Batman has to fight them/deal with it/rethink his own methods. It's fine when it works though it sometimes rings false -- for instance, in Many Arms, when the story wants us to see Batwoman as rogue for working with assassins when Batman supposedly never would ... except for all the times that he has. It's there that this trope begins to wither, functioning not so much as a point of drama than as a crutch for a writer to make a story work without concrete basis.

Fall of the Batmen sees Batwoman Kate Kane, unfortunately but ostensibly quite reasonably, shoot dead a crazed Clayface, who was himself nearly begging for death and about to kill Orphan (nee alt-continuity Batgirl) Cassandra Cain, if not also a large swath of Gotham City's population. For this, Batwoman is immediately castigated by and kicked off the Gotham Knights team, who ardently demand there was "another way."

Readers, I was sitting there, and I sure didn't see another way. So we're left now with this strange situation in which Tynion has created a dilemma -- which he completely controls all sides of -- in which Batman's prohibition against killing really was the wrong choice, and in which we're meant to see some of this book's most prominent characters -- Batman and Red Robin -- as naive and overwrought for how they cling to it and react.

A Batman book in which Batman is shown up seems problematic to me; I'm no purist, and Harper Row can surely help Bruce Wayne with his emotional issues and a young Tim Drake can guess Batman's identity, but if the point ultimately is that Batman can't see right from wrong and isn't the guy who can get things done, then I should think the title of the book ought be "Batwoman," not "Batman." At some point if Batman is always wrong, one has to wonder why the reader wants to read a book about Batman -- which I don't think is a flaw in the Batman character, but rather in the writer's approach to him.

All of this is actually why, having some faith in Tynion, I don't think all is said and done yet. As a matter of fact, were it not for a significant amount made about a potential future in which the Gotham Knights fall out for many of these same reasons, I might yet think this is every part a ruse -- Clayface's death, Batwoman's ouster -- just to bring a bad guy into the light, whether Jacob Kane's Colony or Ulysses "The General" Armstrong or Ra's al Ghul's secret society. And certainly that would be a fantastic narrative construction if this were all wool pulled over the reader's eyes, including questions of a potential future, just to disguise a heroic about-face. Certainly that's a better outcome than that DC Comics gave Tynion the go-ahead to take Batwoman, among the more interesting members of the modern Bat-family, and put her on the outs with Batman and company for the foreseeable future (coinciding with the cancellation of her own title).

But at the same time, when I consider how Spoiler Stephanie Brown has progressed in this title, I don't put the bad outcome past Tynion either. I cheered in Detective Comics Vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen how Tynion both gave (also former Batgirl) Stephanie an intelligent, capable head on her shoulders -- able to go toe-to-toe with computer whiz boyfriend Red Robin Tim Drake -- and also allowed Stephanie and Tim the mature, adult relationship that Flashpoint stymied. That extended to the end of Rise, with Tim believed dead and Stephanie, it seemed, set to step into Tim's role as anchor of the team. But Tynion pivoted toward the worse portrayals of Stephanie over the years, casting her again as overemotional thorn in the Bat-family's side, through to now, in which we find Stephanie into superheroing, but not as much into it as her male counterpart. Having run off Spoiler, it's entirely possible Tynion might very well now have run off Batwoman too.

Within these qualms and quibbles, to be clear, I still think Tynion writes all of these characters tonally well -- they seem and sound like themselves. And it remains a fantastic joy to have them all in the same title, something I'll surely miss when Tynion finishes. Among what I had mixed feelings about, there's much I did like. We take for granted that Batman might invite Clayface to his team for a chance of redemption, but there's a fascinating side-plot here in which Gotham finds out about it and turns on Batman for siding with a villain, the general public not having the kind of insights into the nuance that we do; it would seem to lay the groundwork for Batman's status quo in Doomsday Clock, if that didn't grow so continually far off. And, going to some of the comments I made in my review of Detective Comics Vol. 5: A Lonely Place of Living, I was thrilled that Tynion does now finally establish -- bringing to close a plot thread almost thirty years old -- that Tim will finally graduate to being Batman one day, after so many years of swearing that he wouldn't.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 6: Fall of the Batmen

Detective Comics Vol. 6: Fall of the Batmen ends with the Annual #1 of the Rebirth era (questionable not to join up the annual numbering), detailing the origin and early life of Clayface. To be fair, the annual is placed here at the end not far from where it was originally published -- between the third-to-last and second-to-last chapters -- but I still found it kind of a strange read in Clayface's post-mortem. It's not really a remembrance so much as a reminder of the actual really bad things that Clayface did, squashing rather than enhancing our mourning. For my tastes I would have put this at the beginning of the book, if for no other reason than it's a reminder of the tragedy of Glory "Mudface" Griffin which comes full circle in the end, as does Clayface's story. You might perhaps start there if you're so inclined.

I'm curious to see how this one ends up in September.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 6: Fall of the Batmen
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)


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