In Brief: As Batman’s team trains and prepares, Cassandra Cain (Orphan), Jean Paul Valley (Azrael), and Luke Fox (Batwing) face their pasts and futures head on.
League of Shadows Prologue: Shadow of a Tear: Cassandra Cain, the Orphan, watches ballet dancer Christine Montclaire as she practices. Christine catches Cass as she imitates her dancing, and Orphan uses a smoke bomb to get away. She wakes Harper Row up, but while she can read all of Harper’s emotions and thoughts in her body language, cannot find her own words, and leaves as silently as she came.
As Cass reflects on her past – her father’s attempts to turn her into a killing machine – Batman and Commissioner Gordon meet with Mayor Hady, who claims to want to leave a legacy of positive impact rather than his shady cowardice so far. Gordon catches a glimpse of Cass as she eavesdrops, but she’s off again, fighting crime all over Gotham. Batman joins her, and reminds her not to kill – but Cassandra is always thinking about how not to kill. Her training makes it much easier to kill than to refrain from killing, and she finds this deeply troubling. Cass reflects on her relationship with Batman, and the name she chose for herself – Orphan, the name her father, David Cain, took while serving Mother. She chose his name because he chose her over his masters in his final moment, changing the trajectory of a life of murder and cruelty ever so slightly, giving her hope she could do the same.
Clayface and Batwing work on Clayface’s inhibitor. Batwing has made it smaller, but has to tell Basil that using it is destroying the DNA he has left, but not using it will allow his brain to lose its conscience again. Luke promises to keep working on the problem, but Basil is clearly distraught.
Cass feels a connection to Basil as someone who has done terrible things because of the things that happened to him. She wafts through the Belfry, watching Luke, Azrael, and Kate, remembering Tim and Stephanie.
Christine tells her fellow dancers that the girl in black wanted to hurt her, and Cass, in the rafters, hears. She retreats to her own apartment, and dances, shouting her emotions while no one is around.
Or so she thinks. Across the city, Lady Shiva is watching her, and promises that she is coming.
Higher Powers: Azrael prays in an ancient church, just as giant evil Bat-Robots attack. Batwing comes to his aid, but Azrael easily takes down the robots, before it is revealed to be the Mud Room. Luke is stunned – the simulation is the one Batman created to challenge himself, and Jean Paul says that he triumphs through faith in God and humility in himself. He shows Luke the artificial intelligence of his suit, that acts as a second brain, causing insanity but also extreme power. Relating the evil of the Order of St. Dumas, he explains how he still connected to God – that he embraces mystery, instead of trying to control it. As a rationalist, Luke rejects this approach, but cannot explain the mystery away. He suggests that the Order of St. Dumas should use a robot instead of a human, since the humans continue to fail. Jean Paul thinks it unlikely, but far away, a robot called Ascalon is activated in the service of the Order.
The Big Picture: In the past, before the conclusion of Rise of the Batmen, Batman falls to earth after fighting a monster with reinforced teeth. He calls Alfred, but Tim responds instead, driving up in his Redbird car. Tim tells Bruce that training is going well, but that he’s noticed Bruce’s actions are all connected – every area that Batman is responsible for, he’s reinforcing with his teams and partners. Taking all of these things into account, Tim asks Bruce one question: why is he preparing for war?
In Depth: Each of the three stories in this landmark celebratory issue is carefully crafted in words and illustrations. James Tynion shows his absolute grasp of each of the characters, with one slight exception. Cassandra’s story is wistful, haunting, and shows a nice balance of Cassandra’s pre-Flashpoint characterization, motivation, and emotional state, while also honoring the work Tynion and his collaborators did to recreate her in Batman and Robin Eternal. His explanation of Cassandra’s choice of codenames has a flavor of Return of the Jedi, taking the legacy of her Darth Vader-like father and trying to make something good instead of evil from it. The interactions with the Mayor, Clayface, and Shiva point forward to what is to come – but probably obliquely. The purpose of this prologue is simply to give Cassandra a voice – and Tynion nails that voice to the floor with perfect assurance. Some fans have not enjoyed how verbose Tynion’s narration is, but it allows for a stronger connection to Cassandra without leaving her thoughts ambiguous, as they have been for sixteen issues so far, and without cheating to give her the power of language, which her original solo title did.
Marcio Takara, the artist who partnered with Tynion during Batman and Robin Eternal to give Cassandra her backstory issue (#13), is a wonderful choice for this story. His work echoes painting styles with their emotional range, and has bold blocks of color along with appealing linework. Additionally, he’s scheduled to provide at least some crucial issues focusing on Cass in the League of Shadows arc (though Christian Duce is solicited for next issue), so hopefully this visual continuity will continue to provide a sense of Cass’s character and development.
While the Luke and Jean Paul story and the Tim and Bruce story are clearly hooks for future stories – the Azrael story is promised to be after this Cass and Clayface focused League of Shadows arc, and Tim’s revelations hint at either the continued revelations of Rebirth or Scott Snyder’s forthcoming crossover this summer – they also provide many nice character moments. Alvaro Martinez and Eddy Barrows again show why Detective Comics has some of the strongest artwork coming out of Rebirth – their excellent linework and expressive characterization in drawing stand out. Tynion does have a somewhat blatant retcon of Luke’s religious background both in his solo Batwing series and in Batman Eternal, but on the whole, these backup stories continue the excellence of the main story.
Pick up/Pass? At 38 pages, this comic is a steal in terms of content for just a dollar more than a normal 20 page issue, and the quality on every page is excellent. Definitely pick this one up!
In Conclusion: A brilliant celebratory issue for the less-exposed members of the Detective Comics team, and a great setup for the next few stories.