Overview: As Karma attacks the team, Jefferson questions Bruce’s judgment, and Bruce makes a shocking confession.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): Years ago in Markovia, we see a lady selling what seems to be a mask that read thoughts to Karma. She asks him if his one million dollar investment is to kill Superman. He tells her that he wants to bring justice to the world.
In the present, Cassandra is running away from a machine gun-toting Karma. She counterattacks and promptly disarms him. As they begin fisticuffs, Karma states that her thoughts are much more beautiful than those of Duke Thomas. Duke’s thoughts were confused, but Cassandra’s are focused. He delights in her anger and fear. She is afraid of herself. He attempts to win Cassandra over to his cause, but she refuses.
At a private airfield in Gotham, Bruce meets Jefferson at the hangar. He shares that he wants Jefferson to train his wards; they have great talent, but many personal issues. He asks how Jefferson would handle this situation, and Jefferson responds that one must find out what they have in common and build the structure from there. But above all else, whatever battle they must fight, you must fight along with them. It is important for them to know that you are in the battle with them. At that moment, Bruce receives a call from Alfred alerting him that Cassandra is in trouble. He tells Jefferson to change on the way.
Karma tells Cassandra that all the sidekicks are useless. He tells her that she deserves more than what Bruce give her. Cassandra asks who he is, and he states that he is justice. Upon saying this, he dislocates her shoulder. He once again pleads for Cassandra to join him and his cause. She refuses and goes to kick him in the chest. He grabs her leg and throws her down. As he goes in for the kill, Jefferson electrocutes Karma. He goes over to check on her and introduces himself. As Jefferson shares why he is there, Karma throws a car door at the back of Jefferson. Karma thanks Jefferson for all this power that he has given him. Karma detonates a sonic grenade that incapacitates them and then discharges Jefferson’s lightning at Bruce. With Bruce severely wounded, Karma walks away from the fight, but not before he shares that all three of their minds exhaust him – in particular, Bruce’s. Karma notes that it is so strange that out of all the things Bruce remembers from the night his parents were murdered that Bruce focuses on Martha’s pearls.
At Wayne Manor, Alfred offers Jefferson some tea. Upon finding out that Bruce is Batman, Jefferson is completely stunned. He tells Alfred that he thought Bruce Wayne was a spoiled rich playboy. He also asks Alfred as to why Bruce asked for his help. Alfred responds that it is perhaps that he believes that he made choices that Jefferson would never make – perhaps it is his judgment that he seeks. Alfred then lets Jefferson know that Bruce is waiting for him in his room.
Bruce lets Jefferson know that getting hit by his power was ‘unpleasant’ and that he is thankful that Jefferson had not only his back but also Cassandra’s. Jefferson states that he does not condone Bruce employing kids in his crusade against crime. He tells Bruce that they need therapy and not costumes. Bruce agrees with him and expounds further that Karma will use his wards to harm Bruce. He shares he alone will take down Karma, and Cassandra and Duke will be removed from this pursuit. He shares that they will be under Jefferson’s command, and he will have autonomy on how to lead them.
Jefferson responds that they will want to help Bruce take down Karma because now it is personal. What is he supposed to say to have them back down? Bruce responds that he should tell them he is sorry. He notes that their presence makes him weaker.
Analysis: Upon my first reading, I was not that impressed with this issue. I mean, it is a solid issue no doubt, but nothing grabbed my attention. But after reading it again, I realize that there is a deeper plot afoot.
First, I have no clue what mask Karma bought – even after doing extensive research. But whatever the mask is, it is a dangerous weapon. He uses this ability to predict where Cassandra was about to strike. Let me remind you that Cassandra is one of the best fighters in the DC Universe – better than Bruce. We saw her in Tynion’s run her defeat roughly twenty members of the League of Assassins by herself and single-handedly defeat her mother, Lady Shiva. Cassandra is not a pushover. Karma, with this mask, will be essentially invulnerable to any physical fight. Also, the seller of the mask asked if Karma was going to take out Superman. She believes that this mask has the ability to dominate Superman’s mind, which is no easy feat. If it has that ability, imagine what destruction Karma could bring. We have already seen a dangerous situation where Superman was dominated by Maxwell Lord (read Ruka’s ‘The OMAC Project’). Diana had to break Lord’s neck to release his hold over Clark. Needless to say, Karma could cause serious damage if he intended to; he is a dangerous foe.
Karma’s vendetta seems akin to the First Victim’s, but yet different. I do not know if many people have seen CW’s Arrow, but in Season 5, Green Arrow faced a villain named Prometheus. Prometheus’ main goal was to destroy the Green Arrow in every conceivable way because the Green Arrow killed his father. The First Victim was collateral damage in one of Bruce’s fights, and his focus was to bring attention that Batman does not care about collateral damage – only justice. Karma’ mission is seemingly more personal and vindictive, like Prometheus’.
I think it is interesting that everyone outside the Bat-Family has issues with Bruce’s inclusion of minors in his crusade. How many times has Leslie Thompkins, Commissioner Gordon, or various Justice League members questioned Bruce about his sidekicks? Jefferson immediately shares his dislike of Bruce’s methods. As a Batman fan, I understand where Bruce is coming from. As a boy who experienced great tragedy, he swore to seek justice. His release was/is through violence, but a common person can tell that that is an unhealthy strategy to cope. When the other wards faced personal tragedies, Bruce helped them cope the only way he knew how; through violence. Jefferson shares that these kids need therapy and not costumes. He sees what Bruce cannot see – emotional wounds cannot be ignored and salved by shallow remedies. For a person to have a fruitful life, one must have balance. In order to live a healthy life, one must be physically and emotionally healthy. Hopefully, Jefferson can help unpack and heal their deep wounds.
I do not know if Bryan Hill is familiar with Tom King’s run on Batman, but his take on why Bruce does not need his team anymore is interesting. Since Rebirth, we have seen Bruce lead the Gotham Knights, a functional team that was very successful. Maybe since Tim went crazy with power for a bit, he doubted whether their involvement in his crusade is wise. In Batman #50, Bruce and Selina did not go through with their wedding. Selina’s reasoning is that his love for her makes him weak and a worse Batman. In this issue, Bruce states that his team makes him weak. Some people were worried that Tynion’s last arc would cause the Bat-Family to disperse.
I think we are in the midst of the family being eroded. We know due to solicitations, Jason Todd and Bruce will have a confrontation. We know Tim left Gotham with Stephanie to joyride through the United States. Kate is on unsteady terms with Bruce. Selina and Bruce called off their wedding. And, he is distancing himself from Cassandra and Duke. Who is left that he is on good terms with? Alfred? Maybe I am reading too much into this, but I think this is more than a coincidence though.
Let me just say that the art of Detective Comics since Rebirth is consistently the best out of all the other DC titles. This issue is no exception. Also, Hill’s script is spot on. After Tynion’s run, I was worried how he would not be able to capture the same voices of the characters as Tynion had. It feels like Hill has written these characters for a long time.
Fun Fact: As I was reading Karma’s plea for Cassandra to join his side, all I could think of was Star Wars and the scene from ‘Return of the Jedi’ where Emperor Palpatine is convincing Luke Skywalker to channel his anger and join him as a Sith. Read this issue again, you will see what I mean. Trust me.
Final Thoughts: It is a solid follow-up, and I cannot wait for the next issue. Hill is doing good work, do not miss out!