So far “A Lonely Place Of Living” really has been a celebration of Tim Drake. But as interesting as its connections to “Doomsday Clock” or its callbacks to “Titans Tomorrow” are, it’s in part three that the rubber really meets the road.
I mean that fairly literally, as it’s the placing of Tim’s no longer tabi-toed boots back onto the streets of Gotham that suddenly brings this story together. At long last, James Tynion IV is free to write Tim Drake as part of his Detective Comics team once again! And the results are pretty glorious.
Though the premises of a morally compromised Batman and a fallen future Robin are pretty well worn at this point, Tynion writes an effective villain for his story. The future Tim mixes the absolute confidence of Batman in the presence of his enemies with an impressively heartfelt vulnerability as he reflects on the road not taken. It’s so effective that you might not even notice the contradictions in his logic towards the end of the issue at first but it’s more than textured enough to leave no doubt that such things were intentional once you do.
In fact, the representation of grief and desperation is one of my favorite elements of this issue. These emotions are no strangers to this franchise, Batman runs on this stuff! Nevertheless, Tynion knows exactly where to lean to make Bat-Tim seem at once a tragic villain and an entitled, creepy snot.
On the other side of that coin, there’s the original Batman. I don’t think that anyone would call Bruce Wayne a particularly balanced human being; the story that this arc is named after is essentially about the fact that Bruce needs an effective support structure in order to be healthy. Nevertheless, I prefer my Batman to seem healthier for his nocturnal activities rather than more deranged, and it seems like Tynion agrees. He knows that Bruce’s obsessive behavior would never allow him to leave Tim out there, but it’s the reason why it hits him so hard that makes the scene. Batman’s superpower is his force of will, but, while it may be in a class well beyond normal people, Wayne runs in circles filled with the rare few who have this kind of focus and most of them are his enemies. But this early scene so perfectly captures why Batman is a hero and why he’s the particular hero that he is.
As much as this arc is obviously calling back to “A Lonely Place Of Dying”, it also summons up tonal comparisons to “Under The Hood”. Obviously the return of a Robin once thought dead and his turn towards gun-toting villiany point that way and this issue is chock full of references to exactly that era, likely because that was when Tynion was at peak comic fan, but it also shares a distinctive ‘show don’t tell’ philosophy with the now classic storyline.
As was far more common then, “Under The Hood” was published with little fanfare on the covers. Admittedly, the story ran up until Batman #650, but it didn’t even present itself as a unified whole, as the similarly seismic “Hush” arc did, being published in several smaller arcs. In many respects, “Under The Hood” was just a collection of ‘normal’ Batman issues, especially before the reveal, but it made its importance clear through the story that it was telling and the tone with which it was told. It’s unclear how significant this new Batman will end up being, but whatever his impact on the DC Universe, Tynion has already made this issue seem significant, like an event, without any of the “Doomsday Clock” hype that the earlier installments leaned upon.
Tynion has spoken often and loudly about his love for Tim Drake and, as much as the absolute spotlight that Tim’s received over the last two issues is evidence of that fact, you really feel it here. It’s not just a matter of plotting, the entire feeling of the series changes the moment Tim steps back into his costume. That kind of influence, that change in the air, is truly remarkable and it immediately speaks to Tynion’s love for the character and why it is an earned affection. We’ve spent a lot of time discussing why Tim Drake is special, but it’s all predicated on “A Lonely Place Of Dying” and his insistence that Robin means something. Here Tynion puts discussion behind us and sets the proof of that origin on the page and in your bones.
Immediately this title feels fun again. We know that dark days are coming for Clayface and Batwoman already, but somehow the presence of a Robin, particularly this Robin, shines a beam of light and resilience on the Gotham Knights.
No, not the sports team. The–Oh, yeah I guess they haven’t ever given this team a name…
This gag, that whole page in fact, is gold. It tells us so much about the characters–specifically that they’re all nerds and in what ways they are all nerds–and externalizes just how central Red Robin is to this title.
Tim’s presence instantly changes the dynamics within the Knights and the issue does a fantastic job of showing us how his influence touches each member of the team without going through a roll call. Tynion doesn’t need to turn attention to Red Robin unnaturally, instead keeping up the web of relationships that already exist within the Knights and demonstrating how they change now that Tim is back.
Also, before we move on, can we just pause and acknowledge that Alfred Pennyworth is clearly the best dad in the universe? In his two brief appearances Alfred absolutely steals the show exactly as much as you’d expect of a trained actor/secret agent/butler. The latter scene is particularly brutal, with Tynion quietly playing on the reader’s past knowledge and dramatic irony to set up a creeping sense of tension, only to tear it down to tell us something about his new Batman. And Alfred, like a champ, hears, ‘I’m from the future where I’m Batman’ and doesn’t bat an eye before comforting and supporting his grandson. It’s a beautiful moment and another one that shows that Tynion not only understands the core of these characters but possesses the craft and dedication to demonstrate them to his audience.
Alvaro Martinez returns this week, taking over from Eddy Barrows now that the action’s returned to Gotham. Martinez, as ever, makes it a natural transition for the title, bringing his focus on slick, modern visuals; gentle linework; and bombastic spectacle back for another round. Much as this quality is often overemphasized, there’s no denying that Martinez’s art feels like an A-grade, priority one superhero comic. Splashes of superheroes in free fall or dramatic panels of the Batmobile carry archetypal force that helps this feel like the small-scale event that the script is clearly reaching for.
Speaking of the script and its implementation, Tynion cleverly presents the stakes and significance of Tim’s return but leaves much of the dialogue rather restrained. It’s an appropriate response for the Bat-family, but it falls to Martinez to ensure that the weight of emotions are clear. Thankfully he’s more than up to the task. Tim’s return may turn the Knight’s minds to celebration and then work, but Martinez does a fine job of communicating how both are driven by the pain of separation and the desperation that the characters have felt in his absence.
Pages are well designed, with dense but readable layouts and plenty of eye-catching panels, seemingly at least one per composition. Excellent shading and the combination of small, particular moments and poster-worthy panels completes the effect.
With Detective Comics #967 James Tynion and co. refocus the story on Gotham City and this title, instead of the “Doomsday Clock” connections, and it works wonders. Tim Drake is the heart of this team and this issue demonstrates that fact with incredible clarity and ease. The book is full of rich character moments, polished visuals, and affecting writing. In short, Tec #967 succeeds in being exactly the kind of book that Tynion has talked about: a character driven blend of interpersonal drama and big comic book craziness that feels 100% like the most important things happening in its character’s lives. With this third issue of the arc, Tynion and Martinez find their place beside “Intelligence” and “Rise of the Batmen” as another of this delightful and fan-friendly run’s best issues.