The idea of a Batman team-up book almost seems oxymoronic. The Dark Knight–especially on film–is kind of a loner, a brooding billionaire whose only company is his faithful butler. Yet there’s a reason probably a third of DC’s comic book output is Bat-related. The Bat Family (the umbrella term for Batman’s various, bat-themed allies) is large and full of distinct personalities. He’s actually kind of the perfect character for a team-up book and Detective Comics #934 pretty much proves it.
In this case, writer James Tynion IV takes “family” literally. Batman’s partner in leading Gotham’s vigilantes is none other than his cousin, Kate Kane a.k.a. Batwoman. Right from their first interaction, their dynamic takes unexpected turns. To start, Bruce reveals his secret identity. Yet instead of reacting with surprise, Kate tells him she’s glad Bruce finally admitted it. It’s not the first or last time where their power dynamic shifts in Batwoman’s favor. In fact, Kate is kind of the Bad Cop of the group, the relentless task master who won’t take it easy on the recruits for their own good. For those new to the character, a conversation Kate has with her father just before Batman shows up tells them about her military background and that she works best as part of a team. In lesser hands, the moment would seem convenient, but in Tynion’s it seems natural, like smart and efficient storytelling. The same is true of the other character introductions, which have a somewhat cinematic feel thanks to thanks to artist Eddy Barrows’s dynamic line work and Adriano Lucas’s lush colors.
While the Spoiler/Tim Drake relationship is tantalizing even if it’s pretty clearly a Barbara Gordon/Dick Grayson knock off, the most surprising and exciting member of the team comes from Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery: Clayface. While everyone else is shown kicking butt, Batman and Batwoman first encounter him sitting in a movie theater watching his pre-accident, movie star self and wishing for a different life. Here and elsewhere, Tynion is setting up each character’s background while also establishing their motivations going forward. It’s a brilliant technique and it’s almost impossible not to be excited to see how these people work together. If only the villain they’re facing were half as exciting.
That’s not to say that the villain doesn’t have his or her merits. The shadowy figure, who remains a mystery at issue’s end, is impersonating Batman and hunting down his allies so there’s something there. The problem is that all the post-Rebirth villains have the same M.O. They’ve all been watching their respective heroes for some time and all of their plans involve slowly ruining the heroes’ lives. And in this case, given that this is Rebirth and no amount of fan service is off limits, there’s a good chance this villain is Batman cipher Nite Owl from Alan Moore’s seminal Watchmen. His costume’s silhouette is pretty similar, after all, and the characters were in direct opposition in Justice League #50, so it’s unfortunately a possibility.
Regardless of who the villain ultimately is, however, Detective Comics #934 is worth reading. It’s got a good cast of characters and solid artwork. Just don’t be surprised when the bad guy turns out to be Nite Owl or, like, future Bruce from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight trilogy. Whichever one is more pandering.