NOTE: This article contains (multiple) SPOILERS for “Detective Comics” #940
It may not be the most accurate statement, but in the minds of many comic book fans, Batman is the one superhero who, quite simply, never loses. Whether he’s too smart, too prepared, or too important to the publisher, it’s the Dark Knight’s victories that tend to be remembered most – where his Kryptonian colleague’s death is seen as one of the character’s most defining moments. But that doesn’t mean every ally to Batman has been as lucky, since Batman’s greatest failure was, and has continued to be one only he could endure: the death of Robin.
The famous “Death in the Family” comic arc (possibly being made into an animated film in the near future) showed even the Boy Wonder was mortal, but it didn’t stop Batman from taking more sidekicks – none more promising than Tim Drake, now fighting crime in the DC Universe under the name of ‘Red Robin’ – well, he was. After being given a leading role in DC’s “Detective Comics” relaunch, Tim found himself in an unsolvable situation… one that came to a heartbreaking end in the latest issue.
But as crushing as it may be, this death of Robin isn’t quite what it seems… not yet, anyway.
The Previous Cliffhanger
When we last saw Tim Drake he was staring down an entire fleet of automated military drones, having reprogrammed them to target himself instead of innocent civilians across Gotham City. It was a powerful cliffhanger, with Tim having hinged his life on the ability to analyze, react, and most importantly survive the fleet’s assault (and in the process saved countless lives as any good hero would). The boy Bruce Wayne considers an even better detective than himself may be the only one who could pull it off, and in Issue #940, readers see that Tim has done just that… at a price.
Broken ribs, a swollen jaw and a few bullet wounds may have been taken in the onslaught, but Tim is still alive – and on his own, since his Bat-Family teammates are still too far away to help. But after only a heartbeat catching up with Batman, a sound on the wind cuts his celebration short: a second fleet.
And as optimistic as Tim Drake may be, he’s smart enough to know when he’s been beaten.
The Death of Tim Drake
As we mentioned in our earlier write-up of the cliffhanger, Tim’s tale in “Detective Comics” was actually leading up to a major sacrifice in some obvious ways. Although Bruce had called upon Tim to help him organize a team of heroes – giving him his own ‘Red Robin’ costume reminiscent of his original suit – the Dark Knight had no idea that Tim was already planning a life for himself. With Stephanie Brown a.k.a. Spoiler’s love and support, and an invitation to study with the country’s brightest minds at Ivy University, Tim Drake had decided that his days as a costumed crimefighter were at an end. There was only the challenge of telling Batman left to tackle…
Before that opportunity arose, Tim found himself in a situation only he was smart enough to solve, and only by putting his life up against almost unwinnable odds. The hat has to be taken off for writer James Tynion IV and artists Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira and Adriano Lucas for bringing Tim’s realization to life: his fight is over.
And after giving a final goodbye to Bruce and Stephanie, shows the kind of hero his fans have always known him to be.
The significance of the sacrifice transcends the hero, story, or even medium, since a soldier buying the safety of hundreds, thousands of innocents with their life is likely to resonate with every reader. As Batman accepts his own mortality in the pages of his solo series, Tim does the same, showing the two are alike in the ways that most count. Bruce’s scream at realizing another Robin is about to be taken from him is a testament to Tynion’s grasp on the bond they share.
We won’t show the actual “death” here (it should really be read as intended), but suffice to say that it’s as iconic a moment as fans would expect from such a pivotal event. The sparse dialogue in the rest of the issue makes sense – what’s left to say? – and Batman realizing Tim had chosen a different path for his future, hoping NOT to give his life to this crusade carries the harshest sting.
But in the end, it truly is the best death a superhero could hope for. Fortunately for Tim and the reader, his willingness and acceptance of the end may have been a bit premature.
As Bruce, Stephanie, Cassandra, Kate and Alfred mourn the loss of their friend and partner, the truth is revealed: moments before Tim was consumed in fire and metal, he was saved by an unknown figure. By ‘unknown figure’ we mean the same robed man (‘Mr. Oz’) who has been monitoring the previous and current Superman – and by ‘saved,’ we mean imprisoned in an unknown location with no foreseeable release. It’s an unexpected plot twist, since the robed figure – believed by many to be Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “Watchmen” – has previously appeared in “Superman” titles.
Even more intriguing is his reason for removing Tim Drake from the “Rebirth” equation, claiming not that Tim was uncovering a secret, or even an enemy smart enough to oppose him. Instead, Tim was simply “reconnecting threads that could not be connected.” And as writer Geoff Johns hinted in “DC Universe: Rebirth” #1, the problem is love. The love that the unknown villain of the entire New 52 Universe robbed from its heroes to weaken them, and the love that connected Tim to everyone around him.
Will Tim Drake ever escape? Will his friends ever find him, not knowing to look for him at all? And most importantly, what is the endgame of these shadowy figures working to keep DC’s heroes divided, unloved, and vulnerable? All we know is: those trying to answer those riddles will now have to add “Detective Comics” to their pull list.
Detective Comics #940 is available now.