NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Detective Comics #951
It seemed like the first true challenge faced by the Batman Family in DC's Detective Comics wasn't over just yet, as the military organization known as 'The Colony' delivered its cruelest cut only when its leadership was truly revealed. Even now, Kate Kane is forced to see her own father - the leader of The Colony and the man who trained her to be Batwoman - held prisoner for his potential crimes against the innocent... a pain that will only deepen, according to what's been teased about her upcoming Batwoman comic series.
But with the latest issue of Detective, writer James Tynion IV teased an even bigger threat on the way. Not just bigger in the sense that it, too, is a sprawling, secretive organization of trained killers with emotional ties to one of the members of his found family... but because it also represents a new take on an existing staple in the DC Universe. Apparently, the Rebirth is coming to one of Batman's best known, and recently re-imagined enemies: The League of Shadows. And while we don't yet know how much has been changed from the prior comic book, movie, and TV versions, we do know what deadly DC woman will be chief among them.
And the League has just launched its first strike.
Lady Shiva is Coming
In the previous issue of Detective Comics, Tynion offered up a handful of short stories focused on different members of the assembled Batman Family leading the series. The new Azrael saw his first enemy born, while elsewhere, Cassandra Cain took the spotlight as she... well, did her best to stay out of it. For those unaware of Cassandra Cain's complicated past with Batman, they may simply assume that she, like Batwoman, Batwing, Spoiler, or even Clayface shares some unknown history with Batman, who has taken pity upon her and will therefore offer a father figure and family in this new era of DC. The truth is far more complicated.
The comic seems to be keeping most of Cass's origin story intact, in which she was born of the union between David Cain (codename 'Orphan') and the incomparable killer known as Lady Shiva, and raised by the former as a type of 'gift' to the latter. David Cain was a monster in every sense of the word in the New 52 continuity, exposing Cassandra to senseless murder to desensitize her to blood and violence, ruthlessly beat her in combat to harden her instincts, and refused to either speak to her or let her speak, believing she would learn the language of the human body instead - a harder killer to fool.
The training left its mark, but Batman saw the need to bring her into a family following a painful process of breaking old ties and forging new ones. He agreed to call her 'Orphan' as she wished, but isn't fully aware of just how isolated and desperate for human relationships she is, despite herself. But there's one unseen woman who does notice it: Lady Shiva, following Orphan throughout Gotham, promising she would make her debut soon. And in Issue #951, she clarifies that she is coming to Gotham at the head of the League's forces (to a Colony soldier she soon kills, so her secret isn't getting out).
A Message or Myth?
The story actually picks up as things have begun to go in Batman's favor, for once, with Gotham's mayor recently confronting Batman along with Commissioner Gordon. Apparently sick of the immoral and corrupt embarrassment his once-noble pursuit of civil service had become, Mayor Hady committed to assisting Batman in his efforts to clean u pcrime - no longer hindering them. And the alliance has worked, as crime in Gotham has been steadily dropping... which can only mean something truly terrible is on the way (either that, or the drop in crime is just part of another villain's plan.
So when Batman arrives at the Mayor's home to grab the latest batch of evidence on corrupt city judges, it should come as a surprise, and be a case of the other shoe dropping when he finds that the mayor isn't just preoccupied, but dying in a fairly gruesome fashion. Batman finds the man secured to the wall of his home with a number of swords, intended to kill him slowly enough for this exact interaction to take place. And as Batman tries to offer some assistance, Mayor Hady lets just one phrase slip from his lips: "League of Shadows."
It's all he can manage to pass on as the doors are kicked in by police officers responding to a call, and finding a scene unlike any Gotham cops expect to find: the city's mayor impaled by a dozen swords decorated with Bat symbols, and Batman himself on hand, apparently having committed the torture himself. Batman escapes with only a single gunshot wound (he really was that surprised), leaving him with a difficult question: was the mayor repeating an urban legend he had been led to believe, or could the League of Shadows really be... real?
It's the kind of question Batman isn't used to facing, as the readers of Detective have had the chance to see Batman presented with the League - a mysterious, ancient force guiding the world - and dismiss it. In fact, the League of Shadows seemed to be the enemy that Jacob Kane, Kate Kane's father saw as enemy his Colony was built to defeat. That defeat was to be carried out months ago, with Colony drones instantly hunting down and eliminating every League member hidden among Gotham's population.
Since Batman believed Jacob Kane had been driven almost mad, willing to kill hundreds of innocent Gothamites in order to kill everyday people he suspected belonged to an urban legend. But with this new attack on the mayor, made to look like Batman committed the crime, and the League of Shadows described with his dying words... Batman may have to eat some humble pie. Not that there's time for that, since the League'es next move comes almost immediately.
It's Jacob Kane's warning that echoes the loudest, when Batman and Batwoman visit him to hear what wisdom he has to offer. The target list remains for Batman and his allies to investigate, but Jacob doubts they'll have time. Picture the most devastating attack that could hit Gotham, and that is what the League will be planning. And when the attack comes, and the shadows come to life, nobody will know if the people around them are friends, or foes.
Bait & Switch?
Given how chilling a prediction that really is, it's almost a relief when two newscasters erupt into bouts of uncontrolled laughter on air, and die seconds later. The signature symptoms of Joker Toxin, the Batman team knows that Joker never targets just one victim. Like clockwork, reports soon come flooding in of gas spreading from Gotham's sewers in Adams Square Park, surrounding the citizens who gather there and... well, you know what result is to be expected. Laughing, homicidal victims is the kind of enemy Batman has trained for, so the team heads out.
Almost as soon as they arrive, the feeling begins to dawn on Orphan that something is amiss. Before leaping into the fight, Clayface extends some compassion for the fear Orphan might be facing, considering how lethal she tends to be, and how soft a touch these crazed civilians will demand. Orphan isn't afraid, though, only aware - aware that they are being watched. But not by whom, or for what reason.
Her father turned her into a ruthless killing machine through harsh means, but it did teach her to see beneath the surface, and read peoples' movements and motives for what they were, not what they pretended. And as soon as the fight begins, Orphan knows they've been had. The 'victims' they've been dispatched to rescue and subdue aren't victims of Joker Toxin at all - they're pretending.
Once that fact dawns on everyone present, the previously panicked rioters grow calm, still, and one by one, pick up weapons to face off against their surrounded enemies. A mob-sized group of people wielding knives, swords, and other martial arts weaponry would usually be the kind of thing that Batman and his teammates face on a typical weekday. But if the League of Shadows is behind this ruse, ten there's no telling just how skilled these actors may be. Are they the League itself, having finally been called out of Gotham's homes and offices to show their allegiance?
Or is the real secret of the League's effectiveness - and name - attached to the blackness filling their eyes, slowly dripping as if they have literally been filled with darkness? It's a new detail for DC's version of the villains made famous (directly or indirectly) in Christopher Nolan's films, and the Arrow TV series. But what happens next is a mystery. We know Lady Shiva wants her daughter, Cassandra... but what the League is after is anyone's guess.
Detective Comics #951 is available now.