WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Detective Comics #966
He may have made his name as Robin, but Tim Drake is destined to be Batman in the future of DC Comics. That's the bombshell dropped in the current run of DC's Detective Comics, now that Tim Drake is returning from the dead after his friends and family were forced to watch him killed by Gotham's new enemy as part of DC's Rebirth. Of course, Tim's death was only an illusion - he was actually taken prisoner by a mysterious villain who knew that the former Robin was too smart, too talented, and too destined for greatness to oppose him. And just as Tim is breaking out of that prison and back into DC's Universe, he learns that it's those same qualities that will one day lead him to take up the cowl when Bruce Wayne finally falls in DC's future.
At least, that's how things were supposed to play out. Or it's the way they still will... that confusion is kind of the point of the story. The most recent issues of Detective Comics are built on everything James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, and the rest of the Detective team have been building since Rebirth. And that includes Tim's decision to leave the role of Red Robin and the Bat-Family behind to pursue a life of academic excellence. But when Tim comes face to face with the Batman of tomorrow, he's forced to see that a life beyond Batman's shadow was always a dream.
His future self tells Tim that he will become Batman... and a more corrupted man than he ever thought possible.
Tim Drake Meets The Future Batman: Himself
The exact 'prison' in which Tim Drake has been kept would be hard to explain succinctly, and the same goes for his captor - a resurrected Jor-El, Superman's father. As unclear as the reason or even location of his incarceration may be, it's still good news. At the time of Tim's "death," the decision to sacrifice himself for Gotham was made as tragic as possible. Not only had Tim decided to tell Bruce that he was leaving the role of 'Red Robin' behind, having constructed a system to help the Batman Family truly safeguard Gotham (and beyond)... but Tim had begun to imagine a full, happy life with his girlfriend Stephanie Brown, the Spoiler.
So when Tim finally gets the chance to escape his cell in the otherworldly stronghold, he's not surprised to hear Batman on his radio, promising to free him for good. Only... it's not the Batman Tim Drake knows. It's not a Bruce Wayne at all. It's him, grown decades older, and relying on guns to keep their pursuers at bay. Not just any gun either: the one used to murder Thomas and Martha Wayne, now "redeemed" to oppose evil. So needless to say, a far darker hero than Tim ever imagined himself growing up to become.
It's only when the story shifts to this older Tim, and the life and events that led him to the same prison, that the true darkness in Tim's future can be understood. Because as much as he wished to NOT be Bruce Wayne's successor... he was the only Robin left for the job.
The Fate of The Robins Revealed
It's an added bonus that Detective Comics #966 also explains the futures of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Damian Wayne. At least, the futures they would have had before a mysterious tweak to the timeline - quite possibly the "Rebirth" mystery to be explored in Geoff Johns's Doomsday Clock. They're not more heartbreaking than they are predictable, but it's a clever nod to past and current storylines.
For Dick Grayson, the Tim of the future tells his younger self (in a conversation he remembers once having from Tim's point of view), the role of Batman fell most obviously. But before long, the reasons Dick was never Bruce became more important. Dick wanted a family, and children, and "moved on"as he always has. In the panel showing Dick refusing Tim's demand to keep the cowl, however, it appears Grayson is moving into the same home he occupies in his dystopic future Nightwing: The New Order series. Stay tuned.
With Dick retiring, Tim next tracked the legendary 'Red Hood' halfway around the world, eventually catching a lead in the form of a tale of a masked man battling a hundred deadly assassins. A fight that would kill most men, but cost Jason only an eye, a leg, and any willpower left in him. All things considered, the kind of ending Jason Todd always seemed determined to find. As for Damian, well... make that one more nod towards the nightmare vision of Damian's Gotham first seen in Batman #666.
In the end, Tim had no choice but to accept his destiny. Accept that the one life he was running from was the only one fast enough to catch him. Eventually driven to kill, isolate himself from his friend and family, and see even Stephanie Brown acknowledge that the Tim she knew was long gone. A path that led him to this prison with his younger self, freeing them both and returning his former self to his former home, so that his path may continue as it had for him. Unless...
Will Tim Drake Change His Future... With Murder?
First, the good news. After the Tims return to the current DC version of Gotham, but before the elder Batman Tim can return to his own time and tragic duties, he discovers an unexpected twist. This version of Tim, this version of Gotham, and this version of reality isn't exactly the same as the one he remembers. One quick slice across Tim's arm, and the new scar appearing on the older Batman's flesh confirms his suspicion: the past can be changed. And as tough and grizzled as he may have seemed while informing Tim that he was foolish to ever dream of another life, Batman's eyes fill with tears as he sees a chance to fix his mistakes.
Now it's time for the bad news. Instead of sharing a hug with his younger self, Batman decides to paralyze Tim with an electrical blast so that he can carry out his mission alone. Apparently, as unlikely as this opportunity to change the past and "free" himself from the cowl may be, the elder Tim Drake has planned for it (he's still Tim, after all). And to save the future, and prevent the "Fall of the Batmen," Tim need only kill a single person: Batwoman.
How or why Kate Kane causes everything to go wrong is a secret not yet spilled - leaving fans to speculate if it's Kate who leads to Bruce Wayne's death. But with Tynion having pulled the strings on Tim, Bruce, and Kate since the Rebirth of this series, it's finally becoming clear that all roads have been heading here.
What comes next? You'll just have to read to find out... even the Batman of the future no longer knows.