NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Detective Comics #950
He may be famous as the terror that haunts the streets of Gotham City by night to some, and as the guardian angel, or Dark Knight to others, but in the grander world of the DC Comics Universe, Batman is most accurately known as the World's Greatest Detective. His intelligence alone is the reason why he's even considered a match for Superman, since his defenders believe that, were there ever a way to permanently kill the Man of Steel, Batman would be the one to have discovered it. And only Batman would be willing to do what was necessary to ensure it be done correctly... no matter the cost.
It makes sense, then, that back when the DC Universe: Rebirth began, it was Bruce Wayne that was first contacted by a wayward Wally West. The truth of the Rebirth is, if nothing else, a mystery. In the weeks and months since the DC Rebirth kicked famed heroes on new trajectories, and assembled brand new teams, Batman has been making particular progress. His former sidekicks taking on adventures of their own may have been expected, and the gathering of the remaining allies in James Tynion IV's Detective Comics was long overdue. But it was more than prudence on Batman's part.
In the latest issue of Detective, the actual motivations behind the changes to the Batman Family, and the at-times invisible hand with which Bruce was guiding it all are finally spotted. It teases something big on the horizon for the DC Universe, and it only makes sense that the one person to solve the mystery is the only one Bruce Wayne ever considered an even better detective than himself.
Tim Drake Cracks Batman's Secret
Issue #950 (a collection of multiple short stories, including the beginning of Azrael's next chapter) begins with a pleasant surprise for comic fans, with Tim Drake making a return after his "death" at the hands of The Colony. As Batman calls in vehicular support from Alfred after battling... something with reinforced teeth, Tim shows up in his place - revealing that this story (titled "The BIG Picture") is set months earlier, before The Colony's final attack, and before his own death/captivity.
So with the chances of a happy reunion thrown out the window, the scene develops as what appears to be a memory of Tim Drake filling Batman in on the success and progress of his new strike team. Observing just how well Bruce's mission of uniting a team including Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan, and Clayface under the leadership of Batwoman, Tim explains that he has question that need answering. And once the two are secure inside the most private and impenetrable room in the new Belfry headquarters, Tim makes his accusation.
It took him longer than he would have liked to see the picture developing, but now that he has, Tim no longer buys that the new paths being walked by Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Damian Wayne, Duke Thomas, and more are unconnected. No, Tim has taken in the full scope, and realized the truth: Bruce has been behind it all.
In the era leading up to the DC Rebirth, Dick Grayson had strayed a long way from the identity of Nightwing, having been killed for the world to see during the "Forever Evil" and forced to start from scratch. Luckily, Dick was able to be resuscitated immediately - allowing Bruce and Dick to come up with his next mission. Under a new identity, he would join up with the super-secret spy network Spyral to act as an informant for his mentor. But as the infamous Court of Owls of Gotham was revealed to be a worldwide Parliament of Owls, and Nightwing pretended to become their newest operative, his knowledge and access reached unparalleled heights.
While Tim stops short of addressing the strange new mentor of Grayson's, the uniquely specialized position in which he is now placed seems to be far more than coincidence. Having once been surprised by the reach and influence of the Court of Owls, Batman had seen his first sidekick reach the highest echelon of their covert agents. The purpose or extended mythology of Spyral in the post-Rebirth era has yet to be explored, but considering their typical ties to the villainous organization dubbed the League of Assassins, the first whispers of such a group in Detective seems an obvious clue.
Bruce plays innocent concerning his role in causing or simply encouraging the events of Nightwing: Rebirth, but Tim presses on.
Next up is Jason Todd, the one-again, off-again supervillain and mortal enemy of the Batman family. Under his guise of the Red Hood, Jason has softened in recent years, with Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth beginning a new, inspired, and promising heroic journey all his own. Jason Todd's new story began with what appeared to be an assassination of Gotham's Mayor, which Batman failed to stop. It was later revealed that Jason cured the Mayor of a virus he had been infected with by his enemies - a new crime cartel that Batman had sent Jason to investigate (and was kept out of the loop from that point on). Jason saw a larger mission, one only he could achieve by going where Batman couldn't, and set out despite Batman's warnings to prove his doubts wrong.
At least... that's how the comic itself played the events. But Tim Drake takes a look at the 'big picture,' in which Bruce sent Jason to solve a crime, which turned out to be a larger mission he was determined to tackle, and is now undercover as the Black Mask's top enforcer (or was, at the time of this scene in Detective). So there's only two explanations: either Batman misjudged the severity of a new criminal power player, AND couldn't tell Jason's assassination attempt was a fake... or he knew the truth in both cases, and played the part to get Jason an inside line to Gotham's organized crime.
This bit of Batman's manipulation is actually quite heartwarming, since it means Bruce Wayne only pretended to doubt Jason's abilities, setting him off on a mission to prove what kind of hero he could become on his own. Their father-son dynamic has always been a complicated one, so Bruce showing trust, or confidence, while Jason shows... anything is a powerful move on its own.
Tim has also not gone blind to his own movements at Batman's urging, having turned the idea of Batman into a city-wide response team. Centered at the Belfry soaring among the rooftops of Gotham, new systems of threat detection paired with a rebuilt high speed train system under the city's streets mean Batman and his allies can protect their home like never before. But his own role in creating the system have taken him away from the Teen Titans... paving the way for a new leader of the team, capable of making them more dangerous, if less organized, as a result.
Teen Titans: Rebirth actually began somewhat later than the rest of the teams, explaining the implied gap of inactivity in Tim's words. It may be the most obvious, but the most careless manipulation on Bruce's part, subjecting the former teen heroes to Damian's unorthodox recruitment. Unfortunately, it was Tim Drake's apparent death that sent Damian into action, adding one more tragic sting to the scene, Tim didn't know it, but Damian would be replacing him in the role of the Titans' leader in an even more literal sense.
That also makes it a moment of Tim, having deduced Bruce's machinations and deceptions, predicting what future moves would also be made. Sure, a Teen Titan team needing a Robin is an easy guess... but his predictions stretched even farther ahead.
Justice League of America
Tim sees Bruce's actions as a concerted attempt to not only place informants or allies in key fields of potential threats and influence, but make anyone associated with the Batman Family a more effective, more informed, and better guided source of information and line of defense. And knowing Bruce as well as he does, Tim is right to half-jokingly ask if Bruce could actually be considering forming a new kind of Justice League to control and manipulate. Which he happens to have just done in the pages of Justice League of America: Rebirth.
Given this new suggestion that every action Batman has taken was part of some larger plot to create and fortify a web around the world, his selections for the new League could be telling. Black Canary, a street-level fighter in close contact with Batgirl (the one sidekick not included in his central team). Vixen, a natural leader with ties to mystic energies. Lobo, an immortal mercenary who's walked across the universe and back. The Atom, who can detect coming cataclysms in the very stitches of reality. You get the picture.
What is It All For?
Tim Drake isn't springing all of his findings on Bruce as an accusation of nefarious deception - he knows Bruce Wayne's overriding motives are almost always in extreme service of some greater purpose. But with Batman apparently deciding that he isn't enough to monitor these various arenas around the globe, Tim has to know just what he's planning for. What threat does Bruce see coming that will require such a broad, informed, and uniquely placed force to resist or defeat? And thankfully, the DC Rebirth has offered more than a few answers - because Batman ain't talking.
For starters, there's the strange figure monitoring all of the New 52 continuity dubbing himself 'Mr. Oz,' who also happened to kidnap Tim Drake at the moment of his death (and remains his captor). There's also the coming forces of the League of Assassins, if the forces of The Colony (specifically Batwoman's own father) are to be believed. And last, but not least, there's the otherworldly forces who wiped out key figures in DC Universe: Rebirth #1. The same Watchmen-connected villain who has stolen time from the New 52 to make heroes more vulnerable, and whom Batman is set to investigate more explicitly in the coming months - beginning with the Smiley Face button.
We don't know just what threat is coming next, or when it will finally arrive. But Batman is clearly also aware that this Rebirth is just the first step in someone, or something's plan. Will his efforts be enough to prepare Earth's heroes? Is this glimpse behind the curtain a sign that Batman's true manipulations will soon be revealed to his family and allies?
We can't say for certain. For now, we're as tense and unsettled as Batman himself... a less comforting feeling than you might imagine.
Detective Comics #950 is available now.