WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Detective Comics #974
Batwoman crossed a line when she killed Clayface... but she may have broken up the Batman Family, too. To casual fans, her actions might seem like an understandable twist: Gotham City's villains push the envelope on a daily basis (most without Clayface's shapeshifting abilities). And while Batman's no-kill policy is one of his best-known, defining characteristics, it isn't one that Batwoman embraced on the same level. But as fans of Detective Comics know, the Clayface of DC's Rebirth universe was actually a hero. And in taking his life, the team may die along with him.
In Batwoman's defense, the team has been struggling in the recent months of DC Comics. Even before Clayface fell victim to villainous schemes to turn him back into a threat, the most reliable members of Batman's team were wavering. Tim Drake met his future self, a brand new Azrael was tortured in his own way, and Cassandra Cain's journey back to healthy socializing has been painful every step. With a single pull of the trigger, Batwoman has forced Batman into action: protect his family - what remains of it, anyway.
And say goodbye to the other Bat-heroes who take Batwoman's side.
The shot was actually fired in Detective Comics #973. When Clayface a.k.a. Basil Karlo has his sanity shaken, and his body overloaded with clay, the result is a skyscraper-sized Clayface kaiju (naturally). Thanks to the Batman team's new ally Dr. Victoria October, a temporary cure is created: one that may not solve Basil's dilemma permanently, but calm him down into his human form. The trick then becomes Basil's self-control. He must return to full size, but Cassandra Cain believes Basil can stay in control when he does. Sadly, her trust and belief in Clayface to be good aren't enough to stop Batwoman's bullet.
Deciding she must do what's necessary, and seeing no chance for Basil to be anything but a threat, she fires a round straight through his brain. Detective Comics #974 confirms Clayface is dead... and within seconds, the entire Batman team descends on the killer in their midst.
On paper, Kate Kane's actions make perfect sense. Raised and trained as a soldier, she is exactly the type of person to kill if deeming it her only choice (apparently including her own teammates). And since she's Bruce Wayne's cousin, she's just as stubborn in her decision. Fortunately, the decision to cast aside all solutions and murder is one that Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, Bruce Wayne, and Cassandra Cain can all actually agree on. For Batman, Batwoman's actions were in violation of his direct orders. For Cassandra, things are much more personal.
Kate is surprisingly unmoved in these scenes, although her true feelings may come out in future issues. But for now, there's simply no going back. Even when Kate attempts to defend her actions, claiming they were for Cassandra's own good (she was the closest person to Basil, and therefore most likely 'victim') the vigilante Orphan stands defiant. A friend killed before her eyes, by another person she thought her friend... that's going to take its toll. But true to Cassandra's strength and resolve, she tears the Bat logo from Kate's chest, deeming her no longer fit to wear it.
When the other Team Batman recruits finally arrive on scene, things go from bad to worse.
Batwing (Luke Fox) is the first to side with Batwoman, showing little remorse for the death of Basil Karlo, friendly fighter turned sandy wrecking ball. He may have earned some flexibility, having spent hours fighting clayface remotely with help from Azrael. For his part, Azrael doesn't technically choose Kate's side over Bruce's. He simply suggests that now, more than ever, the team must remain united. One team member killed is bad enough, lest the rest dissolve as a direct result. But by that point, Bruce has no compromise left in him.
He "excuses" Kate from her duties, and advises Batwing and Azrael to do the same, if they wish to side with her. And just that quickly, the bonds of affection that kept the Batman Family together through countless foes go from straining to utterly broken (and Spoiler had just gotten back on board!). The issue closes with Tim in emotional distress, realizing the dark warning offered by his future, Batman self has come true. Batwoman seems to have started a ball rolling that can lead... well, nowhere good.
Most troubling of all, Batwoman ends the issue with a new insignia marking her suit's chest. That of her father, and the villainous Colony who rely on murder like Batman relies on gadgets. It's not clear which of the Batman Family will even appear in the next issue, but things are bound to get much, much worse before they get any better. Clayface was, fittingly, the glue holding the team together.
Detective Comics #974 is available in local comic book shops and online services now.