Warning! SPOILERS for Detective Comics #980 ahead!
Good news, DC fans: more evidence has arrived that the post-Crisis, pre-New 52 comic universe is still alive somewhere in the DC Multiverse - even if fans haven't gotten to see it in action for years.
Writer James Tynion IV's tenure on DC Comics' flagship Detective Comics is coming to an end, concluding in two weeks with issue #981. But before he wraps up his run, Tynion has a few more surprises for readers in this week's Detective Comics #980. Since the Rebirth relaunch in 2016, DC Comics has been slowly tweaking their in-universe continuity, keeping some of what happened during the New 52 era while folding in elements from the previous continuity that existed before 2011's Flashpoint and the resulting reboot.
Prime examples being the dramatic return of the original Wally West, and the combining of the New 52 Superman and post-Crisis Superman into a singular Supes (comics are weird). A little confusing, to be sure, but it's also been a neat way to satisfy longtime fans by reintroducing long-lost characters and keep stories accessible to readers who came on board during the New 52.
More recently, Martian Manhunter made his first Rebirth appearance in the Dark Nights Metal event, and Booster Gold is ruining the world in the Batman series. But not every old favorite is returning under the best circumstances. In the pages of Teen Titans and Super Sons, older versions of Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, and Superboy from the Titans of Tomorrow story arc have appeared, implying that they also still exist in some universe's timeline. Rather, the future of a universe and timeline that was no longer thought to exist...
Now, in Detective Comics #980, Brother Eye reveals that in that alternate future timeline - the same timeline the murderous Future-Tim Drake hails from - Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown both go on to assume the mantle of Batgirl, as they did prior to the New 52.
The reveal comes as Spoiler, Orphan, and Batman are infiltrating the Belfry 2.0, which was recently rebuilt by Brother Eye and the OMAC-infected version of Tim Drake's Batman (again, comics are weird.) While trying to hack Brother Eye and interrupt the link between it and Tim, Brother Eye taunts Spoiler: "You do not even realize what has been taken from you. What this timeline has stolen from your life."
The computer program then displays images of Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown from the alternate future timeline in their Batgirl costumes - Cass in all black with a cowl that completely covers her face, Steph in a purple and yellow costume, and both with the Bat symbol proudly emblazoned on their chests. These are their Batgirl costumes from the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe, where both Cass and Steph really did go on to become Batgirl before the New 52 retconned it so that Barbara Gordon was the one and only.
Seeing these versions of their characters again is an exhilarating moment, and it lets fans know that DC hasn't completely forgotten about their time as Batgirl.
However, that isn't all this alternate-timeline-future sneak peek has to offer. Along with the big Batgirl reveal, Brother Eye goes on to share that before becoming Batgirl, Stephanie served as Robin for a brief stint, and that Cass wasn't ostracized but rather adopted by the Bat-Family, with Babs - depicted in a wheelchair, just as she was when she was Oracle - teaching her to read and talk. These pasts also line up identically with Cass and Steph's character arcs from before the New 52 and Rebirth, suggesting that if this alternate future timeline isn't truly the post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint DC Universe - which it still could be - then it's at least really, really similar.
Luckily, Spoiler isn't distracted by Brother Eye's glimpse at her stolen identity. On the contrary, she's emboldened, telling Brother Eye: "The only thing you've told me is that no matter what timeline I'm in, I'm freaking amazing!" She then successfully enters Brother Eye's system, shutting it down and accessing the entire history of the alternate timeline - information she plans on using to win.
And now that Spoiler has the alternate timeline's complete history, we can only hope Detective Comics #981 will give us some answers. Is the future where Batwoman kills Batman and Tim is forced to take up the cowl, becoming cruel and twisted because of it, the future of the Rebirth timeline? Or is it the future of the pre-Flashpoint timeline? Does that universe still exist somewhere in the Multiverse?
Could it be that the Rebirth timeline is on a similar path and - unless changes are made (or kept) - the same terrible future awaits them? How does this connect to the missing years at the center of the Rebirth mystery? And will either Cass or Steph ever be Batgirl again!? The only way to find out is to keep reading!