“I guess you never know what you got ’til it’s gone
I guess that’s why I’m here and I can’t come back home
And guess when I heard that? When I was back home”
Kanye West, Homecoming
The wackiest concept in DC’s recent history, secret agent Dick Grayson, has made it a whole year and shows no signs of slowing as he makes his long awaited homecoming.
This issue opens with Alfred helping Dick put on a wig and makeup ahead of his meeting with Bruce, the first stop on his tour of Gotham. Alfred gently lectures Dick that they are not liars, but performers to steel him against the feeling of betrayal that the subterfuge inspires. In months and years past, Alfred’s conciliatory speech would have been unquestionable, but with Dick having been so deep in Spyral’s world for so long, the cracks are readily apparent, especially when we’re reminded of Alfred’s missing hand. Gotham as a whole feels like it’s resting in swiftly moving sands and there’s no hiding from that fact, even in Bruce Wayne’s study, Batman’s birthplace.
There’s a lot of resonance in this pivotal conversation circling the fact that Bruce is Batman happening where he both witnessed the bat that broke through the window and inspired him to say “Yes father, I shall become a bat,” while pondering whether to ring the bell and summon Alfred for both Dick and Bruce. For Bruce, we understand just how fragile the inner peace he’s found when he describes the noise of the city dying down at night to reveal the sound of something tapping against the window, saying that the peace will last as long as the window holds out, almost as if he dimly recalls the bat smashing through the window.
When the peace is broken by that same window shattering, it’s to signal Dick’s becoming and the choice he faces. It’s another one of the many torches that has been passed from Bruce to him since Bruce’s previous death at the climax of Final Crisis. It isn’t a bat that crashes into the room, however, it’s Agent Zero revealed at last, describing herself as the spider in the web. This seems to further the idea of their being a totemic struggle between symbolic representations of spiders and bats with Dick at the heart of it, but Agent Zero, later revealed to be Luka Netz, does not have as firm a grasp on being a spider as she tries to project. It was, after all, a bat that iconically broke that window, and she appears wearing an outfit in Kathy Kane’s color scheme, suggesting that Netz most likely is in fact Kane, whose murder was one of the plot threads left hanging in Batman Inc. If Netz is in fact Kane, or Kane’s daughter, this clarifies a great deal about the overall symbolic structure of the series and sets up a conflict between not one but two bats who became spiders.
In the meantime, Dick’s family reunion with Babs and his fellow Robins recall the tie ins to The Return of Bruce Wayne when Bruce returned from his “death” at the hands of Darkseid and visited the batfamily members one by one. It was a little bit disappointing not to see Stephanie Brown in on the action this time given the memorable slap to the face she gave Bruce, but in the timeline mostly being adhered to she was never Robin or Batgirl and is instead studying under Eiko Hasigawa in Catwoman. I say mostly because the black pages that begin each interaction between Dick and the others are populated by transparent voice bubbles of dialogue from old stories reaching all the way back to before Crisis on Infinite Earths in some cases, and the art on later pages in the interactions also feature montages of Dick’s interactions with them over time, in some cases appearing to contradict the changes made to the timeline by Flashpoint.
I’m not particularly bothered by it, but it isn’t really necessary to read those pages as if they represent one singular concrete history. As we were reminded by the events of Convergence, even if timelines are changed or severed, the alternatives are all out there somewhere. Just like Crisis on Infinite Earths could be sitting on your shelf or in your Comixology account, it was lurking in some non euclidean space on the sidelines until the events of Convergence unknotted it. So what we see in the sky above them or in the transparent voice bubbles on the black pages could be flickering images that create a composite of all the ways we could possibly remember them. Ultimately, no matter what the current status quo the company uses to guide the writing on the current books, the audience isn’t going to easily or willingly disassociate from cherished stories, so it’s counterproductive to write as if they ought to.
Which of the meetups along the way is most affecting is going to really depend on the reader’s individual engagement with the characters, but for my money it was Damian. With Patrick Gleason both writing and drawing Damian more credibly as a child than he has been since Streets of Gotham or Brian Q Miller’s Batgirl run, the stage was already set beautifully for a memorable reunion. Their initial appraisal of each other, simultaneous exclamations of “You’re alive?” is absolutely hilarious, but the exchange soon becomes emotionally overwhelming because of the difficult relationship they had as Batman and Robin together. Dick’s appraisal of Damian is fantastic, but what really makes the scene is the warm hug between the two and the way that Damian rubs his face against Dick’s.
One of the more remarkable aspects of the continuity between Bat titles is how carefully Tom King and Genevieve Valentine have adhered to how Scott Snyder is writing the amnesiac Bruce Wayne. His conversations with Jim Gordon, Selina Kyle, and now Dick all have the exact same stilted quality with Bruce’s odd, somewhat disconnected, almost dreamy attitude coming off the same way every time. The same goes for David Messina and Mikel Janin following Greg Capullo’s lead in establishing a unified look for Bruce across all three books.
It’s even a bit surreal as Janin takes his turn at several of the characters who guest star in the issue because of how much more rendered and true to life his figures look. While he may be working off Greg Capullo’s designs for Bruce, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr’s for Babs, or Patrick Gleason’s for Damian, the net effect is like looking at the models who posed for those artists. There’s plenty of other artists who work in very rendered or realist ways, but Janin strikes a very unique balance between the realism of his figures and their ability to be read as being kinetic. One thing that really leaped out to me was the baby fat on Babs’ cheeks, a detail that wouldn’t really come through in Babs Tarr or Bengal’s more abstract styles, but adds a massive amount to Janin’s portrayal.
Circling back around to The Return of Bruce Wayne, everyone who Dick visited comes to the realization that the gifts he’d given them were all part of a plot that hinged on him using the old Cluemaster code he used to tell a fart joke in the Future’s End tie in, which in turn sets everyone up for a team up that allows Dick to gain access to the Hypnos implants and reveal Agent Zero’s identity. “I’m not alone,” he says with a smile in the last panel, coming into the full realization of Bruce’s epiphany that the act of ringing the bell meant that being Batman was never a solo venture. The isolation that rattled him after Bruce went silent following his death has been replaced by his reunion with Babs and the other Robins, who are effectively his little brothers. It was great fun seeing Dick pushed to his limits over the last couple issues, but it’s time to see him at his best again.
Written by Tom King from a story by King and Tim Seeley
Drawn by Mikel Janin with inks by Hugo Petros and Juan Castro and colors by Jeromy Cox
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual
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Emma Houxbois is a fiercely queer trans woman from the wilds of Canada, most recently spotted in the Pacific Northwest. She is a two time IWC Women’s World Champion and has written about comics for the web since 2005 for sites including Playboy, Bitch Media, and Graphic Policy.