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James Tynion IV’s Detective Comics: Lessons On War

James Tynion IV was already on an atmospheric rise and his announcement that he would be publishing books through Substack only sped up that process. In an attempt to see what led to Tynion’s notoriety, I decided to read his 50-issue run. What I found was a thoughtful and creative commentary on the war aspects of Batman’s crime-fighting.

The most consistent theme in Tynion’s run is that leaders of war are willing to sacrifice innocents for the greater good. The reader first sees this through Colonel Kane, Bruce Wayne’s Uncle and Batwoman’s father, whose new bat-centric military, the Colony, intends to use drones to kill 300 suspected, but not confirmed, members of the League of Shadows.

Kane believes the League is the hidden force behind everything bad in Gotham and uses this story to rally the members of the Colony. Even if he is wrong on some of the drone’s targets, he believes it will save millions in the end.

Detective Comics #937
Detective Comics #937

The idea repeated through new villains and even the heroes. The First Victim, Batman’s first unintended victim and the leader of the Victim Syndicate, is also willing to sacrifice citizens if it means they will turn away from Batman and, in the final volume, Ulysses, the technical brain behind the Colony, urges Red Robin to “Think forward to all the lives you’ll save. The friends and allies you’ll protect. Hell, even the enemies. You’ll save them from themselves” when the hero is trapped within a nanobot suit.

The most shocking form of this, however, came through Red Robin’s arc. After being imprisoned for multiple issues, he has to face a future version of himself that became an authoritarian Batman, which causes him to obsess with designing the perfect system to keep Gotham safe.

Red Robin wants a multi-tiered team of Bat fighters where the lower tiers handle smaller crime, freeing up the Bat-family for major threats. He gets so invested in coming up with new ideas for this project that Spoiler accuses him of “playing with your utopia, not caring what victims you leave in your wake.” This leads to the next idea in Tynion’s Detective Comics.

The second volume from Tynion introduces the next lesson of war: There will be unintended victims amid the destruction. War often sees innocents harmed while combatting the supposed enemy and, for Batman, this leads to the formation of the Victim Syndicate.

Each member of the Syndicate was caught in the crossfire between Batman and one of his villains. Because of this, they want to frame Batman as causing more harm than good to Gotham City and turn its citizens away from him.

This run of Detective Comics takes it a step further, however, and suggests that everyone is hurt from warfare. In volume 5, Anarky explains that “we are all part of the victim syndicate” when describing his underground anarchist society, suggesting that even those not directly in the line of fire can be victims as well.

Another aspect of this idea is that some victims will be nameless casualties. The leader of the Victim Syndicate, the First Victim, is androgynous and Batman cannot figure out their identity, wracking his brain for who could be his first victim. This theme blurs the “good” Batman does by showing how he can hurt innocents fighting for good.

The third volume seems to introduce the idea that there are no good sides to a war. The revelation that the League of Shadows does exist doesn’t suddenly change the Colony; they are still morally questionable.

Even if there were some “good guys,” the story suggests that war forces these people to do terrible things. The reader sees this displayed through several characters.

Mayor Akin accuses Batman of subverting democratic processes through his formation of the Batmen team. He accuses him of “militari[zing] the very concept of Batman” and trying to replace the city’s police with something more harmful.

As previously mentioned, even Red Robin makes some questionable decisions trying to craft the perfect system for the Batmen, and Anarky comes to regret his alliance with the First Victim. The villain sums up this message well when he states “You wanted to fight oppressive systems so hard that you turned around and created an oppressive system.”

Finally, Batwoman has to make a quick decision when the fate of the city hangs in balance and breaks the cardinal rule of Batman: no killing. When she’s faced by the team with her decision, she claims “there isn’t always time to be better.”

The final message from James Tynion’s Detective Comics is much more specific and limited to a single arc. Volume 4 focuses on Batman and Zatanna’s past when a young Bruce Wayne was attempting to learn magic from her father and some interesting lines on the nature of magic occur.

Zatanna claims that the secret of magic is contradicting reality, showing something that can’t possibly happen. Though this is more of a stretch than the other themes, Zatanna’s explanation could be argued to be similar to the rhetoric surrounding wars.

Governments want to frame military actions as being just and bringing about peace, but this rhetoric often contradicts the true outcomes. The stories that are told often leave out gruesome details that would make the country out as the villain.

The words surrounding war are like the magic that Zatanna wields, making the impossible into reality.

James Tynion IV did something truly enthralling in his Detective Comics writing. Not only did he create emotional arcs that focused on each character facing their demons and moving past their flaws, he also managed to tie it into some deep messages about the nature of warfare.

If there’s a larger to message be had, it’s that war is dangerous and can corrupt even our heroes. Everyone wants their loved ones to remain safe, but it can’t come at the cost of innocents. While it’s sad to see this chapter of Tynion’s career come to a close, it is exciting to think about what other emotionally rich and compelling concepts he’ll create next.

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