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With Detective Comics #946, “The Victim Syndicate” moves into its fourth chapter. While I’ve enjoyed the arc for the most part, I do think this issue from James Tynion IV and Eddy Barrows stumbles as it moves into the storyline’s climax.
The issue opens with a flashback to a conversation between Tim Drake and Batman about this new team of allies they’re building. Since his supposed death, Tim Drake (or rather, the absence of him) has hung over the series like a pall, affecting Batman’s decisions and sending Tim’s partner Stephanie into a spiral of grief and loss. Much of this issue is about Tim and how his loss affects Bruce and Stephanie, leading them to make interesting and consequential decisions. The rest of the issue finds the remainder of the team facing off against members of the Victim Syndicate. The climax of the issue comes in the form of Batman finally confronting the First Victim.
The problem with Detective Comics #946 is that, for much of the issue, things are neither revealed nor escalated. For the fourth part of what feels like a five or six part storyline, there’s remarkably little tension or suspense. At this point, the First Victim is little more than a cool idea and a great visual, with the team keeping the motivation maddeningly obscured. The climax of the issue features Batman confronting the First Victim and offering to help, offering himself up, anything if they’ll just reveal who they are and what they want. As a reader, I can sympathize
with Batman’s frustration. There really isn’t any reason, now that the Victim has Batman where they claim to want him, for them not to reveal something about their motives (I’m using non-gender specific pronouns as we still don’t know even that about the First Victim). I’m all for an enigmatic villain, but when you’ve been teasing a bad guy’s personal relationship with, and injury by, your protagonist for four issues, it’s time to start moving the narrative forward. This problem isn’t made any better by the fact that we know all about the motivations/trauma of the other Syndicate members, and we see them pretty handily defeated by the team in the issue in quick order. They’re each given a page or so each to be taken down by our heroes, which kind of makes them less formidable than they first appeared, and prevents the tension of the issue from escalating. Even though Batman’s tactic of using empathy and understanding to try and reach the First Victim is novel and compelling, the Victim’s refusal to engage on that level (mostly due to the fact that the creative team probably wants to save the reveal for later) resulted in a frustrating climax for me rather than a satisfying one. I just wanted to to figure out who this person is, what drives them and why I should care at this point.
There is another plot element happening during the issue, revolving around Stephanie Brown, aka Spoiler and a decision she makes. The issue gives her a scene to contemplate whether Batman’s methods really result in anything other than a perpetuation of violence. This isn’t a new argument in Batman circles, it’s been going on since at least the 1980s, but I bought into the journey Stephanie goes on here, and Tynion and Barrows successfully put across Stephanie’s pain and grief without making her some unhinged. Frankly, with her background and her recent loss, it makes complete sense that she would question her life and missiinthe way she does here. Her journey is definitely the strong point of the issue.
The art throughout Detective Comics #946 is fantastic. Barrows and his collaborators deliver a vibrant and exciting issue, filled with gorgeous two-page spreads and a style that alternates between a moody, painterly style and a more conventional action-comic one. Though I criticized the fact that all of the Syndicate are defeated perhaps a bit too easily, the scenes of conflict are really nicely done with great drama and pace.
In there end, while I found things to like, and while I enjoyed the cliffhanger and the journey a character makes to arrive at a momentous decision, I still don’t feel that the execution of the rich concept of “victims” of Batman’s activities (and his culpability in their traumas) has been explored to its best. The Syndicate doesn’t feel formidable and its leader is still too unknown to be emotionally invested in. I still have hope that the team could turn it around and deliver a compelling final chapter or two, but this issue didn’t do it for me. 6/10