Detective Comics #956 By James Tynion IV and Marcio Takara
Plot
Characterization
Art
Summary
James Tynion IV has done it again. With a wonderful emotional core, the finale of "League of Shadows" concludes Orphan's story in dramatically satisfying fashion.
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DETECTIVE COMICS #956: “League of Shadows” Conclusion

DETECTIVE COMICS #956 brings the “League of Shadows” arc to a rousing, emotional and cinematic conclusion. I’m continually amazed by writer James Tynion IV’s ability to bring home each and every one of his arcs. The sheer amount of characters in the series can sometimes make things feel overstuffed. Nevertheless, Tynion’s storytelling skills are so strong that he always manages to stick the landing. DETECTIVE COMICS #956 is the perfect example, with Orphan’s amazing emotional journey carrying the arc over the finish line with mesmerizing execution.

Detective Comics #956
Image courtesy of DC Comics

The issue begins with Orphan and her mother, Lady Shiva’s, ferocious duel in the tunnels beneath Gotham. Batman and his team fight off Shiva’s League of Shadows army while Clayface tries to get an injured Batwoman to safety, and Batwing and Azrael attempt to disarm the bomb set to destroy all of Gotham. Meanwhile, Jacob Kane leads his army of former Batmen in an airship, prepared to blow Shiva and her entire League off the map. Through all the chaos, the real confrontation remains between Shiva and Orphan — not just for Gotham’s fate, but for the soul of Cassandra Cain.

READ: Meanwhile, Batman is on a mind-bending journey through time with the Flash. Discover the emotional results in our review of BATMAN #22!

Orphan’s development throughout this entire arc has been masterful. We first gained some fundamental insight into her in the prologue issue, LEAGUE OF SHADOWS #950. Here, we discovered Cassandra’s affinity for ballet, and her ability to express her torment through dance rather than words. Over the course of the arc, Cassandra has gained an understanding that she doesn’t need to be anybody’s weapon, that she can be so much more.

Though the arc began to feel meandering around the middle portion, suffering from the over-abundance of characters, the narrative finally came together last issue, thanks to Cassandra’s discussion with the ballet dancer she observed in issue #950. Their powerful conversation finally allowed Cassandra to realize that she could be more than what she was told, that she possessed the power to change her life. It was a moment of stunning clarity, beautifully executed. It helped to set up the intensely personal conflict between Cassandra and her mother.

In DETECTIVE COMICS #956, the duel between Orphan and Shiva reveals so much about their psychology. It’s one of those great cinematic duels, like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in Empire. It’s the kind of battle that looks fantastic, holds plenty of suspense, but ultimately succeeds because it reveals who the characters truly are. It’s an especially apt comparison here because the duel is between parent and child. And like that famous Star Wars battle, we learn a lot more about Shiva than we might have expected.

Detective Comics #956
Image courtesy of DC Comics

Shiva has been depicted as vile, ruthless and hateful throughout the “League of Shadows” arc. But in a very effective reversal, which once again plays out like one of the great cinema twists, we learn that Shiva might actually be the hero of the story. She rightfully points out that Batman, in his desperation to save Gotham, effectively made a deal with the devil. By joining forces with Ra’s, Batman is aligning himself with the Demon’s Head. The Dark Knight is playing a very dangerous game indeed.

Moreover, we learn that Shiva, in her training with the League, tried everything to find the emotional sustenance she lost along with her daughter. Fascinatingly, we learn that Orphan and Shiva came from the same exact emotional place: yearning, seeking to find their purpose. It was their journeys that brought them to opposite places. Where Orphan finally managed to find herself by becoming more, Shiva lost herself entirely by becoming less. Shiva emptied herself out, while Orphan filled herself in.

READ: Detective Comics #954 saw Batman make his devil’s deal with Ra’s Al Ghul. Discover the shocking ramifications in our review!

This dual transformation results in a moment of tragic resolution, topping off an amazingly insightful battle that finally leaves Cassandra in a place of security. Along the way, the issue’s entire build-up to this moment is executed with wonderfully cinematic drama and suspense. In another cinematic tradition, the issue is split between three narratives. This serves to heighten the anticipation and sense of danger. Jacob Kane’s suicide mission to find and destroy Shiva’s bomb creates a ticking clock component to the narrative. We know that our heroes only have a limited amount of time before they die.

Much like Shiva’s emotional struggle, it’s ultimately Jacob’s attachment to his daughter that pulls him back from the brink. Jacob, for all his sins, remains a distinctively interesting and likable character. He’s a man of extremes, of black and white thinking. But when his daughter comes into the fray, his love for her always pushes him to do the right thing, no matter what stands in his way.

Everyone here has a moral conflict unfolding. Batman, though not an entirely impactful member of this story, has perhaps the biggest moral quandary of all. Batman’s deal with Ra’s has left the fate of Gotham on the edge of a knife. His uncertainty over this decision finally shows itself in the issue’s final moments. The puzzle pieces are moving, and it looks as though Batman knows he chose the lesser of two evils, and might ultimately pay for it in the days to come.

Detective Comics #956
Image courtesy of DC Comics

Marcio Takara’s artwork capitalizes on Tynion’s cinematic story with a wonderful sense of scale. He depicts scenes of battle with grandeur and weight. Large panels reveal the massive conflict while retaining each distinctive character design. Meanwhile, the small panels focus on the brutal, emotional intimacy of the conflicts, particularly between Orphan and Shiva. Their faces show an array of intense emotions, assisted by the splattering of blood that increases throughout the comic. The blood’s detail invokes not only the brutality but also the deep familial bond driving their horrific conflict. Mancello Nailo’s colors magnificently enhance the intensity of Takara’s art. The battle deep within Gotham’s caves is ignited in fiery red, bathing the entire conflict in a hellish glow.

Meanwhile, the duel’s intense emotion is offset by the scenes of Jacob Kane and his men. Their airship base is cast in a cool, sterilized green. This more subdued mood invokes cold determination, suggesting that emotions aren’t playing a factor at all. Jacob moves to pursue his mission to the end, and the colors exemplify this ruthless intent. Throughout this fascinating display of color palettes, each character design pops out vividly. This results in a wonderful array of colors and moods, adding up to a masterful and cinematic portrait.

Overall, DETECTIVE COMICS #956 is a wonderful resolution to the “League of Shadows.” It rounds out the story with a climactic battle, and one of the most cinematic conflicts in recent comic book history. Tynion and Marcio’s greatest accomplishment throughout this story was crafting a magnificent arc for Orphan. They brought her from a lethal killer to a ballet dancer to a young woman coming to grips with her own choices. Cassandra Cain’s story went down an unusual road, but it still led her to the place we all hope to arrive: our true selves.

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