[Spoilers for Batman and Robin Eternal #1.]
Did Batman spend time in the past shooting parents for a new villain named Mother?
Did he not only use a gun (a no-no for Batman), but did he create orphans and missing kids for Mother, maybe even including the former Robins?
Batman and Robin Eternal #1, written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV with pencilling by Tony Daniel, certainly opens the door to that possibility.
Readers will remember that the recent "Batman Day" preview issue revealed a scene five years ago where a bleeding Batman tried to hide a secret file from his then-Robin, Dick Grayson. The "Shadow File 141287" revealed pictures of more than a dozen missing kids, and a photo of a white haired female figure, along with a voice saying that Batman had done something to "make [Robin] what he is."
"How would he cope if your little Robin ever learned the truth," the voice says, "if he knew how little choice there ever was for him in the process?"
In the scene, Batman destroys the file, and he removes a thumb drive (with a Bat-symbol on it, of course), saying that Dick will never "worry about" the information on that file.
With that preview in mind, this week's Batman and Robin Eternal #1 opens on a child in Cairo, Egypt, who is shown losing his parents several years ago.
And by the end of this first issue, the person who shot those parents is shown to be none other than Batman himself.
As Batman stands over the kneeling boy and his dead parents, Batman is talking via some type of communication device to Mother.
"It's me. It's done," Batman says.
"The child is ready for acquisition then?" a comm voice replies.
"Yes, Mother," Batman says on the final page, standing in costume with the smoking gun, the boy looking up at him in fear. "Everything went according to plan."
OK, the image of Batman with a smoking gun is bad enough. And him killing someone's parents — particularly when we know how he lost his parents to a shooter when he was a boy — is also bad enough.
But the implication here is that Batman used to work for someone called "Mother" — the big bad of the entire weekly series — and he had killed parents of children, and those kids became "acquisitions."
But wait, there's more…
The rest of the issue concentrates on current-day Dick Grayson, all grown up now and working for the spy organization Spyral (as seen in Grayson). He's in Gotham City, chasing down baddies and investigating a possible dirty bomb set to go off at an event at Gotham State University. He reminisces briefly about a mission he had back in the day as Robin, where he and Batman chased the Scarecrow around the world.
But it turns out he's been set up by someone inside Spyral — an agent named Poppy — and this mission is actually a trap. A bunch of wide-eyed kids at the G.S.U. event begin to attack Dick with guns, referring to someone called "The Orphan" and also referencing "Mother."
Dick gets away from the trap and escapes a similar attempt on his life by Poppy. After Dick rides away on a motorcycle, he calls out to Red Robin, Red Hood, Batgirl or any of the Bat-family. But he's knocked off his cycle by Cassandra Cain — the new one being introduced in this weekly. She out-fights him (silently), then says "Mother" and hands him a thumb drive — with a Bat-symbol on it. And then she's gone.
Meanwhile, Poppy has contacted "Orphan" and discusses taking down "the others" (seemingly referring to the rest of Bat-family). Which one of them will be attacked first? "The most important one of all," Orphan says. "The one who could lead them straight to her, if they figured out how to look."
Enter Harper Row, who just had a run-in with the new Jim Gordon Batman, who makes it clear that he doesn't like these Bat-kid vigilantes. Being a bit of an electrical whiz kid, Harper disabled his suit, much to his chagrin, and got away.
After Harper gets home, we find out she is apparently the "most important one of all" referenced earlier, as Orphan shows up in her apartment to take her down first.
Back at the Batcave, Dick Grayson is checking out that thumb drive Cassandra gave him. "Rearchiving Shadow File 141287" the computer says.
What appear to be hundreds of names appear on the Bat-computer screens, and the words "MOTHER'S CHILDREN MUST BE TERMINATED BEFORE PHASE III."
Included in the names are a few familiar ones: Richard Grayson, Jason Todd, Timothy Drake, Harper Row and Cassandra Cain.
Dick says something out loud in surprise and the computer recognizes his voice and starts playing a video of Bruce Wayne Batman. "This is my confession," the recorded Batman says. "I spent so long hoping you would never find out what I did all those years ago…"
The recording references the aforementioned Scarecrow mission and says it "ran darker" than Robin knew. The Batman recording says he told "the girl Cassandra Cain" to give Dick the thumb drive if he failed on his mission. "She has returned, and if you are receiving this, I'm not there to stop her," he says. He says Mother is his "greatest sin," and he asks Dick to "try to forgive" him.
There are a few clues about this whole "Mother" conspiracy:
1) One of the children at the G.S.U. event says the Scarecrow adventure Dick Grayson remembers happening at Gotham State University was the "start" of it all. "That's why she thought this would be the perfect place to kill you," the young assassin said. Batman also referenced the Scarecrow story. So the Scarecrow story will obviously be the flashback that runs through Batman and Robin Eternal as a parallel tale to the current-day mystery — and this first issue acknowledges that it's important.
2) In the Batman recording, Bruce says, "you do not understand what [Mother] can make you do if you're not careful…Anyone could be under her control, Dick." That implies Mother can "make" people do things. Did she "make" Batman kill the parents of that child in Egypt — and maybe other parents? Was Batman not under his own control? (That's got to be the case, right?)
3) It's important to note here that the girls on the list have some secrets, and this issue reveals both of them as important. Batman worked with Cassandra in the past, and she obviously knows something about Mother. Also, Harper is referenced as being really important. (Sidenote: Could it be linked to Harper's lineage? Readers were shown in past issues that Harper's father is in jail, but her allegedly deceased mother is unknown. As Batman writer Snyder told Newsarama in 2013: "We allude to the fact that her mother was killed, and also, there's a big mystery surrounding her mother's background.")
Batman and Robin Eternal continues weekly for six months, with a story by Tynion and Snyder that's also being scripted by Tim Seeley, Genevieve Valentine, Steve Orlando, Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly and Ed Brisson. In interviews on Newsarama with Lanzing and Kelly and Seeley (earlier this week), those writers have already alluded to a conspiracy behind the creation of the Robins, which lies at the center of Batman and Robin Eternal.