Batman has a bad track record with his sidekicks. Of the five Robins in current DC Comics continuity, all but one have died (or seemed to have died) and come back. Only Tim Drake has avoid the icy claws of death, but it appears possible that could soon change - or DC at least, wants you to think it will.
This week, DC has literally cut Tim Drake out of the Bat-family - ahead of a promised "change... you'd never expect" to the Bat-titles.
A newly-revised cover to September 14's Detective Comics #940 has removed Tim Drake from this cover illustrated by series artist Eddy Barrows. Now, covers change all the time for a variety of reasons, but removing one specific character is vastly different from re-soliciting brand new art or a variant. And those other Bat-folks sure do look mournful.
Adding to that curious revision is the solicitation for that issue, which reads “This epic concludes with a battle against the Colony that will change Batman’s world forever-and in a way you’d never expect! Whether they win or lose, they’ve already lost…”
So "Batman's world" will be changed "forever" .. in an unexpected way ... with a major loss.
So is Tim really going to die? Not so fast...
The previously Detective Comics #939 hints at another different option, when Tim expresses his plans to leave Gotham and go to college at Ivy University – effectively ending his superheroing career while he’s a full-time student.
But what’s that old trope about being “days from retirement?” Lethal Weapon's Danny Glover would be proud, as the end of tha issue finds Tim pinned in by a veritable army of drones with mounted guns, right in that oft-used cliffhanger of a potentially fatal next issue.
But what if it’s not that simple?
What if Tim has been removed from the cover – and left out of the already solicited covers for the next several issues – not because he’s dead, but because he’s retired and attending college? What if DC is teasing an absence - hoping fans will jump to the conclusion of a death - only to reassure us that Tim’s still out there, even if he’s not in his cape and pixie boots? Would DC be so bold as to outright fake his death in the story to give him a clean break?
If so, Tim would be no less than the fourth of Batman’s sidekicks to be seemingly killed and brought back in secret. Hell, Stephanie Brown and Dick Grayson both underwent that exact same bait-and-switch. And as we said, killing Tim – fake or not – would complete the set of dead Robins.
But would DC really go back to that well again?
What if - and this is crazy – but what if Tim Drake is just going to college?
Ivy University isn’t just some random school – it’s the home of Professor Ray Palmer, the Atom. In DC Universe Rebirth #1, readers caught a brief glimpse of Palmer’s successor, Ryan Choi, discovering a message from Palmer that he’s trapped in the Microverse and needs Ryan’s help. DC has promised this story would return. What if Drake is roped into that story thread originated by Geoff Johns?
What about that Detective Comics #940 solicitation, though? If the ending is something we’d truly “never expect,” given that they laid out in #939 that Drake is planning on going to college wouldn't him going be rather... not unexpected?
While superhero deaths have become a arguably overused plot device, if there is a time to do it then it would be this month - 27 years to the month that Tim Drake debuted in comic books, August 1989.
How many promising careers have been cut short at 27? Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix…
We’ll find out if we’re headed to Tim’s funeral or his commencement when Detective Comics #940 hits stands on September 14.