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A Writer’s Commentary: STEVE ORLANDO on SHADOW/BATMAN #6, on sale NOW!

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  • A Writer’s Commentary: STEVE ORLANDO on SHADOW/BATMAN #6, on sale NOW!

    A Writer’s Commentary: STEVE ORLANDO on SHADOW/BATMAN #6, on sale NOW from Dynamite!

    PAGE 1:

    Here, we open our issue, our finale, with a mirror of the fight that closed Issue One. Just as Ra's points out, where once a fake Batman battled the real Robin, now the puppet Robin battles the real Batman at the whim of Khan and Ra's. It's a dream come true for Ra's; at last, his grandson, his rebellious legacy, is truly under his thumb. Or at least, the thumb of Khan, Ra's's one true ally. Ra's words about mind control are an allusion to the way mind control is described in X2.

    And Batman knows it. After being a few seconds behind for this entire affair, Batman has regained his agency. He knows Ra's and he knows his lies, or his manipulations of the truth. And reminding Ra's of such, checking his boasts, is also Batman fighting with his words – he's subtle in his reminding Ra's he's mortal, he's fallible. Batman knows that the hope for this moment, for the world, lasts in the unknown, the realm of the Shadow. If he can hold off long enough, Ra's ultimatum, to fight his son Damian, will fade...and Batman will overcome.

    PAGES 2 – 5:

    But it all depends, as Batman notes, on the Shadow. Here, at last, we delve fully into the nightmares of the mind. This is the true realm of Shamba-La's power, where its students do battle, and where the Shadow's dark power is born. The Shadow speaks of the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, and he knows it better than any other, but he finds it defined in the darkness of men's minds. In the ways of evil, the heart is the engine, the fuel, but the mind focuses that dark power.

    At last, with last issue’s admission of his failures and his self-loathing, the Shadow has accepted who he is. He has finally attained a modicum of the power Khan took decades ago, freely, because of his clarity of self. That is, even if his self is horrifying. Khan is happy to boast that the huge strides in power the Shadow's taken are but baby steps for him. But is that true? Or is Khan wavering, and deploying his most trusted weapon – lies.

    This is our chance, in the realm of the mind, the Thaumic Plane (Thauma is an Ancient Greek word meaning “wonder” or “miracle,” with “Thaumaturgy” meaning the magic of miracles), to go full Inception with our horrific visuals. Here, mortal flesh is just clay to be melded and welded for the horror of one's opponent. Khan still mocks the Shadow as a child, begging for the approval of his former masters that will never return again. And Khan uses that as a carrot, in between Giovanni's amazing nightmare imagery (the Shadow's scarf forming hands to pull his severed body back together is especially great). Khan notes the Shadow has learned some of what he wanted, but dangles that he, Khan, knows so much more. Can the Shadow truly sacrifice that for victory?

    We see Khan's superior control of his powers here – the Shadow is still thinking like he’s in a fistfight, catching the blade before it hits his face. But it's effortless for Khan to rupture the blade, his own hand, into a hail of deadly spiders.

    PAGE 6:

    We quickly venture to the real world once again to underline the scope of Batman and the Shadow's attack on the Silent Seven. Their distraction has caused world commerce to seize, for all business to grind to a halt nearly instantly. And as they are a “Silent,” group, the businesses and datamongers of the world don't even know why, just like if something is wrong with our own bodies that we don't expect. We don't expect a heart attack, for example, until it's too late, despite thinking our bodies are our own. Sometimes they act of their own accord. And with the Silent Seven positioning itself as the heart of the modern world, their distraction to battle Batman and the Shadow is like a series of palpitations rippling across the world. Fox, at Wayne Tech, feels it.

    Ra's echoes these facts, which embolden Batman's fears – to his mind, the Silent Seven's defeat could cause a global collapse.

    PAGES 7 – 10:

    With that, we return to the Thaumic Plane. Here, we witness the last stand of Shiwan Khan's ego. Khan has been laying it on thick this issue, even for him. And that's by design. The Shadow is playing into it, teasing it out of him, making him feel as superior as he ever set him up not just to be defeated, but demoralized.

    Because the Shadow has been ahead of the game all along, ever since Batman saved him from the bullet in the previous issue, ever since he realized his true power by realizing his true self. And just like Rorschach to the inmates, the Shadow has his own moment of “I'm not locked up here with you, you're locked up here with me.” Khan's power, his dominance in the Thaumic Plane, has all been the Shadow's play. They've been in the Shadow's mind all along.

    And here, the Shadow rules.

    Gio's work on this entire sequence was wonderful and inventive, I can't imagine someone else tackling it. His near-final panel of the Shadow's horrific eye regrowing and snapping back into place is so perfect. And the sound effect is perfectly placed by Taylor as well. That's a perfect moment.

    The Shadow turns Khan's stylized words against him, turning his foe's operatic plots and monologues into his own totemic power dance. Here, the Shadow runs down the true meaning of his guise, inspired by Scott Snyder's Batman realizing he is about hope, and overcoming, for the citizens of Gotham. The Shadow, long negative, long thought his mission was a curse – the punishment of an evil man. Batman, at the end of Batman/Shadow, noted he could show the Shadow a different path, and the movements of this story do so. The Shadow learns to reframe his life, his pain, and his struggle, not as a curse, but as a challenge. The Shadow is a challenge for bad men, starting with himself.

    This is his true power, through understanding what and who he really is. He is the Shadow. And the Shadow knows.

    And the Shadow accepts.

    His power within the mind unimaginable now, the Shadow decimates Khan in his tracks. His benediction about himself is his power phrase, driving him to victory.

    PAGES 11 – 13:

    Here, back in the physical world, Batman begins his own climactic self-evaluation. And just like the Shadow, that gives him power. It will be what leads him to victory. He first passes the blame to Ra's and Talia, but Batman, in his desperation to break through to Damian, finally admits that he too has tried to use Damian for his own ends, to manipulate him. And he admits he's failed, just like the Shadow had to admit he failed, to reach a more important end. No one, Batman admits, has really been able to manipulate Damian. He shows respect to his son. And that's the first step to what comes next, to what's been his major struggle for this entire series, allowing Damian to grow up and take his own responsibility.

    Ra's, throughout this, finally loses his facade and becomes just as petty as Khan was. In defeat, his antagonism towards Khan comes to light. Ra's cannot accept that his own hubris may have left him vulnerable, and perhaps he's right. Perhaps if Khan had been as old as him, an older immortal, he'd have the foresight to let the impudence of Batman and the Shadow pass. But Khan is a young immortal, and because of his supervillain's vendetta, the Silent Seven are in decline. They are in defeat.

    Hubris, we see, is their greatest vulnerability. Damian makes his pitch to Batman: The Silent Seven have risen so far above society that they've made it self-sustaining. Robin has been theorizing this since issue one, but here, he is sure of it. It's a risk, but he pitches that Batman must trust him. Batman must allow him to follow his own conclusion, even with the world on the line. Batman must have hope in his son, and that his son is now his own, capable, worldly hero, with insight different and unique from his own as Batman's. In fact, the fate of the world rests on it.

    And here, after six issues of wrestling with it, Batman at last makes the leap of faith. He takes the risk, the most important one he needs to take: to trust someone else. And he trusts Damian.

    PAGES 14 – 17:

    This last sequence, this final battle, at last shows all our heroes operating at their fully realized peak. Batman has made the progress he needed to, as has the Shadow. And Robin stands empowered by Batman's trust, emboldened by it.

    All our heroes are at their peak here, confident as they should be, comfortable in their missions. And they work like clockwork as we've long wanted. That is the prize for their personal struggles. Batman and the Shadow, at last fighting side-by-side as the Shadow once envisioned. He just had to become the Shadow his former student knew he was, or could be.

    Damian's interaction with the computer, and the name Ra's gave his son, is an allusion to the son of the Batman character in Kingdom Come. Where Ra's sees Damian as the grandson of the demon, Damian sees himself as the son of the bat. Damian's word joust with Ra's furthers that he's ascended to an equal level as his grandfather, as he can now do what Ra's claims only he, undying, could. Damian, at the Silent Seven's nerve center, can now move in the world and manipulate it like Ra's.

    But he isn't Ra's. So, much to his grandfather's fury and terror, Damian doesn't manipulate it...he sets it free. He loses the shackles the Silent Seven have placed on us, our technology, our economy, our intelligence.

    There's no going back now. If Damian's right, he has just unleashed the true potential of the world. If he's wrong, he's ended it. We must trust that he's right.

    Batman and the Shadow certainly do. Their final words to their foes back up Robin's claim about the Silent Seven's folly. They rose too high above the street, and so it was the street that birthed their undoing, through the means of the Shadow and Batman.

    PAGES 18 – 22:

    We cut to months later, and the ever-changing, ever-progressing future world the Silent Seven hid from us.

    Robin was right. We do survive. We thrive. We bloom, as the Shadow said.

    Our heroes watch with awe, something perhaps the old Shadow would've been unable to do. And our villains? They each see punishments in line with the sadistic, operatic justice of the Shadow. He has left them both like Tantalus, inches away from their former power with but a hint, a fraction of a memory and of hope, which will never come to fruition, never bloom. He at last reminds the immortals they are mortal, teaching them humility. The punishment must fit the crime, and for the Shadow, these two undying fools deserve no better punishment than to know they are mortal, each in their own way. They deserve humility, and after years of that, an end. A quick punishment is not enough for them, in the Shadow's eyes. Khan and Al Ghul must know torment. These great masters of men will eventually meet their ends, mundane and human as they deserve.

    Batman, the Shadow, and Robin, are renewed. They rebuild their foundations, embodied by the rebirth of Wayne Manor, a reference to its destruction being seen as an opportunity in Batman Begins. They build it back up from the ground, from death, as the Shadow has done to himself. Khan brought him to his lowest, but that was the old Shadow, the one with hate for himself in his heart. That man had to die, as the Shadow notes, for the new, better, more focused version to take over. The Shadow has killed the man he was to become the man he is.

    This is the progress Margo Lane believed he could make. She was defiant, as the Shadow said, when even he did not see something worth saving in himself. He did not see the man hiding beneath the detritus and rust of a lifetime of bad deeds. But she did. And now, he is that man. No longer a leader of agents, whose lives he owns as their debt to him. Now, he is a hero among allies.

    He, who trained Batman, who trained Robin. They are not all blood related, but they are a Grandfather, Son, and Grandson in a lineage of crimefighting. They are at last unified as a legacy of justice.

    And a legacy continues. It does not die. It will not. And so we know, strengthened by all they've overcome and the strength they've found in themselves, to accept each other, that even in this advanced future, evil will have no place to hide. When cruelty lurks, when betrayal sparks, when evil is birthed in the hearts of men...

    They'll know.