"War Games" is a 2004-2005 major storyline comic book story arc published by DC Comics that ran in its Batman family of titles, Detective Comics, Legends of the Dark Knight, Nightwing, Batman: Gotham Knights, Robin, Batgirl, Catwoman, Batman and Gotham Central. The storyline, which was published from October 2004 and January 2005, was preceded by a prologue that appeared in Batman: The 12 Cent Adventure.
The plot revolves around a gang war involving all the major criminal groups in Gotham. It starts with one of Batman's most ambitious contingency plans for a possible outbreak of uncontrollable gang violence, Batman developed an elaborate scenario that would unite all of Gotham's underworld under a single crime boss: Matches Malone, who is really an alias of Batman himself.
This plan is discovered by Stephanie Brown, who was serving as Batman's sidekick, Robin, at the time, and who was unaware that Malone and Batman were one and the same, believing that he was simply an employee of Batman. When Brown is fired from the Robin position, she attempts to regain Batman's trust and confidence by implementing the contingency plan without Batman's knowledge or participation. Thus, Matches Malone is not present when Brown, having returned to her former identity of Spoiler, assembles the leaders of all of the gangs into one place. The meeting ends disastrously, with numerous crime bosses and henchmen killed (including Lew Moxon, Hellhound, Silver Monkey and NKVDemon III) all of the gangs in Gotham going to war with one another.
In the chaos of the city-wide gang war, the crime lord Black Mask seizes control of all the gangs by kidnapping Stephanie and torturing her for the information she possesses, and becomes the most powerful crime lord of Gotham City. Stephanie would seemingly die from her torture at Black Mask's hands, a tragedy for which Batman holds himself responsible.
Besides the aforementioned death of Stephanie Brown, many other side effects came about from this event. The biggest of these included Black Mask becoming the single crime boss in Gotham, something that would remain until his death at the hands of Catwoman. Another would be Commissioner Akins effectively making all vigilantes criminals, a move that would stay in place for over a year until the return of Commissioner Gordon to the Gotham City Police Department. The more controversial effect, not seen until the follow-up story War Crimes, was turning Doctor Leslie Thompkins against Batman, when she allows Stephanie Brown to die from her wounds as Batman's "punishment" for including children in his war on crime. Jason Todd, a former Boy Wonder, revealed to be alive on Batman: Under the Hood as a violent vigilante the Red Hood who waged a one-man war against Black Mask and successfully crippling his criminal operation in the city before seeking revenge towards Batman and the Joker. Finally, the citizens of Gotham City no longer consider Batman to be an Urban legend (which has been in place since Zero Hour), as he was caught on camera trying to save the life of a wounded student at the end of Act One. Additionally, Barbara Gordon lost the clock tower that served as her home and headquarters and left Gotham City, eventually moving to Metropolis. She would later re-establish her ties to Batman.
Stephanie's death at the hands of the Black Mask and Dr. Thompkins would also lead to the mystery of her later appearances in the pages of Gotham Underground and Robin, as a mysterious female vigilante wearing the Spoiler costume later unmasked to be Stephanie herself. In Robin #174, Stephanie's death has been retconned by writer Chuck Dixon as Dr. Thompkins switched her body with a deceased victim who has a similar body type, as Dr. Thompkins actually did treat her in secret.
Planned death of Stephanie
At the 2011 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, former Batgirl writer Dylan Horrocks said that the writers were told by editorial that the crossover would be “involve some kind of Gang War in Gotham” and involve Stephanie's death. Her debut as Robin was "purely as a trick to play on the readers, that we would fool them into thinking that the big event [War Games] was that Stephanie Brown would become Robin but we knew all along it was a temporary thing, and she was then going to die at the end of this crossover story". Both Horrocks and Nightwing writer Devin Grayson opposed the move during planning, to the extent that Horrocks deliberately kept Batgirl out of several key events in the story.
Act One - Outbreak:
- Prelude: Batman: The 12 Cent Adventure #1
- Part 1: Detective Comics #797
- Part 2: Legends of the Dark Knight #182
- Part 3: Nightwing #96
- Part 4: Gotham Knights #56
- Part 5: Robin (vol. 4) #129
- Part 6: Batgirl (vol. 1) #55
- Part 7: Catwoman (vol. 3) #34
- Part 8: Batman #631
Act Two - Tides:
- Part 1: Detective Comics #798
- Part 2: Legends of the Dark Knight #183
- Part 3: Nightwing #97
- Part 4: Gotham Knights #57
- Part 5: Robin (vol. 4) #130
- Part 6: Batgirl (vol. 1) #56
- Part 7: Catwoman (vol. 3) #35
- Part 8: Batman #632
Act Three - Endgame:
- Part 1: Detective Comics #799
- Part 2: Legends of the Dark Knight #184
- Part 3: Nightwing #98
- Part 4: Robin (vol. 4) #131
- Part 5: Gotham Knights #58
- Part 6: Batgirl (vol. 1) #57
- Part 7: Catwoman (vol. 3) #36
- Part 8: Batman #633
- Epilogue: Detective Comics #800
- Epilogue: Batman #634
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- Robin #172
- Gotham Underground #6
- Footage and transcript of the Auckland Writers And Readers Fest panel at Bleeding Cool: "“Spoiler Was Gonna Die” – Inside The DC Writer Meeting That Killed Stephanie Brown"