(photo source: Newsarama)
Batman & Robin: Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, John Kalisz, Pat Brosseau
I think this was my favorite issue so far. When I first started this series, I was disappointed because of the lack of progress in which we see Damian. Now I understand why. Tomasi is spinning an epic tale of trust, betrayal, and loyalty. And he’s leaving us with a surprisingly open-ended last page in this issue. There’s a lot of subtlety in this issue, I think, and we definitely get that feeling of “failure” that’s been so present so far in the January issues. First, let’s talk subtlety. A lot of this has to do with the art and layout of the pages. First of all, I love the drawings Damian had in his room. They’re truly disturbing, and have all the earmarks of a psychopath. I’m suddenly finding Damian to be an even more interesting character than I did before…and it’s helping to develop this side of Bruce Wayne that we’ve only seen glimpses of before, what with his previous Robins. Now, however, this is his true son…and so it’s a little different. It’s blood. It’s an obligation. An unconditional love, which Bruce is not used to as much. Next, that snake-like gargoyle Damian sits on in that first full splash, with the shadowy figures of the other statues, and Morgan, behind him. This is a beautiful page, and I don’t think I’ve seen Damian ever drawn more perfectly. He looks like a young kid, but he also has this weight to him…this predatory strength that truly underscores the buried nature within Damian. We go from that to Bruce’s monologue throughout the issue, which helps to really express how Bruce is really feeling about Damian and what’s happening with the mutiny. I really had to cheer for Bruce while reading this, because I believe him…this made me really believe he wants to do right by his son. The Ducard story was interesting, but I really wanted it to be shorter. It took up too many pages that could have instead been spent on the main story here. Besides, we didn’t even get into why Bruce regretted going along with the Ducards, unless it’s meant to be inferred, and if that’s the case then it was really a waste of time. So it seems like there really wasn’t a point to it all. By the time we’re done with that little flashback that taught us nothing, we only have four pages left of the book to show time between Morgan and Damian. Luckily, though, a very well-thought out layout was implemented by artist Gleason. The scene of Damian and Morgan infiltrating the foreign embassy was done with lots of smaller, wordless panels that show us a lot of action and time in that limited space. This is also that subtlety that I mentioned…with this style we really have to fill in some blanks and just let the action speak for itself. Like I said, there’s no dialog, and no narration, so it was a fresh little couple of pages where I could just enjoy what I was seeing. The failure part of this issue really sings loudly. I mean…Batman lost his son to a grave enemy, who is now training him to embrace that killer instinct. Doesn’t get much more “faily” than that. However, I did say that Tomasi leaves this surprisingly open-ended…and by that, I mean that Damian is shown with a gun in his hand, but he doesn’t act. That’s our cliffhanger (not to spoil anything), and I’m almost expecting Damian to suddenly turn the gun on Ducard and incapacitate him…this having been his plan all along. But I guess we’ll see. I’m not sure how happy with that I’ll be, should it happen next issue. I kind of want Damian to be struggling with everything so that it falls to Bruce to raise him right, and have a chance to make up for his mistakes. If Damian was just playing along in order to take Ducard down, then it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s learning from Bruce, just continuing to act out on his own - WHILE causing his father to freak out and chase him down. Although, that does sound like Damian to kind of “stick it to him,” and make him feel like a failure just to teach him a lesson. I guess we’ll have to wait until Valentine’s Day to see!
Batman & Robin #5, the verdict: Despite a lagging middle with the Ducard story, I felt this issue was really solid, and definitely added an interesting twist to the whole Damian equation. A lot of people dislike the newest Robin, but I’ve always liked the character because of how different he is from Batman. I’m glad we don’t have just another cookie-cutter of Batman to follow him around. That’s even mentioned in this issue, how wants to not be a replica of his father. That’s a lot more interesting than someone who always follows the rules and is so straight-edge he could split a hair. So I embrace the Damian character rather than boo him, and I end up liking him even more. He’s unpredictable, and that makes for a great opposition to Batman’s staunch rules and work ethic. I’m still concerned about the ending of this issue, and what it could lead to…but since I have no control over that, I guess I’ll just wait until I read #6 to find out what happens!