by Grant Morrison (writer), Andy Clarke (pencils), Scott Hanna (inks), Alex Sinclair (colors), and Pat Brosseau (letters)

The Story: Batman and Robin search Wayne Manor for clues left by a lost-in-time Bruce Wayne.

What’s Good: Morrison’s series has been filled with a lot of wacky stuff, what with each arc thus far being somewhat independent.  This issue manages to weave together many of those wild strands, and there’s definitely a satisfying feeling of everything drawing together.  Oberon Sexton, the Domino Killer, El Penitente, and Talia Al Ghul are all series elements that are present in this issue in some form or other, and the result is a great sense of a cohesive whole.  The seemingly disparate book Morrison has been writing suddenly seems like a carefully pieced together puzzle.

That’s not to say that there isn’t solid character-work as well.  Damian and Oberon Sexton continue to be strong characters that Morrison clearly has a ball writing.  Both also have a characteristic kind of snark that is unique to them.  Oberon suddenly becomes more active and integral to the plot, which is rewarding given Morrison’s building up of the character, while Damian begins to show some real heroic colors and hints of his appreciation of Grayson.  Both are satisfying reads.

The structure of the issue is also fun.  Grayson at one point likens the current situation to a game of clue, and he’s not far wrong.  As our heroes wander Wayne Mansion looking for centuries old clues and dark secrets, there is an atmosphere of foreboding and mystery.  There’s a sense of discomfort and the Gothic, yet it also mingles with the fun kookiness that’s defined Morrison’s series and a game-like feel.

Clarke’s artwork is mostly solid.  His depiction of Wayne Manor helps carry much of the issue, feeling like the set of an old Victorian ghost story.  Shadows abound, as does the old Gothic creepiness.  It’s great stuff all around, and it’s clear that Clarke, more than Tan or Stewart, is doing his damndest to work in Quitely’s mold.  If anything, this ensures solid artwork.

What’s Not So Good: Unfortunately, while working to emulate a fantastic artist ensures solid artwork, it also ensures unflattering comparisons.  That’s sort of what goes on here, as Clarke ends up feeling a bit like “Quitely-light.”  It also bears being said that there are two or three rather questionably drawn faces, where either the facial structure alters a bit or the forehead is a little overly large.

I also have to say that I did feel the early portion of the issue veered dangerously close to being a shill for the Return of Bruce Wayne event.  It never verges all the way into this area, but knowledge of DC’s solicitations does make the comic’s ties with that event seem a little too direct in its set-up.

Also the speed and ease with which Alfred, Dick, and Damian accept Bruce’s being lost in time is a little convenient, even mind-boggling given its assumed improbability.  It seems like the characters accept almost as soon as it’s suggested and immediately begin to hunt for clues left by Wayne.  It’s just too easy.

Finally, though it’s set up logically and done well, I did groan a bit at yet another mind-control gimmick in comics.

Conclusion: More fun than the last few issues, this chapter in this arc promises more great issues to come.  Still, there are some jitters.

Grade: B –

-Alex Evans