By: Paul Cornell (writer), Scott McDaniel with Christopher Jones (pencillers), Rob Hunter, Art Thibert and Andy Owens (inkers)

The Story: Batman and Robin are caught in the clutches of Absence, but learn her origin. A classic comic story.

What’s Good: Visually, this issue hit me better than issue #17. The addition of Chris Jones, Art Thibert and Andy Owens this month really made the difference. The art was less cartoony, more textured and lifelike. The art team had some interesting camera angles and the panel layouts led the eye around the page. There are too many good examples to mention, but check out page two and the toggling of views, the page where Terri is shot, and the death scene of Absence herself at the hands of pirates. The poses are dynamic and the panels on the page make for a cool visual experience.

On writing, Cornell really sucked me in to Absence’ flashback. It lasted a long time, but drew me through a pretty interesting set of events. There’s more than a bit of sci-fi creeping into this book, and I liked the Dandy Walker Syndrome McGuffin.

What’s Not So Good: Writing-wise, Cornell’s weird take on the world (for more on this, check out Cornell’s Captain Britain, Doctor Who or some of his sci-fi short stories) is making itself felt. Some of it is good, as I mentioned above, but some of it I’m not liking so much. Firstly, the Dick-Damian dynamic established over the last year really was one of the key things I looked forward to in each issue of BM&R. Under Cornell, they continue to argue and banter, but the spark or chemistry is missing, almost like their relationship is out of focus. Secondly, Absence is unhinged in the way a Gotham villain should be, and although Cornell spent a long time on her motivation, I didn’t feel I bought it. Yes, she’s crazy and motivations can be crazy too, but something wasn’t gelling for me about her. Maybe it was the nonchalant blowing up of her own minions that came across as a little too Republican Serial villainous to me, like Mr. Burns when he tried to blot out the sun over Springfield. Maybe I’m growing tired or disbelieving of villains who kill their own troops in piques of whimsy that are presumably to make me hate the villain more. Speaking of cartoony, while the art team got laps ahead of last issue, there were cartoony bits still to be expunged that detracted (check out Absence walking out of the church looking suddenly three and a half feet tall).

Conclusion: There is a definite tone-shift under Cornell’s watch (naturally enough) and I’m still wondering if this is a good pairing. If you’re looking for very dark Gotham, I think you’re going to need to read Detective Comics or Batman. For a lighter feel, something that fits the tone of Batgirl or Red Robin, this may be your book.

Grade: C+

-DS Arsenault