By: Peter J. Tomasi (writer), Patrick Gleason (penciller), Mick Gray (inker), John Kalisz (colorist)

The Story: If Alfred had been a Blackhawk, a “Hawkaaa!” would be very appropriate here.

The Review: I’ve often marked Tomasi as one of the great character writers in DC’s stable of storytellers, up alongside Paul Cornell and Gail Simone.  But Tomasi does something quite different from the other two.  Whereas Cornell and Simone craft bold, vibrant personalities that almost dictate the plot from their sheer assertiveness, Tomasi builds characters from the ground up, letting them evolve through the plot, growing richer and more complex with every issue.

And there can’t be two characters who profit most from Tomasi’s slow-burn style than Bruce and Damian Wayne.  Because Bruce tends to be such a repressed character and Damian a bombastic one, engaging them in tense, convincing conflicts allows Bruce a release for his pent-up emotions and Damian to tone down and become more human.

Batman is strict and disciplined, and he stands for no nonsense.  You can see this clearly when he unwaveringly adheres to the methods of his moral code even against Nobody’s needling critiques about the viability of such a code: “Look at these freaks…! A vicious cycle of death and destruction that you continue to let spin after all this time!”  Bruce’s response?  “The only code around her that’s not viable is yours.”  As Damian says, Bruce is a “stubborn ass.”

Of course, by now we all understand why Batman sticks so closely to his principles, despite their flaws; if he didn’t, he’d just be another monster on the streets of Gotham, whose only value is he preys on monsters who are even worse.  So we can also understand why he’s so keen to ensure his son never makes that situation a reality.  Since Damian grew up under the tutelage of the most ruthless murderers in the world, the fact he uses his skills as a hero (for now) makes him no less susceptible to the allure of taking that extra step to the dark side.

Yet we have every hint that Damian is himself aware of the precarious moral balancing act he has to come to terms with.  When Grant Morrison wrote the previous volume of this title, there was a scene where Damian asks momma Talia al Ghul if she can’t accept him as he was (i.e. not an idealized boy-killer).  Here, he demands the same thing from his pops, making no apologies for his bloody upbringing: “This is who and what I am.  Accept me or get out of my damn way.”

At the end of the day, it’s clear Damian is entirely capable of love and affection.  Of course, it’s Alfred who astutely points out the boy’s tantrum is a reaction out of fear for Bruce’s life.  And the growing bond between Damian and Ace the Bat-hound—I’m sorry, “Titus” is Damian’s moniker of choice for the mutt—proves there’s some bit of the little boy left in this highly articulate, well-read, sarcastic ten-year-old, so long as he doesn’t fall to Nobody’s sway.

Gleason has a distinctive, organic style that calls to mind Doug Mahnke’s work, only softer and more fluid.  Gleason’s characters have greater flexibility to their faces, capturing a wider range of expressions, which is especially useful for portraying the many moods of Damian (impatient, sulky, vulnerable, sullen, businesslike, and outraged) while making the transitions between them seem natural.  Kudos also to his design of Nobody, with its spider motif; spiders are the great tricksters of stories, and Nobody’s little chat with Damian seems all the more like a hustle when his six “eyes” reflect the face of an anxious boy in them.

Conclusion: Other Bat-titles may deliver greater action, more potent mystery, or zanier plots, but none have made the Dark Knight and his sidekick seem so sympathetic and accessible.  And anyway, this title’s not short of action, mystery, or zaniness by any means.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – With the number of stitches Alfred’s had to pull through Bruce over the years, you’d think it’d be a lot harder for Bruce to pull off the playboy act, since the moment a woman sees his scar-ridden body, she’ll know he’s not just a gadabout dandy.