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

The Story: Damian, I’d say you have a bright future as an artist—for S&M fetishists.

The Review: Way, way back in my review of Batgirl #17, I talked about how Damian Wayne, for all the different interpretations he’s been given under various writers, generally projects a bratty, arrogant, and condescending personality.  While the manifestations of all these traits are quite diverting, they tend to cover up his grossly violent and twisted upbringing, and ignore how such a form of nurture can have a lasting impact on his psyche.

Tomasi has gradually peeled back the confrontational layers of Damian’s attitude to reveal a deeply disturbed soul housed in this ten-year-old boy.  While it’s obvious to anyone who’s been reading that Damian’s indifference to life has been gnawing at him for a while, it’s not until Alfred and Bruce’s horrific discovery of Damian’s stash of vicious doodles that we fully understand what he’s been repressing all this time.  What’s brilliant about the moment is how even as it fills you with revulsion, a wave of pity strikes you too as you realize how sincerely, in his own way, Bruce’s son has been trying to live up to his father’s principles all this time.

The realization isn’t lost on Bruce either, as you see him in a rare moment of self-loathing for ignoring his son’s needs.  That’s the thing with Batman; most people see him as the cold, calculating antihero, but if Bruce has proven over the years that he’s always had a very vulnerable soft spot where his Robins are concerned.  Over the years, he’s played father to quite a few youths, and he reveals here how genuinely he takes to that role: “I know we’re never going to throw a baseball in the back of the Manor after a tough day—but I’d be lying if I said a small part of me wouldn’t enjoy that mundane existence even for just a moment.”

The devotion between father and son forms the spinal theme of this issue.  It’s no coincidence Tomasi introduces clear parallels between Morgan (AKA Nobody) and Henri Ducard and Damian and Bruce Wayne: the son worshipping the mostly absent father, even betraying his mother for the sake of it; the father teaching and training his son in his footsteps; the budding resentment and rivalry between the sons of the father’s blood and his adoption.

With such apparent similarities, it’s safe to say that however the story of Bruce, Morgan, and Henri ends, it will serve as a cautionary warning for how this test of loyalty between Bruce, Morgan, and Damian will pan out.  And Morgan is truly putting Damian’s loyalty to the test, asking him not only to kill in cold blood, but to do it in the one way Bruce probably hates more than any other.  Kudos to Tomasi’s sense of storytelling poetry for putting that detail in.

And kudos to Gleason for adding his own taste to make that detail even more potent.  When you consider what an eye for detail he has (the backgrounds in this issue are chock full of them, from  the graffiti in a dank back alley, to the neon signage of a downtown Gotham strip, to the vision of pastries stacked in a Parisian patisserie), it must be his artistic choice to draw the gun Damian holds as generically as possible, to better reflect the one Joe Chill used to kill Bruce’s parents.

Conclusion: Among the pure superhero dramas being put out by the new 52, this one counts among the best, weaving tremendous character work and gripping plotting at the same time.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Apparently, Bruce is a big fan of Tron; he lights the rims of his Batcar like a light-cycle.

– I love that Robin and Nobody just slip past the janitor rather than knocking him out.  That’s why you don’t hire them to look after the premises.