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

The Story: Can anyone say “massive daddy issues”?  And a little bit of mommy, too.

The Review: The hallmark of Tomasi’s writing—or at least, the one I like to promote—is his methodical character work, the development and refining of a character over a long period of time.  That said, he seems to bring that same level of craft to writing action sequences.  Lots of writers throw in the obligatory, mindless battle into their stories, but Tomasi’s one of the few who really knows how to work the pacing and timing for maximum impact.

This issue puts that skill on full display.  Remember when The Matrix first came out, and how mind-blowing all those slo-mo bullet-dodging scenes were?  The great thing about this technique is it slows down the action just enough for your brain to catch up and process just how much is actually going in those precious few moments that speed by on screen, letting you appreciate it that much more when time goes back to normal.  That’s what Tomasi essentially does, over and over, throughout this issue.  One moment will be a series of non-stop panels, tracking each attack and recoil Batman and Nobody inflict on each other, the next we’ll have a big splashy moment captured in exquisite detail, letting you catch your breath, only to plunge into the fray once more.

Had Tomasi left all this never-say-die sparring alone in its glory, that would’ve been satisfying enough.  Unfortunately, he has a story whose loose ends he wants to tie up at the same time.  This not only drags down the otherwise breakneck speed of the issue, it also comes off sounding awkward and unconvincing.  Only in fiction do characters spout such involved strings of dialogue in between punches, and only rarely does it work.  Here, it does not.  Nobody, as he slashes Batman’s face: “In my father’s eyes I was dead after you beat me—I was nothing—I was nobody!”  Batman replying as he flips the villain over: ““And you’re still just an insecure little boy—with wounded pride—looking for Daddy’s approval!

What makes the lines even less credible is that they seem, at least for Bruce, out of character.  Sure, you can argue emotions are running pretty high, and things are getting quite personal, but it just doesn’t seem natural to Bruce to be talking so much as he takes down a mortal enemy.  Anyhow, that’s matter of taste.  What’s really problematic is Tomasi spells out the story’s symbolism for us, a convention I always disapprove of as it dumbs down the reading and takes your perceptiveness for granted.  Did we really need to have it told, straight-up, to us: “Robin turned on you—your father turn on you—no one showed you any loyalty—except for your mother, and you killed her for it!”

A similar flaw affects the issue’s closer, which, believe me, is a doozy.  Through diligent work in previous issues, Tomasi has led us to believe Damian’s fall into darkness is inevitable, only to turn the tables last time when he betrayed Nobody, proving an intention to follow his daddy’s moral lead from here on in.  Then, just as we get convinced his salvation is underway, boom—he proves us wrong again.  It’s a thrillingly shocking scene, as soon as your eyes stop rolling from the horribly melodramatic, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” line.

Gleason’s action is as gritty and rough as the fights he depicts, making them feel that much more brutal.  He has a gift for using the environment to manifest how dynamically the characters are moving in a scene: blood spurts, flames waver, water splashes, props break and fly across the page in physically convincing arcs and trajectories.  But to go back to my initial point about pacing, Gleason makes the pacing work in this issue.  The first page goes at a blur, as Batman puts the pedal to the metal and Nobody inflicts a new injury on Damian in every panel.  Then, just as Batman shifts into high gear, time slows on the second page, and we watch breathlessly as the Batmobile careens and flips off a bridge into the night air, blocks of rubble raining in its wake, bolts of lightning frozen in the background.  It’s awesome.

Conclusion: Some blisteringly explosive action, but the story’s resolution falls a bit flat, as the dialogue takes a turn for the cliché.  A solid read, but a slightly disappointing end.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Strangest moment of the issue has to be when Nobody sneaks into his rant a very strange, out-of-context social commentary: “The world doesn’t need a ‘Batman!’ It needs a nobody! It’s always been a nobody who rises from the masses to make things right!”  Oookay, then.