By: James Robinson (story), Bernard Chang (art)

The Story: Sometimes it takes a gun to keep your loved ones close to you.

The Review: This summer, I have an internship where I get up close and personal with my state’s dependency system.  Having witnessed some of the scum of the earth where mothers and fathers are concerned, I’ve learned that even the very worst of them can have a deep attachment to their children.  You’ll see a man with tattoos covering his face and his hands in cuffs turn into the most affectionate dad in the world when his little girl comes to visit in custody.

So does it surprise me when Vandal Savage comes to his daughter’s rescue?  It does not.  (And I don’t consider this a spoiler because I’m pretty sure everyone and his mother saw this coming.)  In fiction, once you establish a parent-child relationship, it must come into play at some crucial juncture, regardless if they have any connection beyond that.  Besides, we already know Vandal has some kind of affection for his daughter, obscured as it is by his carefree nature.

The real intrigue of the issue, then, is figuring out the kind and limits of Vandal’s affection, which in turn gives us a sharper insight into his character.  Robinson doesn’t give us many hints in the dialogue; both father and daughter speak with too much unemotional bluntness for that.  Vandal merely reiterates that his capacity to love is uncertain (“…I care about you…at least as much as I care for anyone.”), and if Kass has any lingering feelings for him from her girlhood, she can no longer separate it from her resentment (“…my feelings for are so confused.  So much so that, honestly…I can’t bear to look at you.”).

The most useful clues we have to the kind of love they share come from three flashback panels, strewn so haphazardly throughout the present action we can’t tell if the memories belong to Kass, to Vandal, or are just left there by Robinson himself for us to interpret as we please.  We see that shameless a murderer as Vandal is, he attempted to conceal his true self from her for as long as possible.  We know he’s a conqueror by choice, yet he willingly played the humble suburban daddy for a while.  We hear how cold and unapologetic he is now, but how then do you explain his gentle encouragement as he teaches his young daughter to fly a kite?

In the end, we don’t get a moving reconciliation or resolution between the two, and for that, you have to commend Robinson.  It’s enough that he makes their bond clear and immutable.  Vandal has a stubbornness of spirit and strength of will so pure you can only believe it belongs to the first man.  Kass inherited that, but because she was raised as a child of love, she channels her inheritance elsewise.  So as unfortunate as it is to see her threaten her father’s life without even hesitating, there’s a beautiful, dark poetry to it as well.

This may go without saying, but Chang sure knows how to color his own work to its best advantage.  His action sequences have a violent energy so convincing, it makes you flinch with each streak of blood Chang slashes across the page.  And he takes incredible care in painting the particular glints and flashes in Vandal and Kass’ eyes, leaving you in no doubt how deadly serious they are.  The moment Kass tells her dad, “If you’re not leaving here in chains, you’ll leave here in a bodybag,” you know just from the look in her eyes there is no bluff in that.

Conclusion: The ending is just bitter—no sweetness here—but some of that once in a while is not a bad thing.  While the story itself is not new, the delivery has such impact, you’re left reeling from its emotional beats for quite a while afterwards.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Robinson is the king of writing patronizing, douchey dialogue that you can love: “I’ve stood in the shadow of celestials shaping the first glass…the first explosives from nothing but their own imagination.  Why, I knew the great mathematicians of ancient Persia…and compared to them, your father wasn’t worthy to wash his hands in the Euphrates.  I have known genius.  Your father was intelligent, but that’s as far as I’ll go.  He did have good hair though.  Yes, I do recall him now I think about it.”