By: Peter J. Tomasi (story), Patrick Gleason (pencils), Mick Gray (inks), John Kalisz (colors)

The Story: Portrait of the martial artist as a young man.

The Review: You know that old yarn about people being capable of getting used to anything?  I’m sure that claim refers to our adaptability in extreme conditions, like deserts and dictatorships, but I happen to be talking about how quickly we accepted Damian as Robin after years of the dependable Tim Drake.  To put it lightly, Bruce’s son did not make himself easy to like, but now, for the next generation of readers, they won’t know anyone else was Robin except by Wiki.

So it seems very natural that we get to know how this well-bred, katana-wielding ten-year-old came to be.  “Raised by the League of Assassins” tells us a lot, but it doesn’t tell us the whole story.  It doesn’t explain how he was able to endure the rigorous training required to survive mastery of death.  It doesn’t explain his intelligent, princely manner.  And it definitely doesn’t explain why and how he demeaned himself to the role of Batman’s sidekick.

Tomasi answers the first two points with a brilliant bit of character building.  I can’t think of any more appropriate motivation for Damian to see all his hardships and challenges through than to finally threaten the identity of his father out of his own mom.  It doesn’t get simpler or more fundamental than that.  True, a lot of stories have played with this particular journey before, but the unexpected spin on the way Damian travels it definitely sets his tale apart.

I say unexpected, yet given who Damian’s mama is, it shouldn’t surprise you at all that Talia would devise such extreme obstacles for her own child to learn the truth.  This issue is as much a glimpse into the Lady Al Ghul as her son, showing no matter what pretensions she has of being a parent (“Never tell a mother how to raise her child,” she lectures her expiring nursemaid), she has never really been interested in fostering him.  This is a woman who avoided even the basic act of giving birth to him—because the Queen of the World doesn’t have stretch marks.

But no one looks to Talia as an exemplar of motherhood.  Even during one of the rare instances where she trains Damain personally, her world-conquering business goes on as usual.  If she has no talent for intimacy, she almost makes up for it with sheer competence.  She knows how to manipulate.  By depriving her child of his father, she succeeds in making an assassin out of him because that’s the only path for him to reach his father.  We see that Damian is drawn to the bat like certain animals are drawn to the land of their birth; it’s a primal connection that can’t be severed.  It’s fate driven by blood.

A child doing so much killing can get disturbing quick, but Gleason’s cool, elegant poses makes Damian’s violence seem almost meditative and peaceful.  If Tomasi can find the heart and soul in a born-and-bred murderer, Gleason can make murder look like an art.  There’s so much intensity in the way Damian focuses on the kill, but that focus makes his movements laser-like, instinctual, so it does come across, as his mother compliments, a “[m]agnificent improvisational display.”  Gleason hasn’t refined the exaggeration in his figures the way his artistic brother, Doug Mahnke, has, but he has that same sophistication of direction and drama.

Conclusion: A very interesting character study on one of the most complicated characters in the DCU.  Fitting for the son of Batman.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Can I just say, I can’t wait for the day that Batman wipes that smug smile off Talia’s face.  There’s just something about her pretention that makes you want to punch her in that pert and perfectly formed mouth.

– And I have to admit, Damian’s parachute trick is pretty sweet.