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

The Story: In the interest of escaping these crazed cannibals, let’s hope this train is an express.

The Review: Some years ago, more than I care to think about, the now-defunct Weekly Crisis raved about Tomasi’s work on Final Crisis: Requiem, one of the few truly remarkable tie-ins to that much maligned series.  At the time, the W.C. considered Tomasi the writer to watch out for in coming years, and I tended to agree with them.  While Tomasi hasn’t fulfilled the starry expectations we had for him, I think he doesn’t get quite the attention he deserves.

That’s the price you pay for being a character-driven, rather than plot-driven, writer, though.  Of all the storylines Tomasi has written, none really stood out with its dazzling ideas or anything.  Even now, it takes me a moment to remember the events of his opening arc on the relaunched Batman and Robin.  Despite all that, when I look at the titular stars of this series, I am staggered by their incredible evolution since the beginning of the title.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that there was a time when I could barely stand Damian and I specifically hated him as a replacement for Tim Drake and I had very little interest in his relationship with Bruce.  Now it’s kind of hard to imagine anyone else wearing that “R”, and that’s all Tomasi.

This issue shows how much Damian has settled into his role as Robin, which is quite a feat for this particular character, if you think about it.  Damian shares a lot of Bruce’s brooding darkness, exceeding it in some ways, and being Robin traditionally means providing a light to Batman’s shadow.  As recently as a year ago, Damian would’ve viewed a successful mission as one where he permanently crippled every thug in the room, and if the victims thanked him, he’d receive it with a dismissive sneer.  Now, even without supervision, he’s getting more people-friendly, indulging their gratitude, if not with much grace (“You can thank me by shutting up and keep moving—”).  The moment where he shouts to a horde of flesh-eating cultists, “[T]hese people are under my protection!” feels completely credible, which is a kind of miracle, I’d say.

Also credible, and no less miraculous, is the issue’s last scene.  Tomasi has done so many heart-to-hearts between the title’s father and son that you’d think they’d lose their sentimental impact by now.  And then suddenly you’ll find yourself winking back a tear (of manliness) from watching these two incredibly damaged people find another connection, reach another level of understanding.  There’s just an amazing amount of emotional honesty between Bruce and Damian here, which is what makes the very last image of their embrace completely legitimate and not even slightly strange and out-of-character.

Against all that, however, Tomasi delivers a mostly flat conclusion to a rather underwhelming storyline.  The Saturn Club, for all its grotesque rituals, never develops a real purpose, and in fact they are evidently a mere tool for someone else.  You might say these two issues are nothing more than a prelude to the title’s Death of the Family crossover, and if so, I can’t say they’re very effective.

I’d be ready to pan Giorello altogether but for one panel, a large close-up of Batman in the Batmobile that has a great noir-ish look (even if Kalisz lights it in red).  Unfortunately, this is no quiet noir; this is an action-packed thriller, and Giorello seems sadly unsuited for it.  Not only is his work a bit sloppy and stiff, there are critical moments where you can’t tell what’s happening.  I had no idea where Damian shot those two projectiles from, no idea where they landed, no idea they were explosive, and no idea what the explosion’s actually was until an acolyte screams, “—he’s blow a chasm between us and the others!”  The very moment Gleason resumes art duties, the energy ramps right back up.  He just has the best instinct for getting the most dynamic visual out of every panel.

Conclusion: Much as you’ll love the big emotional moments of the issue, the actual plot provides a poor vehicle for them, and Giorello’s art diminishes the usually sleek look of the title.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I don’t think anyone else sells Damian’s dry/sarcastic remarks like Tomasi.  After Damian details to a bystander the history of the underground train they’re on, the amazed man asks, “…How do you know that?”

“I read.”