By: Grant Morrison (story), Chris Burnham (art), Nathan Fairbairn (colors)

The Story: Future Damian recalls, with a sense of irony, being told Gotham would be all his.

The Review: Even though I can’t see you do it, raise your hand if you were also thrown for a loop at Batman’s unexpected pronouncement to Damian at the end of last issue.  I imagine there are quite a few hands out there.  Besides seeming like a needlessly cruel thing to say to a kid who rightfully protested that he’s sacrificed a great deal to be with his dad, I just didn’t really see how Batman, of all people, could give up like that.

Because that’s what essentially giving up Damian to Talia would mean: giving up to her whims.  I just don’t buy it.  From a narrative perspective, it doesn’t even make sense.  Batman, Inc. hasn’t even accomplished anything worthy of note just yet, the recent victory over the “biggest single haul of big name international contract killers the city has ever seen” notwithstanding.  They haven’t struck a blow against Leviathan in any significant way.  Are we really supposed to believe Batman would go through all that trouble just to spare them any work in the end?

Furthermore, Batman’s second reason for sending Damian back makes little sense either.  Even if he claims that his son just can’t be Robin or Batman anymore, why does that mean Damian has to return to his mom?  Why can’t he take on another identity elsewhere or help the Batman Inc. effort out of costume?  All in all, this plot wrinkle feels more like a showy piece of drama than a useful part of the story.

In fact, it might be for no other reason than for Morrison to revisit future Damian as Batman, which admittedly is a pretty compelling read.  We see a Gotham truly broken at last, gasping its final breath of existence.  We see the very last stand of its hope, impoverished and barely sheltered within the confines of Arkham Asylum, where the lunatics still reside.  We see Damian as a lone soldier, trying to keep hope for Gotham alive at all costs, “[d]own to the last stone.”

Against those odds, it’s nothing short of amazing that Damian not only keeps fighting the good fight, but he does so with the only bit of anything resembling optimism in his crude stronghold.  It shows what kind of hero he can be, given time and opportunity.  But it would be indeed cruel to let him become that hero in the future that Batman claims to have seen, whether through some implausible statistical foresight or prophecy.

Even though Morrison only lets you see this doomed Gotham for one issue, he still gets you invested enough that seeing its fall causes a pretty sharp twinge of pain.  Absolutely one of the worst moments in the issue (by “worst,” I mean depressing/tragic, as opposed to horrible in quality) is seeing Barbara Gordon struggling her damnedest to contain her madness, knowing she’ll fail.  If Gotham’s fate is to end, then this is a very appropriate, if horrible, one.

Long after I put down the issue, I still had images of Babs’ last scenes in my head, and that’s all because of Burnham’s raw artwork.  The way a Joker smile forces itself across her face is just plain creepy, and when she turns to face Damian, you see the weary helplessness just touching around her eyes, making the tragedy of the scene even more affecting.  All in all, a grisly issue to look at, but one that really works to the story’s maximum advantage.  Fairbairn is a master of putting riotous colors next to more subdued ones to draw your eye to the heart of each panel.

Conclusion: A fascinating interlude, but also somewhat contrived and beside the point.  As Damian astutely points out, “Nobody knows the future,” not even Batman.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Yeah, I think Talia officially takes home the Worst Parent of the Year award.  I’d say this beats Octo-Mom.