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

The Story: Needless to say, Damian has no interest in having a clown at his birthday party.

The Review: From the moment Damian first appeared, we’ve always known that he’s not your average ten-year-old.  Even under the semi-normalizing influence of the Bat-family, it’s very likely that he’ll always be a little “different” from the rest of us (see Batman Incorporated #5 for a vision of his future self).  Still, a kid is still a kid, and Tomasi has always done a great job of playing with Damian’s youth in subtle ways.

Underneath his adult bearing and mannerisms, Damian still has all the impetuous temperament of any boy his age.  He’s committed entirely to his dad, even when scoffing at his antiquated ideas, and when Bruce doesn’t reward his loyalty the way he expects, he shows a muttering resentment that sounds remarkably childish.  But Tomasi also respects Damian’s intelligence, and it’s good to see that Damian perceives the protective intent behind his dad’s actions.

That doesn’t mean Damian particularly cares, however.  Even after appreciating the purpose of Bruce’s decision, Damian rationalizes his disobedience by seeing it as lending his father a helpful hand in a time of crisis.  It goes awry, of course.  The Joker is not someone to take lightly, even if Damian memorialized his first encounter with the killer clown by smashing his face in with a crowbar.

True to character, Joker doesn’t take this incident too seriously—“ruined all that orthopedic work my parents paid for”—and even continues his lively chatter as Damian attempts a chokehold on him (“—kaff—allows us to have more fun—kaff—”).  That’s really what makes Joker so disturbing; he is never intimidated, fearful, or anxious.  It doesn’t seem like anything really gets under his skin—I mean that figuratively, of course.

Now, there are two ways you can view the Joker’s antics here.  If you’re ardently following Death of the Family, you’ll find his monologues repetitive and tiresome, the same inane and darkly humorous stuff every Joker writer on this crossover has used.  You’ll feel that way even as you recognize that Tomasi handles the balance between crazed and controlled very well.  But if Batman and Robin is the only Bat-title you’re reading now, then your appreciation for the Joker’s mad play will be much greater.

At any rate, Joker’s interrogation of Damian effectively twisted.  I especially like his way of using the robin as a motif in all his pranks (and I do use that term loosely).  Your first instinct is to see the bird as fragile, vulnerable to any kind of harm, so the way Joker handles and manipulates one instantly fills you with dread.  And even though this particular Robin is far hardier than his namesake, Joker proves he knows how to hurt him, too.

If you thought Gleason was just about bombastic action, then seeing this issue should be an eye-opener for you.  He pulls off every creepy moment of this issue with that in-your-face style of his, allowing Joker to get unnervingly close to the panel.  At times you fancy you can actually feel his hot breath as he rants and raves, playing with his loosely attached face in the most horrifying manner (he really can turn his frown upside-down if he so wishes).  Grotesque as all that is, you know that you prefer that to seeing what’s left underneath.  Kalisz’s use of yellows and reds during the Joker-Damian scenes not only place you in a threatening, alert sort of mood, it also has the side effect of washing out Robin, as if he could get sucked up into the environment Joker’s trapped him in.

Conclusion: Tomasi kicks off his tie-in to the big Bat-story of the year with much pizzazz and not a little disgust, and the art only enhances both elements.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Joker reciting Emily Dickinson somehow feels very, very appropriate.  She did write one of the better bits about insanity: “Much madness is divinest sense – / To a discerning eye…”