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

The Story: It’s like the last 15 minutes of Return of the Jedi, but with more maniacal laughter.

The Review: Sometimes a great story has a linchpin which depends heavily on your good graces.  Refuse to give it, and the story falters; give it, and the story can take the step it needs to succeed.  Of course, much depends on your own fondness for what you’re reading.  Fans will give a story every benefit of the doubt possible and even generate their own excuses for failings; haters just kick the knees out of a story at every turn, then give it a spit for good measure.

But if you have a more moderate frame of mind, you’ll decide to help a story along simply if it’s earned it.  So what does this issue of Batman and Robin need from you?  It needs you to believe that Joker really does manage to pull a fast one over Damian, who genuinely can’t tell that the man he’s fighting is—spoiler alert—not his father.  If you don’t believe this one thing, the rest of the issue falls apart.

Tomasi earns this suspension of disbelief.  He earns it by over a year of intense character work with Damian, showing us that while the son of Wayne is smarter and more perceptive beyond his years, he still has a little boy’s blind spot where his father is concerned.  He believes in and admires Bruce beyond his own reason.  Intellectually, he has better options in life than sticking with his dad; his attraction is purely emotional, psychological, spiritual, and biological.

And that is why it makes total sense that Damian gets so easily led along by the Joker.  In that respect, he’s much like the Bat himself.  Sure, it’s easy enough for the Waynes to know conclusively that the Joker is a trickster and everything he says carries a grain of deception, but when their loved ones get involved, fear kicks in and they don’t even want to take a chance that for once, his truth and their truth are one and the same.

But of course, it isn’t.  That doesn’t mean what Joker’s lies reveal aren’t completely honest, however.  The emotional anguish Damian experiences in this issue is very real and the transition from trying to take the intellectual high road (he quotes Sun Tzu as he avoids “Batman’s” rampage), to letting his ruthless survival instincts kick in, to choosing the path of greatest nobility presents the evolution of Damian’s character in brief.

In the background, Tomasi delivers a very convincing Joker, his insane, heartless commentary a perfect contrast to the heartfelt violence Damian goes through.  But it’s really Gleason’s art that sells the purely evil, threatening figure of the clown.  I mean, really, the man is a monster at depicting a monster.  His version of the Joker looks in every respect legitimately scary.  The way he manipulates his attached face so that the eyes appear hollow or impossibly wide by turns comes across as demonic, and the way his agile tongue will pop out from the hole that is his face-mask-mouth recalls a serpent, which fits right into Joker’s character.  Kalisz creates whole moods out of thin air, particularly where he washes over scenes with the same dull copper tone as old blood.

Conclusion: This isn’t likely the last time Damian will face Joker, but it surely has to go down as the definitive confrontation.  An action-packed issue that’s also emotionally charged under the surface.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – It also helps that Joker uses a dojo master to play Batman, making it more convincing for an ordinary citizen to successfully play-fight as the Dark Knight.

– You just know that whatever Joker’s gonna give Robin on a silver platter, it’s going to turn your stomach.  I just hope it’s worth it.