By: Peter J. Tomasi (story), Ardian Syaf (pencils), Vicente Cifuentes (inks), John Kalisz (colors)

The Story: When the old man’s out of town, it’s time to pull on his costume and hit the streets.

The Review: There has been a lot of different characterizations of Bruce Wayne over the years—and I’m not talking about his uber-threatening persona in the Batman, which remains mainly the same no matter who writes him, except maybe in degrees of violence.  I’m talking about the man beneath the cowl, whom some writers see as the real mask and others see as an important but secondary component to the Dark Knight.

In all those years, different writers have had different ideas about Bruce as a person, specifically his range of emotions.  There are a few who think that Bruce and Batman are essentially the same and when he’s not going through the playboy act, he should be just as coldhearted, judgmental, and suspicious.  Nowadays, I think writers are starting to get that at least this younger, post-relaunch Bruce has more room for humanity.  Because we’re still figuring out the ropes of this new continuity, it’s hard to tell where the limits of Bruce’s bright side are.

This annual offers us easily the lightest, most easygoing Bruce I’ve ever seen.  He’s almost relatable, which is a word you almost never use to describe him.  You don’t quite know what to make of the man trying desperately to shield his eyes from the morning sun and mumbling to Alfred, “…come on…just a few more minutes…”  If you’ve read my reviews of Gregg Hurwtiz’s Batman: The Dark Knight, you know I completely dismiss the idea that Bruce has no capacity for affection or sentiment.  But even I’m not sure I like my Batman so…pedestrian.

After a lot of consideration, I think Tomasi sells it.  This is Bruce in private, largely with the people closest to him, so he can afford to be a little more lax about the “dark harbinger of justice” act.  Besides, the issue explores the lives of his parents, exposing a clearly vulnerable spot in his psyche.  In recent years, we’ve seen writers like Hurwitz and Grant Morrison part-demonizing the Waynes, getting them involved in cults, secret children, and the like.  It’s nice that Tomasi brings out a new side to their mythos: their love for each other and their son.

In this respect, Tomasi reminds me a lot of aspiring writers I know, including myself: a tendency to wallow in schmaltz.  This guy loves a sappy story and dang, if he doesn’t manage to pull it off nearly every time.  Yes, it strains credibility a little bit that Bruce could be moved to admit, even jokingly, that something could make him burst into tears, but given the special circumstances of the story, I think it works.

However, I still think it seems a bit much on top of the already touching gesture Damian made to his dad in Batman and Robin #14.  On the other hand, it’s one way to let Damian have his fun alone on the town, playing Batman to his heart’s content, without throwing Bruce’s own intelligence into question or making Damian seem like a total brat.  It also helps that you can see just how much Damian loves being Batman—in essence, being his ultimate hero, his own dad.  I mean, wouldn’t you?

I had little love and only begrudging respect for Syaf’s work in Batgirl, but for a lighter tale like this one, his supple lines and sleek sense of action works very well.  He smartly underplays the really emotional parts of the issue, allowing you to buy them at all, and although he’s not the most creative storyteller in the world, he gives proper timing and humor to the little gags, like Damian grumbling as he moves the seat forward in the Batmobile, or Alfred’s ruffled outrage as he storms off the Globe Theater in full Shakespearean regalia.  Kalisz just barely manages to avoid making the issue appear too bright for a Bat-title, but the result is convincing overall.

Conclusion: Anytime you make Batman smile is like playing with fire, and fortunately, Tomasi manages to do it several times without burning himself.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Alfred, in expressing his hopes of meeting a former lady-friend in the city: “She was the first woman who showed—”

“I’ll pay you not to finish that sentence.”  Even the Dark Knight can only stomach so much, and hearing the lurid sexual misadventures of your spiritual dad probably is the limit.

– I read elsewhere—can’t remember where—that one reviewer took serious issue with Damian using the trenchcoat version of the Batman costume, given its dark implications for the future.  I can see the point, but come on—it’s obviously intended to be hilarious, given how it drapes on him like a dress.