By: Peter J. Tomasi (story), Patrick Gleason (pencils), Mick Gray (inks), John Kalisz (colors)
The Story: When someone loses a person they care about, sometimes it’s best to say nothing.
The Review: For a writing-centric reviewer like myself, it can get a little nerve-wracking to cover an issue with no words at all. But in comics, just because there’s no word balloons or captions scattered across the page doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of writing going on. In fact, when you have a storytelling medium that can support nothing but visuals, it captures reality better than written fiction in some ways. In real life, sometimes there are no words.
Of course, you expect the impact of Damian’s death to hit hardest here, where he is literally part of the title’s genetic makeup. Losing him means losing one half of what actually makes Batman and Robin. The title should feel empty and abandoned without him, and by removing every scrap of text from the issue, Tomasi creates that feeling with incredible effectiveness. As you wander with Bruce through the pages, you’re both alert for any sign of life, but there is none.
I don’t know how many of us have ever lost a child, but all of us have lost someone at some point, and we know how the pain of that gnaws upon our spirit. The loss of a child, then, must be unbearable. Wherever he turns, Bruce sees signs of the life his son left behind, even if it’s only the memory of his presence—constant reminders of how he’s grown used to having someone by his side, only to be alone once more. Each time this happens, you can see the volatile mix of emotions threatening to burst from him, though he strives to keep them tightly repressed. You know that unless he can let something go, it’ll twist him up before long.
Projecting his feelings onto Gotham’s villains is not enough, though at the rage-accelerated pace he’s going, the city might be cleaned up before long. I don’t know if this was Tomasi’s intent, but the fact that Batman metes out so much justice in one night all by himself calls back to the Joker’s point back in Death of the Family: that having people like Damian around does, to a certain extent, slow Bruce down. But I think the pile of villains left for Commissioner Gordon and Bruce’s despairing exhaustion afterward shows that all your solo accomplishments are meaningless when you have no one to share them with at the end of the day.
This all culminates in a page of uncontrollable emotion once Bruce discovers the letter Damian left behind. I have to admit, I’ve always found posthumous epistles kind of emotional overkill, especially since they get used and abused so much in fiction, but I think in this case, with this character and the circumstances in which he was facing his fate, it makes sense that he’d have the foresight to leave Bruce a final message. The irony of his last words is manifold, each as painful and tragic as the other: “Mother may have given me life, but you taught me how to live.”
If you’ve had any doubt as to what a master storyteller Gleason is, this issue should settle it once and for all. It is truly his finest hour (thus far). Tomasi has basically left the pages free for all of Gleason’s talent (as well as Kalisz’s equally brilliant coloring) to shine through, unhindered. There are so many stunning and thoughtful compositions in this issue that words don’t do them justice (the splash of Batman perched alone, vulture-like, upon a lamppost is just one of many). Even without words, you can get your exposition and learn new facts (Damian’s love of nature and his artistic aspirations), and the issue is just replete with subtext and symbolism, from the unfinished patch on Damian’s part of the family portrait to Bruce drawing the curtain over the portrait itself.
Above all else, however, Gleason translates the internality of the characters with amazing precision, so much so that you don’t even need words to know what’s going on in their hearts and minds. How heartbreaking to see Alfred in tears as he looks upon the family portrait, only to force himself to straighten himself up and assume a stoic expression as soon as Bruce enters. It’s not just because he has to maintain the cool butler act; it’s as much to spare Bruce as anything else. And Lord, how do you come away from that final page of Bruce desperately clutching his son’s costume, trying fruitlessly to have his son in his arms one last time, without choking up? I can’t. The grief and love in that scene is so real and raw, and it’s Gleason that makes it so.
Conclusion: About the finest depiction of life after loss in a superhero comic as I’ve ever seen. This is Tomasi and Gleason at their very best working on material that not only plays to their strengths, but also goes beyond the contours of the costumed caper genre.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Okay, I’m going to look like an idiot here, I’m sure, but does anyone know whom “C.K.” stands for?