By: Grant Morrison (story), Chris Burnham & Jason Masters (art), Nathan Fairbairn & Hi-Fi (colors)

The Story: Now is not the time for Batman Inc. to have its first public offering.

The Review: Although the fallout of Damian’s demise has spared no book in the Bat-family, I think consensus would agree that the most poignant, effective, and important scenes of the aftermath came in Batman and Robin #18.  Yet the Boy Wonder’s death must have at least an equal impact in the book where he actually died.  Pete Tomasi has already covered the grief and despair of the event quite masterfully; what emotions are left for Morrison?

Rage, pure and simple.  Yet as Bruce reels upon his son’s murderer, all the pain and anger fueling him proves unavailing and he’s forced to retreat with his remaining family with Damian’s body in tow.  But once the casket is lowered and the eulogy made, the build-up toward range starts again, with the first victim being Alfred.  In hindsight, of course, the butler’s decision to let Damian go does seem quite egregious.  Nevertheless, the wounded expression in his eyes as Bruce tells him, euphemistically, to “[t]ake a vacation,” is quite heartbreaking to see.

But Bruce must realize that Alfred’s suffering just as much as he is from Damian’s death, and he’s not the only one.  If anyone can understand Bruce’s feelings at the moment, it’s Dick, who takes the tragedy in a different but equally profound way.  As the one most like a son to Bruce, and as someone with nearly as close a relationship to Damian, he reacts most naturally like a real brother would, making it clear he has just as much reason to avenge the late Robin’s murder.

Although Damian takes center-focus in this issue, Morrison has respect for all characters under his care, and so Cyril Sheldrake, the first victim of Damian’s clone, gets a proper send-off in his mother country.  As befits a British hero, the reaction to his fall is met with quiet dignity (I love that both crown princes are mourning their one-time savior) .  More importantly, his passing spurs Beryl to honor her former partner in the best way possible and reveals a fact which will no doubt have significance later (Britain’s prime minister notes there are no Lazarus Pits left, but his assistant replies, “Um. That may not be strictly true, Prime Minister.”).

It’s crucial that our heroes renew their sense of purpose because the risks of being part of Batman’s grand vision of international vigilantism have never been greater. Talia’s declaration of open war against her ex-lover goes public in this issue and in response, Gotham, proving it doesn’t have quite the love and loyalty Metropolis has towards its own champion, makes everything Bat-related taboo.*  With all the setbacks the company has suffered already, this just seems like adding insult to injury rather than a camel-breaking straw.

Talia, however, is also experiencing complications of her own.  This clone of Damian who was meant to be the more obedient, devoted, perfect subject (not son—when he calls her, “Mother,” she snaps that “Leviathan is mother to no one.”) is starting to get ideas of his own about his role in the world: “I know what I am, Mother.  I watch.  I listen.  I learn.  I am Batman now.”  Morrison seems to suggest it is this clone, rather than Talia, who is ultimately responsible for her son’s death (“You killed Damian,” she accuses, “You killed him before I gave an order.”), but regardless, his increasing rebellion seems appropriate for a woman so fixated on control.

Masters’ contribution to the issue is so limited that the most you can say about his art is fills in the gaps between Burnham’s work smoothly, without few truly jarring differences.  On an emotional level, Burnham’s not quite as subtle as Patrick Gleason, but he can bring nuances to the action that’s just as impressive.  For example, you can see that Bruce is more precise, honed, and formal in his martial artistry, while Nightwing is looser, more agile and acrobatic.  Fairbairn’s somber palette of colors sets the mood for the issue,

Conclusion: Strictly a transition issue, allowing us to recover from the trauma from last month while psyching up for the next arc and the ultimate conclusion of Morrison’s Batman epic.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Notice that Commissioner Gordon merely hides his Bat-insignia, not remove it.  A good guy and non-coward to the very end, our man Gordon.

– Notice also the absence of the Hood.  We know he works for Spyral, which was once under the purview of Kathy Kane (the original Batwoman), who’s suggested to still be alive.  I’d be curious to see if she’ll be stepping into this fight at some point.