By: Peter J. Tomasi (story), Patrick Gleason & Cliff Richards (pencils), Mick Gray & Mark Irwin (inks), John Kalisz (colors)

The Story: You can’t expect the prodigal son to come back if you don’t show you care, Batman.

The Review: While some people hated Damian when he first appeared simply because the idea of Batman having a surprise-child out of wedlock sort of cheapens the character, I was concerned about the implications for his adoptive family.  It’s how I imagine adopted kids feel when they discover the parents who took them in are about to have a natural child of their own.  There’s that fear of being overshadowed, marginalized, set aside, a trade of a knock-off for the real thing.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s been going on here.  Batman’s refusal to accept the finality of Damian’s death not only damages him, but it threatens the last remaining ties he has with the family he has left. Last issue, we saw Tim Drake, still reeling from the revelations of Death of the Family, nonetheless come back to prevent his mentor-father from doing something he’ll regret.  For his pains, he gets cold-shouldered, straining their relationship even further.

Imagine what happens when Jason Todd comes into the picture.  Not that Bruce would ever admit it, but he clearly had the weakest attachment to his second son, and the real tragedy of it is Jason is fully aware of his least-favored position in the family, resenting it, acting as if he doesn’t need Bruce’s affection or favor, yet somehow always emoting his desperate need for it anyway.  It’s very interesting that while Tim and Dick seem most obviously bitter about Bruce’s deception in regards to the Joker, Jason takes it in greater stride.

Now, Jason can be an unlikable little prick at times, but here, Tomasi smooths out the pricklier parts of his character and reaches deep to find the vulnerable young man behind the scarlet mask.  You can hear his suspicion when Batman asks him to join in a mission against the snipers who tried to fulfill Talia’s bounty on Damian.  But as the mission proceeds, it quickly becomes like old times, and Jason can’t resist getting pulled into that familiar partnership.  As he pulls out his guns, Batman tells him, “Hands, knees, and elbows!

Nothing but!” Jason agrees willingly.  Clearly, he’s into this, and even though you don’t see it on the page, Tomasi’s script somehow conveys the intentness with which Jason listens to Bruce’s little speech on the importance of trust, hope, and faith in a family.  Even if he didn’t admit it later, you know he really wants to believe all this is real.

So when Bruce’s true intentions for taking Jason are inevitably revealed, it’s a crushing moment, and in that instant, all of Jason’s grief and weaknesses are put on fully display.  “You wanted to bring me here…” he realizes painfully as he stares at the stage of his death, “…to the worst place in the world…”  He soon reverts back to the angry figure he was, but not before he reveals how deeply this betrayal has pierced him: “I was ready to stand by your side and you’ve thrown it all away!”  It’s a blunt, clumsy line, but it suits the heightened state of emotion of the scene, and Jason’s lack of finesse when it comes to expressing his feelings.

Beyond the featured guest of the issue, we have the continuing appearances of Carrie Kelly, whose very existence hints strongly at her taking up the Robin guise someday.  The fact that Alfred takes a liking to her, enough to dare Bruce’s irritation, is a signal of her lasting importance to the Batman mythos.  And I’m quite excited at the tease for Two-Face in the next issue, particularly as he’s in such a state of mind that he can reject the usually infallible mandate of his coin.

Richards has a more straightforward style than Gleason, cleaner, streamlined, and to the point.  Although he somewhat emulates Gleason’s dramatic sense of perspective in a couple panels, overall, he provides respectable, but unremarkable fill-in work.  You can see the difference the moment Gleason returns for the last page.  Even though it shows nothing more than partial shots of Two-Face with is trademark coin-flip, it’s striking and immediately full of tension, though Kalisz’s brooding colors add a layer of suspense as well.

Conclusion: Full of emotional swerves, this issue actually succeeds in making Jason Todd a figure of sympathy even as it pushes Batman ever closer to the edge of self-destruction.

Grade: B+ 

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – As an English nerd, Carrie and Alfred can quote Shakespeare all they want.  All they’ll do is rock my socks.