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

The Story: If you’re planning a prison break, there’s no better helper than Batman.

The Review: It always strikes me as odd how superhero writers, especially DC’s superhero writers, tend to portray the civilian lives of their protagonists as incidental to their vigilante activities, the obligatory coffee breaks in a work day of fighting crime.  I understand, of course, that it’s the costumed stuff people buy in for, but there’s no reason why our heroes’ personal lives can’t be an equally intriguing part of their stories.

With perhaps the exception of Scott Snyder, no other writer than Tomasi has gone through so much effort to make Bruce Wayne as much a part of a Bat-title as his alter-ego.  In this arc, Batman takes an even further backseat in the story as Bruce steps up as an intermediary player in the ongoing conflict between Erin McKillen and Harvey Dent.  Even with the mask on, the lines between Bruce and Batman is more blurred than it’s ever been, given his personal investment in Erin and Harvey’s lives, both in and out of costume.

The history between Erin and Bruce is particularly unexpected, stretching back to their prep school days (“Shared some grand times in those halls, didn’t we,” Erin reminisces, “a stolen kiss here, a stolen kiss there—before the world went dark on us?”), but it’s her request of Bruce that takes us off guard.  It’s proof of her audacity that she believes Bruce will come through for her, so much so that she uses her one phone call from prison just to get him in.  Since Bruce is about as intractable as Batman, the only way Erin can make headway is by dredging up past debts, and he owes her—or at least her dad—a pretty big one.

But since neither Bruce nor Batman can openly consort with her, it’s up to Bruce’s third persona to do the job.  Now, I do love me a Matches Malone appearance, mostly for what it says about Bruce’s personality.  He can’t convincingly play Matches if he doesn’t relate to the smooth-talking, mustachioed crook in some way, and the fact that he built such a disreputable position even under false pretenses tells you that Bruce may just enjoy that bad boy persona.

The presence of Matches should be a pretty good indicator as to the fun and games going on in this issue, but there are some serious matters in development as well.  We learn that Batman’s sympathy for Two-Face isn’t just out of respect for the man he used to be; it was Batman’s failure to deal with Erin that indirectly led to Harvey’s transformation into a half-scarred maniac.  This does make the hero and villain’s relationship more complex than ever, and it certainly explains why Batman would stoop to reason with Two-Face as he would with no other rogue.

Unfortunately, Tomasi stalls on every other plotline; we’re no closer to understanding Erin’s rage against Harvey than we were last issue, and she only vaguely alludes to wrongs done to her twin sister, Shannon.  There’s also the question of why Harvey, at the start of the issue, decides not to follow up with his plan to take revenge on Erin, even after setting into rather spectacular motion.  Is it just his usual coin flip nonsense?  Or is he waiting to see if others will do the task for him, as mentioned by some Blackgate inmates who gang up on Erin her first day in

Will someone stand up and take notice of Gleason already?  What he lacks in sheer attractiveness in his art—and I should say that despite the rubbery effect his supple lines gives to the characters, they’re anything but unpleasant to look at—he more than makes up for it with his storytelling.  In a typical Gleason issue, like this one, there are at least a dozen panels that are outstandingly wonderful: the Blackgate inmates crouched and ready to pounce reflected in Matches’ sunglasses; Batman leaping across the Gotham skyline, the American flag streaming behind him; the sparks of an overhead explosion drifting down like fireflies around the grateful citizenry.  Of course, Kalisz’s mood lighting is a major part of the Gleason magic, capturing the urban world of Batman through shades of street-light orange, red, and yellow.

Conclusion: As emotionally driven and action-packed as this issue is, content is a little lacking, which leaves it less exemplary than usual.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Oh, man.  Alfred in a wetsuit, piloting a Bat-sub.  In the words of a particularly anxious friend of mine, “I can’t even.”