By: Scott Snyder & James Tynion, IV (writers), Dustin Nguyen (pencils), Derek Fridolfs (inks), John Kalisz (colors) and Sal Cipriano (letters)

The Story: What’s Batman without a young assistant?

The Review (with SPOILERS): This is another of those interstitial issues of Batman where we get a guest artist to allow Greg Capullo to keep up the regular monthly schedule.  What I’ve enjoyed about these issues is how they’ve told us a coherent story of a young girl named Harper Row, how she’s come to know Batman and – in this issue – how she became the new Robin (or Robin-like character since they call her Bluebird).

I have a weird perspective on the Batman and Robin relationship because – with the advent of the New 52 – I went from reading ALL Batman titles to just the “main” Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo title.  I literally haven’t cracked the cover of any other Bat-book in two years.  I missed the Death of Damien, haven’t read the new iteration of Dick Grayson as Nightwing and haven’t seen this new Tim Drake in whatever title he is in.  Therefore, I haven’t seen a “Robin” in over two years.

And that’s sad because I’ve always enjoyed the Batman – Robin relationship.  So I am tickled to see Batman with a new protege to team-up with.  If Zero Year is supposed to be an origin story for Batman, it would be awfully incomplete without a “Robin”.  In fact, if you want to continue comparing Zero Year to Year One, the biggest flaw in Year One is that it neglects the importance of Robin.

However, this isn’t technically a new Robin and I think that is really smart by Scott Snyder & Crew.  The history of Robin is already a horribly tangled mess given that the Old 52 had multiple Robins had to be accounted for in the New 52.  And then you had to deal with the age issue of trying to create a world where Dick Grayson can be a grown man and Tim Drake a young man…..yet not have Bruce Wayne be in his 50s.  By making Harper Row a new character called Bluebird, we can sidestep all that convoluted Robin nonsense and just have a character who combines some attributes of the best Robin (Tim Drake) with the most novel Robin (Stephanie Brown or Carrie Kelly) into a package that doesn’t make your head hurt.

I loved everything about the action in this issue.  Harper going into the lair was great because the reader really thinks she’s still doing this alone and might get hurt…..only to find out it was all a plan with Batman.  It’s a team-up that makes sense given the moment in time that this series takes place in: You can’t imagine the surly Batman that Tim Drake had to deal with making a decision to team-up with a street-kid, but this younger and more idealistic Batman…..yeah……he might make that decision.  The fighting team of a Batman bruising his way through the thugs (with few words) while his sidekick prances around doing the more delicate tasks (while being a smart mouth) was great.  But the biggest bonus is how it injected some FUN back into Batman.  I’ve reviewed and enjoyed ALL of Scott Snyder’s run with Batman dating back to the Old 52.  He’s done some stellar work in that time, but it has been a little dark. It’ll be fun to see a little bit of light and youth injected into the proceedings.  Plus, I think Snyder/Capullo will do a great job with a Bluebird: Snyder has written good teenage characters before (Severed) and Capullo is one of those few artists who can draw kids who don’t look like half-sized adults.

There were two other important events and I like one and am confused by the other.

Seeing Selina Kyle revealed as the “kingpin” of organized crime in Gotham makes a lot of sense.  I haven’t been keeping up with Catwoman, but I assume this is reasonably consistent with her character in that title.  What I like about Selina’s character is that she’s kinda that one person who Batman wants to redeem but cannot – because she doesn’t really want to be saved.  She likes to be bad.

But, I was confused by the final page reveal of Stephanie Brown as The Spoiler.  I really loved Stephanie Brown in her Old 52, Batgirl series.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that “I’m a fan of the character” but I really enjoyed that story a lot.  So, I’m intrigued to see her and looking forward to whether she can be as enticing of a character without all the Old 52 trappings that made her interesting (former Robin status, romance with Tim Drake, fun Dick Grayson as Batman).  What confuses me is whether she’ll actually be a part of the ongoing Batman, Zero Year story, or whether she’ll mostly be appearing in the upcoming Batman Eternal?  And that made me wonder whether this entire issue was mostly a teaser for Batman Eternal?  And that makes me wonder whether all the positive things I hope for with the Bluebird character will be in the new title rather than in Batman-proper?  I guess we’ll see.  One of the BEST things about Snyder’s entire run with Batman is that it has been relatively non-polluted by crossover nonsense.  Even if Eternal is a title he works on, I’d rather see Batman-proper remain it’s own thing.

Artwise, it was great to see the Dustin Nguyen/Derek Fridolfs/John Kalisz team again.  I really enjoyed them on the Old 52 title Batman: Steets of Gotham and also loved the Nguyen/Kalisz team on American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares.  I’d love to get a Dustin Nguyen piece of original art, but the damn things are expensive.  There’s just something nice and flowing and dark about the way this art team works.  It’s very different than the work we are used to from Greg Capullo, but I like the change of pace.  It’s great to read a comic that is valued enough by the editors that “fill-in” artists are of the caliber of the Nguyen Team.

Conclusion: Holy sidekicks!  A really sharp issue that injects some new possibilities into the Batman story.  Great guest art from Dustin Nguyen and team.

Grade: A-

-Dean Stell