By: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, John Layman, Ray Fawkes, Tim Seely (story), Andy Clarke (art), Blond (colors)

The Story: Red Robin and Batman briefly consider getting the band back together again.

The Review: Let’s review some Batman basics,* shall we? Great as the Dark Knight is, he’s still only one man struggling against a vicious city, which is why the Bat-family exists. But calling them a family gives an impression of a cohesive working unit when they’re actually more like a handful of government agencies. Their objectives and methods are different; they’re supposed to work in different spheres; and when they take jurisdiction over the same area, there tends to be more tension than collaboration.

Such is the way when you have obviously derivative characters trying to prove that they can stand on their own. Red Robin voices that conflict from the first page of this issue, rebelliously establishing his own data networks (his “Robin’s Nests“) in the city separate from Batman’s, declaring, “I don’t like people looking over my shoulder while I work.” Aside from that basic barrier to working with Batman, Tim reminds us of personal obstacles between them post-Death of the Family, Damian Wayne, and Dick Grayson. Gotham needs its heroes to stand together, but between Batgirl’s angry departure last week and Tim’s prickliness here, that’s going to be a very tall order.

There’s a particularly telling scene where first Bruce then Tim voice the idea of working together, only to have the other rebuff him. It’s a bit like a couple in a suffering relationship, when one person casts out a line towards reconciliation and the other’s too hurt to see it and vice versa. Tim may have made thrown the first snark (“Our so-called family sure knows how to stick together.”), but Bruce’s tendency to get caught up in the big picture does mean he loses sight of the highly important minutiae, such as his so-called family. When Tim says as much, Bruce replies, “This isn’t about that. This is about the city.”

“Exactly,” Tim softly says at Bruce’s departing back.

It’s true, however, that Gotham is approaching a boiling point, or so we’re told. Much like the problems plaguing Starling City in Arrow, there’s a lot of talk about how bad things are getting, from Harper and Cullen Row and the folks at the Gotham Gazette, but we don’t see much of it. Vicki Vale dragging a young intern (with his $2K camera) into the Narrows to investigate the gang wars seems like a pretty clear attempt to emulate the Lois Lane-Jimmy Olsen dynamic, but the problem is Vicki is no Lois (and Joey Day is no Jimmy). Their little adventure yields nothing except a redundant headline (“Gang War Erupts in Gotham City”), which makes the Gazette‘s involvement seem superfluous, a means to drag Harper into the story against her anxious brother’s will.

For all the pages mostly wasted on Vicki’s investigation, it’s Tim who really discovers something useful, namely the presence of highly advanced “nanobot swarms” lurking within various children residing in one of Bruce’s housing projects in the Narrows. Two important takeaways from this: one, there’s a greater mind at work than Falcone’s; two, that mind seems aware of Batman’s true identity. That brings us to a bearded, red-bespectacled man with a monkey companion who claims to have trained Bruce once upon a time. But I don’t believe this man to be the true mastermind of Gotham’s recent troubles, not when the presence of the Spectre suggests something much, much more.

Clarke’s art is fine, no more, no less. He conveys the story as scripted with a visual style that’s neither terribly attractive nor ambitious. But his slightly rough, straggly lines do give the issue a slightly edgier look than your typical DC house art, and with Blond’s eerie glows and harsh, almost fluorescent lighting, you do tend to take the art more seriously than you don’t.

Conclusion: Some parts are more crucial than others—one plotline in particular seems like dead weight—but the mystery deepens nicely here.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Which sounds like the most amazing undergrad course ever.

– Joey has a picture of Red Robin on his wall. Let’s hope this isn’t the start of a Max Dillon scenario from Amazing Spider-Man 2.

– How the hell did Harper immediately recognize the nanobot swarm?