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

The Story: Friends don’t let friends fight evil gods alone.

The Review: I’m not a hardcore Bat-fan, but I can definitely see his massive appeal.* Despite his mortal frame, the man goes toe-to-toe alongside and against some of the most powerful forces in the universe and doesn’t even bat an eye—yes, pun intended. That kind of courage, guts, pluck, whatever you’d like to call it, always puts him on the verge of open conflict with somebody bigger than him, and it really doesn’t get bigger than the Justice League and Apokolips.

Bruce going rogue with the League goes about as well as you’d expect. He may be Batman, but getting past all his teammates by himself is beyond even him, as it should be. You couldn’t retain much respect for them otherwise. It’s also important that Bruce isn’t entirely in the right here. Vic and Arthur point out the folly of making an incursion into Apokolips and tackling something they’re not ready for, and they’re correct. The League may be party-poopers in this scenario, but they’re rightfully so.

Aside from practical concerns, stopping Bruce is also an intervention motivated by affection. I’ve often pointed out the League’s somewhat chilly chemistry, but Tomasi recalls some of the camaraderie of old in the Hellbat suit, a team project explicitly designed to protect Bruce in the hairiest crises. The idea of each Leaguer contributing to make his concept a reality, from Clark forging the armor in the sun to Diana finishing it with Hephaestus’ guidance, that’s almost Super-Friends in spirit. The Hellbat is a labor of love, whether anyone says so or not.

But such an intriguing piece of armor isn’t revealed merely to be locked up again until the next linewide event. Sooner, rather than later, Bruce will have need of it, and that means going to Apokolips first, no matter what. He’ll just need a different set of allies to get him there. We haven’t seen much of the Bat-family since their own miserable interventions months ago, and here we have the three members who had it worst with Bruce: Babs, Tim, and Jason. That they show up at all says a lot about their loyalty, but you hope in the process, Bruce repairs relations by admitting how much of an ass he was to them.

Now, we all knew Bruce was never going to give up on retrieving his son. We knew it from the moment he seemed to stand down in the League’s HQ, claiming weariness. So why doesn’t anyone else in the issue seem to know it? Of all people, Clark should find Bruce’s self-deprecating acquiescence suspicious: “A man’s got to know his limitations and I must be crazy thinking I could’ve gone it alone against a beling like Darkseid back on Apokolips.” If there’s a plot hole in the arc at all, it’s the moment when Clark takes Bruce at his word and sympathetically flies off. I certainly hope this is just a wait-and-see tactic on Clark’s part, or else he’s just a dummy.

I may have started out viewing Gleason as a student of Doug Mahnke, but after looking at Gleason’s work month in and month out for the last few years,** I’m ready to declare that the student has surpassed the master. On the most fundamental level, Gleason’s art isn’t as vulnerable to variations in inking, which frequently causes Mahnke’s art to spiral in quality. Stylistically, Gleason just has more drama and pizzazz to him. Who else would draw Bruce’s fight with the League from the POV of inside the Hellbat, as if the spirit of the armor is watching and judging its future wearer?

And as exaggerated as Gleason’s faces tend to be, there’s a surprising amount of realism in them, too. Vic and Billy in particular look true to life; Vic’s chiseled, elegant features makes him look like an Olympian athlete in the prime of his youth and Billy’s button nose and tousled hair truly gives him the impression of a boy who hasn’t completely caught up to his adult body just yet. We should also admire Kalisz’s monochromatic use of red to keep the tension high as Bruce confronts the League, and the same with aquamarine to show Bruce’s more sober talk with Clark beside Damian’s empty grave.

Conclusion: Pretty much zero progress on the plot, but an outstanding bit of character interaction with great art.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * This is unlike Spider-Man, whose rabid popularity still baffles me to this very day.

** Good Lord, did I just say “years”? At what point, do you think, should I start thinking I’m too old for this stuff?

– Frank has a bit of an abrupt and anticlimactic departure. Hope we haven’t seen the last of him.