By: Ray Fawkes (story), Dustin Nguyen (pencils), Derek Fridolfs (inks), John Kalisz (colors)
The Story: In a shocking glimpse of the future, Alfred has finally lost all his hair.
The Review: For the past year and a half, Peter J. Tomasi has been slowly building up to the moment when Batman would have his Robin once more. He’s taken even greater care to conceal the new Robin’s identity, unwilling to commit to a resurrected Damian Wayne or deputized Carrie Kelly or someone else altogether. Right now, he’s in the middle of one of the most important arcs of his career, unleashing Batman upon Apokolips, all so that we can have someone in red and green at the end of it.
With that in mind, it’s hard to believe Tomasi would just let Fawkes spoil the big secret on the first page of a tie-in issue, lost in a month of tie-in issues. In fact, you don’t believe it. You absolutely refuse to believe that the next Robin will be some random character who appeared once in an entirely different Batman series. And if, God forbid, it turns out that [Spoiler alert!] Duke really will be the next Robin, then you’ll have no choice but to look down on Tomasi for letting the bird out of the bag this early.
As for Duke himself, you can live with or without him. The issue makes no effort to define his relationship with Bruce beyond the typical Robinisms: complete loyalty, spiced with resentment for Bruce’s overprotectiveness. For background, we get only this horribly awkward bit of exposition as Duke complains to Alfred, “Come on! This is me, man. Duke. You know how tough I am. Been training since I met the man in Zero Year! Been two years since he brought me in…”
The two-year calculation should give you hope that whether Duke ever becomes Robin or not, he’ll be coming after whoever Tomasi has in mind for the role. But you’d also think that if there is a Robin between Damian and Duke, he/she would’ve broken Bruce of his rigidity by now, sparing us all from Alfred’s increasingly ridiculous ploys to keep Duke distracted from the real fight Bruce has with a Heretic lookalike.
Beyond that, there’s not much else to say about the issue. Aside from the cosmetic changes for Alfred and Robin (Batman himself is, as the weekly series says, eternal), the issue is your classic tiff between the Dynamic Duo and it ends the way it always does: with rueful grins all around and a decision to keep fighting the good fight together. It’s comforting, I suppose, to know that five years from now, this much remains the same, but it doesn’t make the issue any more worthwhile.
Not even Nguyen’s sharp and elegant art can elevate the story much, though anytime one of these tie-ins gets an actual name on the visual credits is a plus. You’re a bit ambivalent about Duke himself, but his armored outfit is sleek and sensibly modern (though I suspect design nerds will have much to say about the business of all the extra lines and joints). The Tron-like scarlet streak trailing after Duke’s cycle is also a nice, futuristic touch, as is Alfred’s sweet goatee, giving him the resemblance of Wonder Woman‘s Ares.
Conclusion: No surprises here. Regardless of the time and person, Robin is always there for Batman.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – And can I just say that as far as diversity is concerned, there are other races than African-Americans. How about putting a bat or S on a Vietnamese person for a change?