Tomasi is one of those writers who seems fated to brushing the underside of greatness yet never managing to get on top. He’s got talent, great technical skills, and character insight second to none, but these only take you so far. To make it to the top requires a certain kind of originality and style, but moreover, it requires an almost reckless boldness, the guts to not only put a wild idea into action, but see it through to the very end even if it goes a little out of control.

With Robin Rises, Tomasi has an opportunity to embrace those qualities and finally break through the ceiling keeping him in the minors, but going big alone won’t do the trick. Sending the Bat-family to Apokolips is indisputably a great idea. Watching Bruce do his goddam Batman routine on Parademons and the likes of Glorious Godfrey—awesome. But without taking us someplace new, all Tomasi will have accomplished at the end of the day is a great fantasy battle rather than a great story.

Much of Tomasi’s success will depend on which Robin rises at the end of this arc, and how, but a big chunk also depends on how the New Gods factor into the story. They need to have a reason for being here beyond adding spectacle. We sort of get that from Kalibak’s speech to a comatose Darkseid, swearing to use the Chaos Shard to strengthen Apokolips and, consequently, Darkseid himself. It’s at least a credible motivation, if not a very profound or sophisticated one. (For comparative purposes, see the Anti-Life Equation craziness in Final Crisis.)

Really, what you get most out of that scene is Kalibak’s actions aren’t driven by egomania or even sadism, but rather devotion to his father.

“When you wake, you will be proud of me. You will see I have not forsaken you like so many others have… I have ruled as you ruled. Unforgiving and unyielding. Your blood is my blood… But there is something else…something special I have constructed that I hope will aid you in your healing sleep… Your son Kalibak is here…and I won’t rest until I help open your eyes, Father.”

There’s a strangely sincere kind of love here, a parallel to Damian’s desire to gain his father’s love and respect. But this gives a tragic air to Kalibak, as obtaining love or respect from Darkseid is impossible, and he is anyway doomed to fail in his ambitions, if the Bat-family have anything to do with it.

If anything, this issue proves what we already know about Tomasi: that he’s a character writer bar none. What I love most about his dialogue is how natural and easy it flows, even when it gets pretty sappy, and even when the conversation doesn’t really go anywhere. Superheroes rarely ever talk like real people in comics, but when Tomasi writes them, they sound like people you’ve known for a long, long time: Jason’s smartass remarks (“Gotta say…Gotham is redhead kick-ass central!”), Babs’ confidence (“And don’t you boys forget it.”), Kate Kane’s military brusqueness (“Who’s the idiot?”).*

For a lower-key writer like Tomasi, he needs someone more outgoing on art to give pizzazz to the story. That’s why he and Gleason are the kind of match happy comic book marriages are made of. Gleason makes the most of the intermittent action scenes, whether going Kirby-happy as he draws crackling speckles of energy around Kalibak’s Chaos Cannon or delivering a sweet ground-POV of Batwoman grappling down the side of a building, slicing a giant spider’s arms as each fires a blazing pistol at her. Gleason is also very capable of settling down for the quieter moments, selling the hell out of Babs cuddling Alfred (the cat) and Jason tossing a ball around with Titus as Tim chats with Alfred (the butler) and Bat-Cow placidly looks on. It’s borderline ridiculous, but so wonderfully committed to the warmth of the scene that you buy it.

-Minhquan Nguyen

Grade

B+

Conclusion

Tomasi’s strengths are readily visible, but whether he can overcome his weaknesses remains to be seen.Some Musings: * Leaving Batwoman sole protector of Gotham in Batman’s absence is a nice gesture, but it would be even better if we actually saw it happen.