Robin: SOB. Somewhere in the depths of DC lives a diabolical genius.  If you thought for an entire year, you would be hard pressed to formulate a title for a Damian Wayne comic that would be more appropriate, more pithy, and more thematically complex.  This Robin is indeed the biological son of Batman, albeit by way of some fairly sinister technology.  But is he the son of Batman in spirit as well as flesh?  Or do all the other qualities so aptly summed up in Robin: SOB stand paramount in the assassin-cum-bat-brother’s personality?

Damian is also, of course, an al Ghul, son of Talia, son of the Demon.  For all his bright costume and pugnacious wit, he was born of and in shadows.  There has always been something demonic about Damian, something that suggests fire and darkness, screams and smoke.  In previous incarnations of the character Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert did not shy from imagery that nodded toward the Satanic, if with tongue lightly in cheek.  Gleason manages to make a very literal nod in the same direction and do it seriously, but with the important change that the demonic elements appear in themes exploring morality rather than fundamental essence.  Given the recent links forged by Peter Tomasi in Batman and Robin between Damian and Apokalips, the potential to go down that mystic path was certainly present, and Patrick Gleason’s decision to forgo that easy road is one of the more interesting and refreshing components of the setup he provides in Robin: Son of Batman #1. The title of the book, subtly but importantly different from Andy Kubert’s Damian: Son of Batman, encapsulates what Gleason is attempting to say about the character.

This is a book about legacy and responsibility. It is about how Damian embraces his place as Robin, how he grows into his identity as the Son of Batman while coming to terms with his descent as the Son of the Demon.  Gleason has chosen a very concrete metaphor to represent this process. It seems that Damian in the course of his training with the League of Assassins experienced a Year of Blood, in which each day brought a new task designed to prove his worth to lead the dark brotherhood.  A ship full of grisly trophies from that year is anchored at Al Ghul Island, and Damian is determined to atone for the acts represented by those mementos, purging himself of darkness and proving his worth to inherit his father’s cowl some day.  It is a brave gambit on Gleason’s part, as the metaphor is at once neat and too material.  Without deft handling, the book could easily become a very formulaic “object of the month” procedural.  So far, however, Gleason shows great skill in negotiating those tricky straits.

Gleason’s skill comes, frankly, as a very pleasant surprise.  The track record of artists-cum-writers is checkered, but Gleason draws on his deep experience with the character to present a storyline that promises to be new while having major continuity with what has gone before.  The fact that the art continues the tradition of Batman and Robin, with Gleason doing the pencils, Mick Gray the inks, and John Kalisz the colors, emphasizes the links with the previous series, while Gleason smoothly integrates the visual language into his plotline.  The blocky forms, deep shadows, and lurid, red-dominated palette give the comic the feel of reality dancing on the edge of dream, and sometimes slipping into nightmare.  Gleason uses this to introduce tension between Damian’s “demon” and “bat” heritage with the use of a literal dream sequence in which the author establishes the foundation of Damian’s life as Robin and the fears that threaten that life.  Dreams are always difficult to wrong team effectively, but Gleason is able in a few panels to connect Damian with Dick Grayson, with Bruce Wayne, with his ambivalence toward his mother, and with his fears about his own worth as Batman’s child.  It is a masterful sequence worthy of Grant Morrison, and certainly on par with what Peter Tomasi presented during his run with the character.

Grade

A-

Conclusion

Patrick Gleason has made a believer of me. His story of legacy and redemption could easily slip into formula and melodrama, but this issue shows little sign of such. It is true that he begins, as seems to be something of a fashion at DC these days, in the middle of the action, leaving a great deal of background and exposition to unfold as things progress. This might be a recipe for confusion down the road, but so far it is a recipe for interest. Many believe that Grant Morrison is the definitive writer of Damian, while Peter Tomasi has his partisans, as well. Now Gleason and his art team enter the fray, pencils afire. It is no exaggeration to say that with this issue Tomasi should be looking over his shoulder, and Morrison should feel a chill on his spine. Yes, it really is that good.