The long, convoluted history of the DC Universe, stretching as it does over more than three-quarters of a century,  is either one of the greatest advantages, or the greatest detriments, of the fictional world.  Indeed, some people alternate between praising and condemning the deep texture of the DCU.  Whether you love this aspect of DC or hate it, nothing can free the DCU from its past, not crises or relaunches or even reboots.

Thus, when characters meet in this universe, it is always against the background of their relationships and histories, and even against the background of their extended families and alliances. Slade Wilson, otherwise known as Deathstroke the Terminator (although he largely ceased using the latter title when Arnold Schwarzenegger claimed it to much cinematic success in 1984), has had a tangled rivalry with Robins and former Robins.  Even though most of that history was with Dick Grayson and in the previous continuity, it would be naïve to think stories like The Judas Contract would not come to mind when he comes against Damian Wayne.  Patrick Gleason wisely resists making explicit reference to the classic stories involving Deathstroke and Robin, allowing readers to make their own deep readings, or not, as Wilson attacks Robin and Nobody in revenge for what he sees as the latter’s betrayal of him.

Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, Gleason’s art fails to keep up with his writing in this most symbolic of confrontations. Robin: Son of Batman #4 begins with a crisp, powerful flashback reminding us of the fact that Damian in his younger days (yes, a supremely relative term for an eleven year old) was quite evil.  We see him allowing his kindly and supportive art teacher be blinded as punishment for an innocent mistake.  Gleason is obviously concerned that Damian’s search for redemption retain motive force, a wise narrative strategy as a book bound so strongly to a single plotline can grow tired and boring very quickly.  You still have to wonder how long Gleason can keep it up, since the year of blood Damian is atoning for after all only lasted 365 days.  Still, so far he shows no sign of flagging.

In the present, Damian and Nobody are returning Canopic jars Damian stole from an ancient Egyptian temple complex associated with healing.  Gleason explains the history of that wicked escapade in a thick outpouring of expository dialogue that truthfully seems somewhat out of character for the normally sarcastic and short-spoken Robin.  Problems with dialogue disappear, however, as Deathstroke attacks.  The fight is spectacular enough, but jumbled, muddy, and difficult to follow.  In truth, a fight among opponents on such a level probably would be a symphony of confusion to observe.  However, realism in this case is no aid to story telling.  Luckily, the fight ends with clarity and logic as Damian, realizing the kind of foe he is facing, simply pays Deathstroke off.  Unfortunately, to meet the mercenary’s price he sacrifices funds he has accumulated for a research hospital, another planned step in his redemption.

 

Grade

B

Conclusion

This issue sees the continuing development of the relationship between Damian and Maya Ducard. Deathstroke reminds the young Nobody of her obligations to family, obligations that go beyond money. Yet money, representing redemption, is precisely what Damian, who killed her father, sacrifices to save her from Deathstroke. It is a neat emotional tangle. Unfortunately, the art does not support the battle leading to that crisis of conscience.