There is a great attraction to psychological stories.  One of the most difficult tasks a writer faces is to craft a connection with an audience.  Indeed, the very origins of genre rest, in part, in the fact that different groups of people respond better or worse to given techniques and approaches.  But even within a specific genre it can sometimes be extraordinarily hard to find a way to truly communicate ideas, themes, and plots to readers, especially if an author is attempting to help the audience relate personally to a fantastically unusual character, say a billionaire genius who dresses up as an anthropomorphic bat and battles colorful, insane villains in a bizarre, ludicrously corrupt caricature of an American megacity.  The human mind, however, is universal.  Basic thoughts and emotions are part of everyone’s daily life, and therefore the thoughts and emotions of even such a strange figure as Batman can offer a point of identification for a reader.

Psychology certainly has its dangers for a writer, as well.  It is all too easy to get drawn into the complex internal world of characters at the cost of plot and action.  Who a character is, how a character feels and thinks, should not obscure what the character does.  Luckily, that is  a trap James Tynion IV avoids in Batman and Robin Eternal #6.  In fact, after a couple of plot-heavy issues from Steve Orlando, a pause to explore questions of character is very welcome.

A return to the background story featuring Bruce and Dick is also pleasing.  The bulk of this issue consists of an extended sequence from that past case, described as “several years ago.”  The Batman Office, at least, appears to have tacitly abandoned the official five-year post-Flashpoint timeline as untenable.  Dick Grayson, still in the grips of self doubt after his encounter with Scarecrow, is pushing himself to increasingly dramatic and dangerous feats to prove his worth as Batman’s assistant.  Bruce, not the most emotionally wise of men or the most experienced of parents, reacts with hesitancy and confusion.  His suggestion that Robin once again test himself for fear gas only exacerbates the problem.  His urging that Dick rest, including a slightly awkward reminder that a charity party is underway in the mansion and that Commissioner Gordon’s young daughter is in attendance, leads to nothing.

It is worth remembering, at this point, that Bruce never admitted what he saw under the influence of the fear gas.  Dick saw himself as undeserving of the Robin mantle.  Bruce denied seeing anything, a most unconvincing claim.  Is it possible that his hesitation with Dick is related to his own deepest fear?

Certainly we learn that his thoughts concerning his ward are complex and troubled, although not because of any failing on Dick’s part.  At the party, one of Bruce Wayne’s dissolute acquaintances reveals that he literally bought his young wife from a human trafficker in Prague, a merchant named Mother who provides people built to order.  He asks if, after all, Bruce Wayne is not reshaping his young “circus boy” ward to his own specifications. Bruce’s later investigations confirm the existence of a villain who appears to be organizing children and using the trauma to reshape them into new identities.  This revelation fills him with doubt about his own relationship with Robin.  Hesitant and fearful, he decides to hide the existence of Mother from Dick, lest similar doubts about Batman arise in Robin’s mind.

In the present, Jason Todd plays an unusual role in addressing doubt.  He has made his own willingness to be cynical about Bruce quite clear.  It is one if his trademarks.  But Tim Drake’s anger at Dick’s recent approach to Tim’s parents threatens to drive a wedge between the Robins, and Jason finds himself in the unlikely role of peacemaker.  Cynical although he is willing to be about Bruce, he is not willing for the Robins to be cynical and doubting of each other.  It appears to be part of DC’s attempt, also evident in Red Hood/Arsenal, to finally move past many of the strategic problems they unwittingly loosed with Under the Red Hood, a story which, for all its power, wreaked massive mischief by posing questions that can’t be satisfactorily answered on that side of the fourth wall.

Grade

B+

Conclusion

This installment of BATMAN AND ROBIN ETERNAL did not progress the plot, but served the equally valuable purpose of deepening the themes of the story and exploring the motivations of the characters. It is a solid piece of exposition on which the authors can build the eventual conclusion of this saga. It is a very good week's work, and maybe an extraordinarily good week's work. Little further need be said.