Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, authors of Hacktivist and, announced this week, incoming authors of Grayson, have been given one of the least enviable assignments associated with Batman and Robin Eternal, the portion of the story devoted to the adventure of Tim Drake and Jason Todd.  That isn’t because these two are not worthy characters.  However, it has to be admitted that the current continuity has not been kind to either of them.  The 2011 reboot and its associated five-year timeline placed an extreme pressure on the Batman Universe, as DC wished to retain all of the canonical Robins.  Dick Grayson, the first Robin, and Damian Wayne, the current one, managed to come through relatively unscathed (although many of their dedicated fans might disagree).  Tim and Jason, unfortunately, suffered the fate of middle children, with Tim even losing his history as a Robin in the new continuity.

Lanzing and Kelly have bravely made the best of that, building off the work of Scott Lobdell and others to emphasize the relationship between these two middle children.  It is surprising effective and affecting.  Tim becomes the rationalist young dweeb capable of being moved to awkward and deep affection while Jason is a fighter with the soul, not of a poet, but at least of a loyal brother.

More of a problem is the storyline Lanzing and Kelly have to deal with, a poorly explained side-quest designed to reintroduce the Order of Saint Dumas and its chief fighter, Azrael, into continuity.  Most of these two issues consists of Tim attempting to infiltrate the order by pretending to hand over Jason.  In that, he is only partially successful, coming face-to-face with Saint Dumas himself.  That worthy is actually a man plugged into a harness of cables rather similar to the Great Machine from Babylon 5. He is not a supernatural being, and not even the first Saint Dumas.  He is more like the Old Man of the Mountains, the head of a fanatical criminal order based not, in this case, on a schismatic, sect of Islam but on a technologically based Gnostic mysticism.

The Order has devised a neurobiological treatment called Ichthys.  Why it is named after the Greek word for fish (and also a symbol for Christ) is not explained, only that the treatment resides the victim’s brain by making them face their greatest fear and triumph over it, thus destroying fear, as well as compassion and empathy.  Azrael, provided to the Order by Mother, is a product of her process and illustrates its flaws.  He periodically begins to doubt, as he has done upon his encounter with Tim and Jason, and must be corrected.  Ichthys  promises a permanent change.

Jason has become infected with Ichthys, and finds himself facing the Joker.  Tim talks him through the ordeal, recognizing that in order to resist Ichthys Jason must allow himself to feel the pain and terror, and to retain his compassion and empathy.  It is a powerful scene, but a redundant one.  Jason and the Joker is a trope that has been played many times, and is dangerously close to exhaustion.



Batman and Robin Eternal #15: B; Batman and Robin Eternal #16: B


The end of the arc finds Azrael, disappointed in the Order, abandoning his masters in a scene that feels somewhat rushed. Jason's recovery, even if it covers ground already traversed in other books, seems more natural. Still, given the challenges they faced Lanzing and Kelly bring this part of the story to a surprisingly successful close, just in time to return to Mother and just what kind of deal she made with Bruce Wayne all those years ago.