Brace yourselves. Batman & Robin is back and it’s delivered some of the best visuals of the Death of the Family event so far.

This series has struggled lately to tell a decent story. We had a radioactive worm monster, a giant purple guy, and two straight months of zombies and cannibal cultists. The quality of the Born to Kill saga had all but evaporated until last month’s issue where the final pages brought back the emotion and the fascinating father and son relationship that we read this book for in the first place. I had hoped it was a sign that the book was returning to its former glory and man-o-Manischewitz did it bring it this month.

Now, is the actual story as captivating or twisted as what’s happened in Batgirl what with the Beetlejuice-like wedding scenario, nail bomb, and severed mom-finger? No. And Damian and Joker’s history is no where close to being as rich as it is between the Clown Prince of Crime and Barbara Gordon, even though Tomasi does a great job of referencing the events of Morrison’s Batman & Robin run. No, what elevates this issue above all the other tie-ins for me is Patrick Gleason’s artwork. I didn’t think it was possible for another artist to go beyond Greg Capullo’s disgusting depiction of faceless-Joker but now Gleason is the king. In this week’s issue of Batman we had our hero punch Joker so hard that the face swiveled around his head. It was cool, but it was also the first really imaginative thing we had seen done with the Joker-face gimmick. Gleason on the other hand is doing some very creative and very disturbing things with the severed skin on almost every panel!

I want to show some screen captures from it, but at the same time I don’t because that would be spoiling the surprise. You’ll just have to trust me that there are a lot of really gross things that can be done when you give a psychopath a face attached by a belt. I mean, I literally said out loud “What the f***?” when the big reveal of the Joker came midway through the comic. And it’s not just the Joker that’s nasty. It’s the entire environment. There are worms, maggots, flies, dead birds, and dead bats all over the place and all presented with every icky detail intact. Even worse (or better depending on how you look at it) the scene is colored in a lot of yellow and orange that really gives you the feeling that this room is all hot and with so many dead things lying around it makes it feel smelly too. At least that was the effect it had on me. There’s just…there’s so much to praise here with the visuals. So many minute details that bring so much more to the scene. From splattering blood to funny things like the Joker flicking open, not a switch blade, but a comb to style his hair really make the comic come alive. The only imagery that I found out of place in this entire book was a giant egg that Damian crashes into. It’s such a dark moment and the campy egg simply didn’t belong. By the way, did you know that the word “jumbo” originates from the name of a famous elephant? THE most famous elephant in the world. It’s a term that didn’t exist until that particular elephant became insanely popular– I’ve been watching “Q.I.” on YouTube…

When it comes to the actual story side of things, well not quite as much happens. Like some of the other tie-ins it’s essentially hero finds Joker, hero gets tied up and has to listen to Joker monologue for the rest of the comic. It’s not bad, in fact it’s cool how Tomasi is able to reference so many past Joker stories, it’s just that the story never progresses beyond the monologue. It’s a problem I have with many of the tie-ins: a lack of consequence. Even though the dialogue is great, the art is beautiful, the setting is perfect, and Joker is a real sicko I never got the sense that anything can come from this. There’s no feeling that anything is at stake. I know Damian’s not going to die and no major developments will happen outside of Snyder’s Batman. The other thing about this comic that brought it down a notch for me was the Joker’s plan. I can’t wait for Death of the Family to be over just so we can all really absorb how complicated Joker’s master plan was here. His plan in this issue, well… Okay, so you know how Joker went to Wayne Manor with the lion cub and beat Alfred with a hammer? Well according to this issue of Batman & Robin the Joker apparently brought a hyena with him as well. The hyena urinated in front of Wayne Manor and Damian’s dog Titus (Why the hell couldn’t hey have just called him Ace?) smelled it. Damian analyzes it, finds out it’s hyena pee and decides to go investigate the zoo where he is then ambushed by Joker. So the Joker was there, at the zoo, waiting for Damian to show up. He even had a whole dead robin motif going on in the area where he tormented Damian. It’s a plan that relied on too much. I mean, he brought a hyena to Wayne Manor, let it pee, and figured “Robin will track this pee to the zoo and I’ll be waiting for him…” and how did he know when Damian would be at the zoo? If you’ve been reading all the other tie-in comics the Joker is all over the place. He can’t afford to waste time sitting at the zoo all night for Robin to show up. And that’s my nitpicky complaint about the Joker’s plot. Still a fun read, but it makes my head hurt to think about Joker’s grand scheme.

Make sure you read this and make sure you read it after Batman #15. This is the best issue of Batman & Robin in a long time and I know a lot of you have dropped this series recently. Now is the time to give it another chance. Tomasi, Gleason, Gray, and Kalisz all brought their A-game this time. Many of you ask which crossover issues are actually must-reading since these event-books are often little more than a cash grab and I say to you that Batman & Robin #15 is definitely a must-read. You won’t forget the many uses Joker has for that rotting visage of his.

SCORE: 9/10