There is a school of thought out there that Batman’s rogues gallery is the very best because each villain is in some way a perverse incarnation of Batman himself. Batman & Red Robin #19 is terrific evidence of that because in this single issue we see that a Bruce Wayne who has been pushed over the edge by the loss of his son is in fact no different than the likes of Victor Fries fighting to save the life of his beloved Nora. This is a comic that will divide people for a variety of reasons not only because it depicts Batman as more of a villain than we’ve seen him in quite some time, but because it also introduces a classic Batman character into the main continuity and it’s because of those two elements that I think you owe it to yourself to buy the comic just so you can join the discussion.

Firstly, you’ll notice we have a title change: Batman & Red Robin. This is a misnomer though because Tim is really only in the comic for a bout a 1/3 of the pages. Yes, Tim once again gets the short end of the stick and continues to be the most worthless and uninteresting member of the bat-family. No matter how much you may like this character, he’s really been shafted in the New 52. Perhaps if Teen Titans were a better read this wouldn’t be the case but…here we are. Instead of getting the spotlight in the first part of this Stages of Grief saga, “Denial”, Tim must share time with two other guest stars who you’ll find quite surprising.

Of all the “WTF” comics that have come from DC’s latest event, Batman & Red Robin #19 really stands above the rest and it’s because of these two other guest stars.

Spoiler
First there’s The Dark Knight Returns‘ Carrie Kelly. She isn’t Robin. She’s not a superhero at all, so for now she appears to be there as a potential everyman perspective on the goings on of Gotham. A Harper Row 2.0 if you will that I hope stays a normal person and never dawns any tights. That or she was just a quirky little surprise and we’ll never hear from her again. It’s a really odd cameo. You’ll also quickly notice she isn’t 12 or 13 anymore, she appears to be either in college or post-college and she’s a rather expensive acting coach (at least that’s what I gathered) who might even be living as a roommate with Stephanie Brown (if you want to read into the artwork). She’s the “C.K.” who recommended some movies to Damian in the last issue. I thought it was Clark Kent for sure, but hey, there was no way in hell I would’ve ever thought it was Carrie Kelly making her mainstream debut. That blindsided me. As for the other guest star, that’s Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE. I was apprehensive about such a supernatural and far over-the-top character being included at first but the emotional weight behind his inclusion is so powerful that it worked and worked brilliantly. Frankenstein made for cool visuals and an interesting discussion about life and death in the DC Universe. The heart of this issue is built around him and I think it was a risky move that payed off.

It’s an issue that revolves around Batman going “too far” and I don’t mean he’s getting more violent than before. We’ve seen that done a thousand times. It’s a Batman who refuses to accept that his son is dead and he will do whatever is in his power to see the boy brought back. After all, he was dead and revived and so was Superman and Jason Todd. What’s the big deal? It’s a comic that raises an interesting debate about whether Batman is really that much in the wrong. Why isn’t the whole Bat-family trying to bring Damian back when we all know that they live in a world where death doesn’t have to be permanent? How morally wrong is it for Batman to go to these lengths?

Gleason’s layouts are awesome and the action looks great as well. There are a number of really memorable images here that stuck with me long after I finished reading the book and of all the comics I read today, it’s the one that I feel I could re-read the most not only for its very unique story, but because of the variety in the visuals.

Batman & Red Robin #19 does a fine job of balancing 3 guest stars and giving Batman fans PLENTY to discuss. The artwork is fantastic, there are loads of surprises, and you’ll see Batman at his absolute most cold, calculating, and desperate interacting with characters you couldn’t have imagined would ever show up in this or any other Batman series. Will this interpretation of Batman put some readers off? Yes. And the ending does come rather abruptly as if Tomasi ran out of pages to explore these rich themes and heaven knows Tim Drake should’ve had more facetime but I still highly recommend you give this one a chance. It’s also a done-in-one story so anybody can pick it up.

SCORE: 8.5/10