With Tom King’s Batman #50—also known as the “wedding issue”—on the horizon, DC Comics is publishing a 5 part series of one-shots to set the stage for the big event. Robin vs Ra’s al Ghul kicks off this series of one-shots, and to be quite honest, while I wasn’t sure what to expect in the first place, I definitely wasn’t expecting such quality work. So let’s have a look at what makes this book so good, shall we?
For starters, this comic is really well paced. From start to finish we are treated to some nice characters moments, fun jokes, dynamic fight scenes and, above all, intriguing plot twists. In brief (and without going into specifics; I think you should discover these things on your own), the story starts off with a nice conversation between Damian and Selina. While there isn’t much here in terms of action, the creative team very quickly picks up the pace as they drop us into a fast, lightly psychedelic rollercoaster of madness and mystery. We see Robin combating the enigmatic Aion before grandpa Ra’s appears, and we delve into Damian’s troubled psyche. It’s a wild ride, and it’s pure entertainment the whole way through. But what is it really that makes this book worth reading?
First of all, I’ve noticed a fair bit of criticism from fans while discussing Batman and Catwoman’s upcoming marriage, mainly with regards to Damian and his feelings about all of this. After all, Damian’s dad—the one man that he wants to make proud—is marrying a woman that is not only not Damian’s mom, but also a criminal. On top of that, as we saw in Batman #33, this information was revealed to Damian and the other Robins by Alfred, and not by Bruce himself. As was to be expected, Damian was less than thrilled about it and he even had a moment where he broke down and became emotional. So, the question that many readers have been asking—myself included—is why haven’t we seen Damian and Selina spending some time together to get to know each other better? While I think this could just as well have taken place in the pages of Batman, I’ve also come to understand why King never spent a significant amount of time on it. The reason is because DC was saving that for this issue. In fact, I’d argue that Robin vs Ra’s al Ghul is even more of a Damian/Selina story than it is a Robin/Ra’s story.
The issue is book-ended with Damian/Selina scenes. At the start we find Selina and Damian at the tailor’s to get Damian an outfit for the wedding. We finally get to see how Damian really thinks about the wedding, and he conveys his opinion in typical Damian Wayne-fashion: he’s as straight-forward as he is honest, not pulling any punches with the way that he words things. Selina, on the other hand, remains patient and calm throughout the sequence and actually acts like she could be his mother—or at least a mother-figure of sorts. When they split up in the city (Selina goes to her wedding prep, and Damian is off to do some night-time Robin-ing), she even tells him, “Don’t…uh…don’t stay out late,” which I think is a fun touch. The way that I read this is that she’s trying to joke about it, but at the same time it’s still somewhat awkward to her, and that’s why the words don’t come out as smoothly as she might’ve hoped. Damian himself, before going his way, also brings up the big elephant in the room: “I suppose you’ll want me to call you mother…” This point isn’t brought up again until at the end of the story, where they have an actual conversation about precisely that. In the interest of keeping this free of spoilers, I’ll put my thoughts on the ending in the spoiler tag below. But to those who choose not to click on the tag, I’ll say this much: the way that Seeley handles it is exactly how I’ve wanted this to be handled.
Moving on, the core of this issue reads more like a Robin solo adventure. When he runs off, he dons his Robin gear, and rather than patrolling the city and punching a bunch of criminals, he decides to sneak into the Secret Headquarters Arcade to play some video games (Damian and Dick Grayson actually visited this arcade back in Nightwing: Rebirth #1, also written by Seeley!). The fact that he just wants to play video games after shopping for clothes with Selina reminds us that Damian is, after all, still a 13-year-old boy (albeit a boy that’s also Batman’s son and the leader of the Teen Titans). However, this wouldn’t be a Damian Wayne story without some good martial arts.
Seeley introduces a new character by the name of Aion, whose costume bears some odd resemblance to Robin’s, Batman’s and Catwoman’s at the same time. The fight scene that kicks off between them is pretty rough and brutal, although there is room for a few jokes as well. But this is also where reality and hallucination begin to blur, and from this moment on we’re left questioning the events as they unfold. There’s even some meta-commentary that enhances the experience by going into the metaphysical qualities of Damian’s life, which is fitting seeing as Damian is coming up on a psycho-active substance. Fortunately, it’s not too on-the-nose; in fact, it prompts us to think a little bit more about what we’re reading, turning the comic into more than just a standard brawl. As the story continues to unfold, we delve deeper into Damian’s mind, until finally Ra’s al Ghul himself appears before him. It leads to an emotional and riveting conclusion that continues to resonate with me a good long while after putting the comic down. None of this—and I repeat, none of this—played out as I expected it to play out, and I’m happily surprised!
The artwork is handled by a team of illustrators that I’ve been admiring for years now, but whose work I don’t get to see often enough. Of course I’m talking about Brad Walker (pencils), Andrew Hennessy and Mick Gray (inks). I’m also pleased to see the great Jordie Bellaire coloring the book, so this one-shot aesthetically matches the Batman main book (as Bellaire is the main colorist for that series). To get a little nitpick out of the way first, in some of the panels Selina’s ears seem somewhat large and give her a slight monkey face—it doesn’t bother me too much, but nonetheless it does distract me from the story somewhat. Other than that, this team of artists shows great range. The quiet moments are rich with visual detail. For instance, at the tailor’s, we see a collection of outfits hanging on a rack in the background; we see a carpet Selina is standing on; we see the tailor’s tools; there are paintings on the walls; lamps on the ceiling; tiles on the floor. And on the other end of the spectrum we have exciting fight scenes where we see Damian and his foes leaping across the page, delivering flying kicks and blows. There are balls flying around. Some of the game consoles get smashed to bits, their screens shattering into pieces. Then the psychedelic effects kick in and we’re transported to another world where fires rage in the background. Furthermore, even though there are two inkers at work, in my opinion the art is really consistent and cohesive as well. The pencils, the inks, the colors—it all matches nicely, making this book come to life and drawing me into the experience. Seriously, this is good art.
You’ve been wanting Damian and Selina to finally spend some quality time together!
You want to read a comic full of surprises
You love great fight scenes, enhanced by psychedelic visuals
Overall: When this was first announced, I thought that this might very well be just a cash grab. But man, was I wrong! That is not to say, however, that I ever doubted Seeley’s abilities as a writer, or Walker’s skill in drawing. In fact, I got invested in this story really fast, and as I continued to read I soon found myself completely immersed in the experience. This comic features great humor, great character moments with Selina and Damian, great action, and even goes into some metafictional territory to enhance the overall experience. If the remaining four books in this series are just as good, we’re in for a treat. I definitely recommend this one—enjoy!