With everyone on the island having died at least once and the stadium set up the second phase of the tournament has started at last! This issue is sure to be packed with action, battles, and carnage, but will that be all that’s in store for the characters? Or will we start to learn more about what’s really going on behind the scenes? Let’s see.

As usual, Williamson has knocked it out of the park. A ton happens in this issue, and yet it all flows well and makes sense in context. Plus! At last we get to see more of the tournament itself taking place. Sure, characters have been dying and fighting this whole time, but I for one was waiting for just what we’ve gotten here, which is a more structured aspect of the tournament. Characters are paired off to fight face to face, and the battles are split into rounds as people win, lose, and move forward.

Things open up right at the start of the action. A number of fights are happening at the same time across the arena, and while the focus is mostly on Damian we do get a really amazing double page spread by Gleb Melnikov that highlights the series of battles. The panel borders are unique, and you really get the idea of how the fights are going just in these single panel shots. The way they’re broken up, and we see a variety of fights going on across the whole image really works to give us a overview of everything going on in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming. It also creates a ton of energy at the start of the book. You can really feel the momentum of things moving into the next phase.

Damian’s first fight is against Blue Shrike and after that, Tengu, with both fights being easy victories. What I like best about this sequence is that Damian’s not relishing the fights or the killing, Mother Soul makes a point to highlight the fact that others are taking their time fighting, while Damian just kind of sped through his first matches. The fact that Damian isn’t a killer is shown a few times in this issue. I appreciate Williamson taking the time out to ensure we see that, because it clearly shows his alternate reasons for being in the tournament, and keeps him well categorized as a hero even in the midst of a tournament like this. He’s not so much here for the battles or bloodshed but his own goals, and the tournament is the path towards them.

These aren’t the only fights in the issue, in fact there’s a number of other ones we’re treated to as the tournament continues. Robin and Flatline watch a few matches and discuss the fighters, technique, and how they themselves would fight the opponent. The fights are also bloody, but never get too gruesome, we don’t often see killing blows on panel, but usually the scene after. This I’d guess is to keep the rating outside of Black Label, and Melnikov handles it really well. He also has a lot of unique panels through the issue, like the ones featuring the fights here. They also keep the issue feeling dynamic and moving.

One of the little oddities about the tournament is that this second phase doesn’t just have one on one fights, but at one point a free for all is called to have everyone remaining battle it out before more one on one fights start up. It makes the tournament feel a little rushed, but the more I think about it, the less I mind that. The pace would falter if the characters went through round after round to get them down to a single remaining life, and this is an efficient way keep things moving. If not, we might end up in a pattern where the pattern of fights gets pretty old, and as much as I enjoy seeing the battles I’m equally here for the rest of the plot.

To touch on the fights one more time before I move onto a discussion of said plot, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Troy Peteri’s letters this issue. From the opening credits, to the splash page, and scattered through the whole of the issue they add a ton to the action going on. One of my favorite panel combinations featuring fun lettering is a humorous one as well, where Flatline is winning a fight. It adds a moment of levity to the fight, and Damian’s reaction only makes it even better.

Between fights Williamson also builds in some great character moments. If this issue was just fight after fight after fight it might get boring, but instead he continues to build the plot while keeping the tournament moving. We get little details like characters taking a break, Damian still recovering from all the fighting he’s been doing, and characters chatting and growing a bit closer together. I’ve mentioned Damian and Flatline chatting about the tournament as it’s happening, but that’s not all they talk about. We also get a brief breakdown of Flatline’s backstory in this issue as well. It’s a little over a page and does a good job summing up who she is, why she’s in the tournament, and generally just giving us more insight into her personality.

The part of the plot that revolves around the mysterious book and Mother Souls true intentions also moves forward as Damian, Flatline, Rose, and Connor meet up to discuss it. While we don’t get a whole lot here, it is nice to see this group come together and start to work out some of their differences. We haven’t seen them act as a full team yet, but they have the makings of being a great group when everything eventually goes totally bananas. And honestly I wouldn’t be mad to see this group move forward into other things post tournament in the future, just from what we’ve seen of them they have a good group dynamic I want to see more of.

The issue wraps up with the promise of more action, more answers to mysteries, and more fun coming next month. I’m excited to learn a bit about Mother Soul’s true identity, and see the next few fights. After seeing how well balanced this issue was with backstories, fights, and plot I’m sure we’ll get more of that next issue.

Recommended If

  • Phase two of the tournament is going strong!
  • You like some quieter character moments built between fights
  • This one is really so much about the battles, they’re gorgeous and a ton of fun

Overall

Will I ever tire of saying you should read this book? Probably not. You should read this book. It’s consistently shown solid pacing, wonderful character work, amazing art, and balances fun and plot in a way that keeps me coming back for more every month. Every issue you can really feel how much the creative team themselves has enjoyed working on this book, and it makes reading it all the better. All of that is true for this issue. Williamson does an excellent job balancing plot, giving us character backstory, and packing the book full of action.

Score: 9/10


DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.