The Lazarus tournament is in full swing as is Damian’s investigation into the secrets behind the island and Mother Soul. With the tension high, and mysteries piling higher, will we get some answers this issue? And how will Damian fair in this leg of the tournament?
You know those books you read that make you want to spend hours chatting about them with friends? Robin is that kind of title for me. I spent a considerable amount of time chatting about this issue with friends this week instead of working on my review because I was that excited to talk about it. It’s one of those books that makes you want to pick it apart with someone else who read it, cheering over thrilling moments, and gushing about the scenes that made you feel something soft and surprisingly wonderful. Williamson has consistently done an excellent job eliciting those emotions and more through this series, and this issue is no different. This time Williamson ratchets up the tension through the book, keeps the action high, provides some answers, and gives us an incredibly tender moment I’m still thinking about.
The story opens in roughly the same place the last issue ended, with Damian flipping through the book he stole from Mother Soul. He’s quickly interrupted by Respawn who has chased him outside the stadium to finish their fight. During it we get a few more hints as to Respawn’s identity, like a glimpse at part of his face under his mask. His dialogue also makes it seem like he knows Damian from somewhere, instead of just disliking him on principle. Respawn hasn’t been a character I’ve been super interested in this series, but this little moment really helped put him in the spotlight for me and now I am curious about his identity moving forward.
Someone whose identity we do learn about is Mother Soul’s. Damian’s acquisition of her book has told him exactly who she is, and some of the answers behind the island. I’m not going to spoil it here for you but I like it quite a bit. What I will talk about is the truth about the island. It’s been inundated with energy from the Lazarus pits for years and as a result it has kind of become a thing of its own, feeding off blood, battles, and death. So much so during the tournament that it can now bring people back to life who died without the use of a Lazarus Pit. And that death and destruction is exactly what Mother Soul wishes to provide it with the tournament. From the start of this series I was fairly sure the tournament wouldn’t end with just a victor, but in some kind of explosive way. Especially with all the investigating Damian’s been doing, and this issue pushes that idea forward even more. I love how Williamson has really tied Damian to this place, from the fighting to the pits, and even Mother Soul herself. It really feels like his mystery to solve, and a problem he can fix instead of a generic adventure where he learns about himself.
The rest of the issue focuses back in on the tournament. Other fights are still going on, and someone has to come out of this round on top. Damian returns to the stadium, wanting to stop the fighting, but with the tournament in full swing it’s hard to really halt its momentum. Instead he ends up in a re-match with Flatline. This is my favorite fight of the issue, and the highest point of the tension. By this point they are friends, and two people forming a bond so it’s going to be hard to see them fight to the death–and for Damian even harder to have to decide to kill Flatline. The fight, and it’s conclusion really highlight the fact that he’s not here to kill people. Death is something Damian doesn’t like, even if it is a necessity here. The whole thing is both tense and heart wrenching for that very reason. We as readers want him to win, but by this point we also don’t want to see Flatline lose or die–and we especially don’t want to see Damian be the one to cause that even if she’ll be brought back to life.
The fight is gorgeously illustrated by Gleb Melnikov. It’s visually paced really well, over a few pages. He starts with a two page spread of the two of them fighting while Damian’s holding back, and then the action feels like it speeds up over the next few as Flatline’s convinced him to go all out. The whole thing has this excellent back and forth of each one getting in hits that leave readers wondering who will win: Damian or Flatline?
It’s at the end of this fight that my favorite moment comes, and the tender moment I can’t stop thinking about.
In the end, it’s Damian who comes out victorious, but in a way that doesn’t really feel like a victory. Through last issue, and this fight Williamson has really built up their relationship into something special, romantic or platonic and to see him win here is tough. It feels like Damian himself is a bit surprised at Flatline’s death, and even if it is only temporary you can see how grieved he is to have been a part of it. Especially in the above page. Once again, Melnikov delivers here on this almost silent page, you can feel how much it’s hurt Damian to get this far, the grief still over him as we see Alfred’s ghostly hand on his shoulder, and how Damian’s checking her pulse.
One of the themes through this series has been Damian struggling with grief over losing Alfred and his guilt in being a part of why Alfred died, and this scene really feels like that personified. He’s lost another friend, and death is still death even if it’s temporary. It’s hard for me to describe everything this scene made me feel, so you’ll have to read it, because it’s far more than just this bit I’ve shared here. But it’s honestly very beautiful and moving. Whether Damian and Flatline’s relationship blooms into romance or not, it’s a strong connection and I love how Williamson is writing it. Nothing here feels rushed or wasted.
I touched on the art a bit, but I wanted to focus on it as well. Gleb Melnikov and Max Dunbar are both on art this month. While I enjoy both artists quite a bit, they don’t quite blend perfectly in the few areas. Dunbar’s panels and pages feel a little sharper than Melnikov’s, his lines more angled than the rounder ones of Melnikov’s style.
That said, I wanted to point out some cool paneling by Dunbar. He gives us a really cool page showcasing some of the results of the fights, cut up into a circle and three parts. It’s something I haven’t seen before in a comic and it made me pause and really want to examine it.
There’s also a few little problems I had with the issue. Small transitional things that kind of add up on a second read. Like just how Damian had enough time to read through Mother Soul’s book to know who she was and what was up with the island before Respawn found him. Between being thrown out of the stadium last issue, and Respawn charging his way forward here I don’t think he really had a ton of time, so it feels a little coincidental that Damian could learn so much so fast. Then there’s him knowing exactly who won fights he wasn’t around to see. As he’s rushing back to the stadium, he reflects on the current status of the tournament and seems to know outcomes he wasn’t around to see. They’re little things, but added to some confusion with the art they do detract a little from how clear the narrative flows.
The end of the issue promises another rematch between Damian and someone he’s fought before. It also highlights just how determined Damian is to stop Mother Soul and prevent her from completing whatever it is she’s trying to do on the island. I love his interaction with her here, fueled by his anger at this whole tournament being a scam and having to kill people he cares about. It’s just the kind of thing that had me cheering him on and excited to see just how he’ll accomplish it.
- You enjoy some excellent fights
- And a good dose of mystery
- Plus some genuine heartfelt moments
I loved this issue, in fact it might be my favorite of the series so far. The tension is consistently high and only gets better as the issue progresses, the fights are a lot of fun, and the story is still so full of heart. The art is also stunning, with moments that still have me thinking about them. It’s continually so good, and feels like it’s getting better with every issue and if you haven’t started reading it yet you are really missing out on a gem.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.