The Lazarus Tournament is down to the final two: Damian versus Connor in a battle to find out just who is the stronger of the two. Plus, Mother Soul’s plans are still in motion, and underneath it all a demon waits to rise!

As I’ve come to expect from Robin, this issue once again is one of the best things I’ve read this month. Where the last one was busy with activity, packing in two fights, some heavy emotional beats, and plot progression regarding Mother Soul, this issue focuses almost primarily on the fight between Damian and Connor. When I say it’s almost all fight, I’m not kidding, roughly fifteen of its pages are dedicated to the fight, which feels like a lot, but it’s also one of the events Williamson has been building up to through the entirety of the series. And it is worth all the build up.

The fight is largely silent, at least between Damian and Connor. We get some commentary from the crowd here or there in the form of cheers or Rose being concerned for Damian, but the bulk of this book is very quiet dialogue-wise. Connor and Damian exchange a few words as well, but it’s brief, with their attention on the fight–which I really appreciate. It highlights the fact that these two fighters are entirely focused on the battle, on watching the other, figuring out what to do next, and winning. It’s an easy way to show just how serious they are about this.

Since it’s very silent, the major focus of this issue is on the art. Once again, Gleb Melnikov and Max Dunbar work together on it, and both do an excellent job here. The way they trade off and make the fight flow through the pages is honestly stunning.

The opening couple pages of the fight are done by Melnikov. The panels in these pages are very clean, 7 or 9 panels, with even boxes. In two pages Melnikov’s lens grows tighter and tighter on the fighters until it’s gone from a wide shot of both of them to close ups just showing bites of the fight. It’s not until Dunbar switches on that we go back to a wide view of both fighters and can breathe again. It’s a really clever way to open the fight, as it builds tension and focus. Both readers and the characters are drawn in tighter and tighter until they break apart and in turn the crowd bursts into applause. It’s so dynamic and just the start of the way the whole fight plays out.

From there the panels start to break up and get fun, losing the strict block layout to grow into something looser. Damian’s flipping outside his at one point, the characters are smiling and having fun, and the layouts get more and more dynamic. This builds up the book’s energy in a new way, showing us that these two fighters are enjoying the fight, at least a little bit.

As the fight continues, the style shifts again. Melnikov mostly takes over again and the panels are back to being constrained as the fight turns in the favor of one fighter. Panels are lined in red, the shots tighten, and even when the art is less constrained the whole thing has this very serious, dangerous vibe to it. It’s just very cool, and hard to really describe with words and just a few clips. Even if you’re not reading this series, pick up this issue just for a masterclass in building a long fight through an issue. It reads so smoothly, and in an issue that could fly by since it’s focused solely on the fight, the pacing is really well done.

I’d be remiss not to mention both Hi-Fi’s colors and Troy Peteri’s letters. Hi-Fi’s colors pull everything together beautifully, shining light in just the right places to draw the reader’s eyes, and in the little details like red around panels when things get serious. Peteri’s letters fill the quiet of the fight with sound and onomatopoeia as we get click’s and booms, and the noise of the crowd cheering. Even Robin and Hawke’s panting feels very unique and their own, the colors flipped for one from the other’s. It adds a level of dynamic motion and volume to the issue that just takes the whole thing up a notch.

Beyond the fight, Williamson continues to work on Damian’s character by giving us a really solid emotional beat during the fight. At last, we hear Damian admit to why he came to the island. In his mind all this death and fighting is punishment for failing Alfred. In a very self depreciating kind of way he’s here to figure out if he’s even worthy of being called a hero or not. Those few panels hurt to read, but they highlight what Williamson’s been doing this whole series as he takes Damian on this journey of self discovery, grief, and maybe even healing. He’s fought, died, killed, faced his Grandfather and siblings, and now we see him really starting to face why he’s here and admit the guilt that pushes him forward. It’s great to see, and I can’t wait to read how Williamson builds on it later.

I do have a minor nitpick I feel I need to point out and that’s the inconsistency displaying character injuries we keep seeing. In the last issue Flatline totally broke Damian’s wrist, and yet here he’s fighting with it just fine. This isn’t the first time Williamson has just sort of glossed over major injuries, we’ve seen it a couple times through the series like when he’d only had a day to recover from being tossed off a cliff. He fought ninjas, and hopped right into the tournament like it was nothing. I’m all for suspending my disbelief most of the time, and rooting for the hero, but these are little things that could easily be addressed either by not breaking his wrist or making it an actual issue in the fight.

The last few pages of the issue focus on the demon Mother Soul has been trying to summon. With the tournament over, it’s time for her true goal to come to light, and of course things take a turn for the worse for everyone. I’m really excited to see how the next couple issues played out, especially now that so many people on the island are at risk of dying for the last time. It makes the stakes going into this final battle feel higher than they’ve been so far, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Recommended If

  • You’ve been waiting on a Robin vs Hawke rematch
  • The fight is just exceptional to read
  • Even in a battle heavy issue, you’re looking for some emotional beats

Overall

I said it earlier and I’ll say it here, if you want to read a book that does an incredible job pacing and laying out a fight between two characters, pick this issue up. The entire creative team comes together here to make this issue utterly stunning to read, and in a way that doesn’t feel rushed at all. Melnikov and Dunbar are the real stars of it, creating dynamic art, paneling, and incredible moments. Please, pick up this series.

Score: 9/10


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