The tournament is over, but that doesn’t mean that Damian’s battles are done. With Connor as the victor, Mother Soul has raised her Lazarus Demon and plans to set it first on the fighters, and then on the world. Just how is Damian going to get out of this one?
Something I love about this series is how it continues the to keep me on my toes by pulling moves I didn’t expect. It could have been easy to play this arc simply and straightforward, and Williamson hits a lot of the same beats you’d see in most of those but always with an interesting twist like using Ra’s to help train Damian or giving the characters multiple actual deaths. That trend continues here all the way from the opening pages to the very last one and it makes this series such fun to read.
It opens right where issue #8 left off, with Damian facing off against the Lazarus Demon. Mother Soul stands above it all, claiming that her monster will burn away the old and make way for the new in–quite literally. It’s exciting, it’s action packed, and the fight’s over just as soon as it starts. It turns out one 14 year old in half a uniform isn’t quite the match for a centuries old pit demon raised through the death and resurrection of twenty-something tournament combatants.
And you know what? I like that.
I have a feeling there might be some people who aren’t that stoked by the idea of Damian losing quite a bit in his own book. He’s lost to Flatline, Connor twice, and now this big monster. It is a lot of failure. But he’s learning. This series opened up with him brushing off an offer for help, claiming to be the best and needing no one else. Gradually we’ve seen him grudgingly accept help, and the blessings of his family. Here again we see that, and in a way that is bigger and better than before. Once again Damian thinks he can do it alone and once again he learns he can’t, and for a character who we don’t have very many successful team stories with I think it’s a good arc to take him on. It’s also an excellent way to round of his arc through the whole tournament.
Williamson does this in a way that feels very earned. Not only have we seen Damian go through the process of learning to accept help, but we get to see him take that step through looking to Bruce and Alfred. Alfred, who has been with him in one way or another this entire journey, and Bruce who he’s spent much of his life trying to live up to. In just a few pages, beautifully illustrated by Roger Cruz we see a flashback of Bruce’s first steps as Batman –with Damian in his place. Together Alfred and Damian narrate Bruce’s own need for assistance, thrusting Damian into being able to get up and rally the fighters on the island to help him take down the demon. It’s just really wonderful.
There’s just one thing about this issue I cannot get over. And that’s Damian’s use of blood to paint not only the Robin symbol on his chest, but to paint circles around his eyes as if he’s wearing a mask. Damian’s done this before as a way to hide his identity. Back in Streets of Gotham –illustrated by Dustin Nguyen– he pulled a stunt where he wiped blood over his face to act as a mask during a fight with Zazz and it was pretty cool –totally backfired on him, but visually it was really cool.
Here? It looks silly. It’s a very serious moment he’s doing this in, and the scene where he’s making the mask and R are really cool, the impact visually though doesn’t work for me. It also does nothing to hide his identity or even really “represent” his image as Robin. The R does that well enough. I want to be excited in this moment, and through the rest of the issue but instead I’m partially distracted by his impulsive body paint. Now, not everyone might be as put off by this as I am–and in some circumstances I might not even be bothered by it, but here it just doesn’t fit the tone.
Beyond the my issues with the mask, Cruz does a great job on the art. I’ve mentioned the moment with Alfred, which is visually my favorite aspect of the book, but I do want to point out how cool the paneling is this issue as well. Panels more than anything can help build tension in a story and drive readers to that tipping point of excitement, and here Cruz, paired with Peteri’s letters does a great job getting readers to the point where you want to stand up and cheer for the characters. I’m specifically talking about the page after the flashback where we have a series of panels split by the word ring over and over. The panels are tight rectangles, mostly shots of Damian as he’s painting the R and mask, and put together in an uneven way that keeps your eyes moving as the momentum builds and builds to the next page. It’s a wonderful short way to capture attention and build energy and I really loved it.
Somehow Williamson just keeps managing to end on better and better cliffhangers. Less because they leave you fearful for the character’s life, and more because every one of them feels like a “what the heck? I need answers now” kind of moment. This issue is no exception, and I can honestly say I’m beyond excited to see what happens in issue #10.
- You have a fondness for Batman Year One
- Alfred’s your main man
- It’s a battle with a giant monster, of course it’ll be fun
This was a fun issue that does an excellent job rounding out a part of Damian’s character arc Williamson has been taking him through through this series. Here we get to see him reflect on his family, those he loves, and his history and choose to ask for help instead of pushing forward. For me, it’s a great moment and I’m excited to see where things go from here.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.