Now that the tournament is over and its instigators have been wrangled it’s time for Damian to return home. But just what kind of a Gotham is he returning to, and does he really even have a reason to stay there?
I’m still enjoying this series quite a bit, and a big part of that is how character focused it is. I was reminded recently of how important stories focused heavily on developing and showcasing their characters are to me, and this issue is a perfect example of that. It’s entirely centered around Damian’s own growth in the series, his internal struggles, and even tackling some of his familial issues. For something so character centered it’s also well balanced by humor and action to keep things fresh and enjoyable.
The majority of this issue pits Damian against his own self doubt, fear, and past mistakes in the most literal way possible: by pitting him against a vision of himself. While standing before Alfred’s grave, and trying to decide if he should use Lazarus Resin to bring him back or not, Damian is confronted by a version of him dressed in his demon outfit from the Robin backup that appeared in Batman issue #106 and Detective Comics issue #1034. He quickly determines the figure isn’t a clone, or actually standing there because he’s not drenched by the rain pouring down, but he’s real enough the two end up fighting.
Much like how Mother Soul threw taunts and insults at Damian a few issues ago, this evil version of Damian throws every insecurity, fear, and failure in Damian’s face as they fight. Damian himself is silent in the face of this onslaught, choosing his answer as actions instead of words. I really liked that about the exchange. Fighting a physical manifestation of your negative traits can already feel like a trope, and having Damian denying his other self’s words might push the narrative too far into cliché. Instead Damian chooses to keep pushing his way forward, accepting these fears but not giving into them.
Roger Cruz does an amazing job illustrating this rain drenched and emotionally charged scene. His expressions and body language especially really highlight the emotions coursing through this scene. One of my favorite shots features Damian gazing down at Alfred’s gravestone where you can feel how heartbroken Damian is over Alfred’s death. It’s both reflective of the tone of most of the issue and a great contrast to just how happy he is at the start of the issue.
There Damian is bright and happy, around friends and getting into mischief. The other sharp contrast between these two scenes is in the coloring, done by Luis Guerrero. The opening few pages are full of color. You can feel the sun shining on the island, and how relaxed the characters are post-tournament. While the scenes in Gotham are oppressively dark, done in heavy blues & grays, reflecting just how alone he is.
The fight against himself isn’t the only conflict Damian faces this issue though. The next comes when Talia catches up with him. He stole her airship to get to Gotham, and in what feels like a desperate attempt to keep from having to confront her. So far they haven’t had a chance to talk much in this series, and looking back on things Damian himself often avoids moments where they’d be alone together to really hash things out, and here we find out why. He’s under the impression she’s just here to bring him in as a weapon again, and doesn’t want to really even give her time to try and sway him. Like with the last fight things are not what they seem, and eventually Damian and Talia do get to actually talk a little bit.
I do feel a little weird about Talia and Ra’s characterizations. Ra’s more than Talia here. I had this same issue when we first see Ra’s, and I still feel off kilter seeing him written as this kind of open, caring, grandfather to Damian. Especially with how self aware he seems to be here, referencing his concern that Damian wouldn’t want to be with him and Talia because of past hurts. It feels almost like Williamson is rushing this warm reunion between Ra’s, Talia, and Damian instead of giving it a little more time to really work out. These three have an incredibly complicated history, and it’s very hard to just have them say “I’ve changed” and make me believe it outright. I want to see it the same way I’ve gotten to see Damian grow and change in this series instead of being told. I want it to take time to have them reconcile in a way that feels genuine and earned. That said, it’s possible we get exactly what I’m looking for over the next few issues during the Shadow War event which does seem like it’ll be heavily focused on the al Ghuls.
I should also talk briefly about Alfred, since the end of the previous issue teases Damian’s desire to bring him back to life with Lazarus Resin. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Damian decides against it, since bringing him back would most likely be an event or at least heavily marketed by DC. I don’t blame Damian for not doing it. He cites is reasons as not wanting to put Alfred through the effects of a Lazarus Pit, and for me that is a very in character response, and one I can accept even if I do really want to see Alfred return eventually.
The issue wraps up with teasers for future plots, the biggest is a lead in to the upcoming Shadow War event that a number of titles will be covering starting next month. I’m not totally sure where to stand on the event, but I am happy that it doesn’t feel like it’s interrupting any major stories in Robin right now. In fact, Williamson has woven it into the narrative quite well, with this issue working as a nice set up to move major players like Damian and Talia into position for the event. I’ll be interested to see how he furthers Damian’s relationship with his family during the event.
- Character studies are your style
- You like it when characters physically face their demons
- Talia and Damian bonding time has been on your wish list
This issue works as a good transition out of the tournament arc and into Shadow War, choosing to focus on resolving Damian’s desire to resurrect Alfred and face some of the demons of his past he’s been avoiding while on Lazarus Island. It also finally allows Damian and Talia to have a moment together to air out some grievances and being to mend bridges. If you’re looking for another solid entry into this series, this certainly fits the bill.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.