Drew: What defines us? Is it our best qualities, our successes and moments of pride; or is it our worst qualities, our failures and our weaknesses? It’s a question that plagues all of us at one time or another, and one that is front and center in Peter Tomasi’s run on Batman and Robin. Damian is a character who seems to have nearly infinite capacity for both good and evil, but how exactly he’ll chose to use that capacity remains in question. What defines Damian has been a driving question of this title, and in this issue, Damian reflects the question outward, delivering what promises to be an affecting character study on all of the former Robins (sorry Stephanie Brown fans — it seems her stint as Robin has been written out of the canon for sure).
The issue begins with a meeting of criminals who have been somehow mutilated via their run-ins with Batman. Batman is pretty strict about his no killing rule, but that does leave him some wiggle room as far as permanently disfiguring people goes. Anyway, they’ve been called together by a man calling himself Terminus, who plans to kill Batman, apparently with a nuclear warhead.
Meanwhile, the Wayne family is sitting for their family portrait. Of course, putting Damian and Tim in the same room is always asking for trouble, and they bicker like they’ve always been brothers. There’s a bit of family drama here, including the fact that Bruce hasn’t told Tim that Damian killed NoBody, but the brunt of the matter is that Damian doesn’t respect Tim, and Tim doesn’t trust Damian. They storm off. That evening, Jason, Dick, and Tim all find themselves called to a secret rooftop meeting, but nobody knows who called it. Cue Damian, who explains that, in order to prove he’s the best Robin, he will beat each of them in the one thing they feel unbeatable at. Later, back at the Batcave, Damian confronts Tim. Damian explains that, in light of what went on in the Teen Titans Annual (In stores now!), Tim’s unbeatable skill may just be killing. They fight, and Tim storms off, unclear as to whether he’s really internalized Damian’s point.
This issue is rife with interesting ideas and telling character moments. It all starts with the interesting idea of Batman’s collateral damage. From Bruce’s perspective, he might see any scars he inflicts as warnings or reminders not to commit more crimes, but from the perspective of these disfigured goons, he has destroyed their lives, perhaps even taken away their ability to hold down a legitimate job at all. We’ve spent so much time in this title considering the morality of the no killing rule, it’s fascinating to take a step back and consider that any of Batman’s violence may be immoral. It’s a heady idea, and is really only pulled off here through Patrick Gleason’s brilliantly efficient opening page.
We’re introduced to a whole menagerie of baddies, along with the reason why they feel wronged by Batman (including the return of those knuckleheads from issue 1). That’s a lot of information to convey, but it never feels rushed or cluttered, and each vignette tells its own mini-story.
Gleason is also turning in some incredibly expressive faces, which really helps to sell the exaggerated sibling-rivalry of Damian’s plan. Check out this reaction shot as soon as Damian finishes explaining the plan.
Three very different reactions, but all very true to their characters. Jason buries his head in his hand, either asking himself why he came here tonight, or amused to recognize himself in Damian. Dick is both surprised and hurt to learn that Damian — whom he’d grown quite close to in their time as Batman and Robin — would ever wish to harm him. Tim isn’t surprised at all — he always new Damian was no good. It’s a brilliant and efficient character study, and only hints at what this story has in store for us in the coming months.
That sense of what to come is enhanced by Tomasi’s incredible command over the voices of all four Robins. They have a unique dynamic, and Tomasi relishes the opportunities to bounce them off of each other. My favorite moment has to be at the end of their rooftop meet-up, where Dick and Jason’s dynamic echoes Tim and Damian’s rather pointedly.
As someone who grew up in a family of brothers, I am particularly fond of the mix of camaraderie and competition Tomasi has established between these characters. More than real, it feels vibrant and full of great storytelling potential.
I also like how well this story integrates beats from other stories — we have explicit references to recent developments in Teen Titans, Batman Incorporated, and Red Hood and the Outlaws, not to mention Tim rehashing events from Daimian’s very first appearances. This suggests that Tomasi may be aiming for pretty profound emotional arcs for each of these characters. Already, at the end of this issue, Tim may recognize more of himself in Damian than he cares to admit, cleverly symbolized by a literal reflection.
Something so literal runs the risk of being too on-the-nose, but the fact that it is otherwise an ambiguous reaction shot saves it. We can’t see Tim’s face, and he doesn’t say anything before speeding off on his motorcycle, so we actually don’t know if Damian’s argument has resonated with him at all.
Ultimately, it’s hard to get too wrapped-up in Damian’s argument. He may have a point, but if we were going to say killing was the specialty of any former Robin, that would have to be Jason, right? Tim’s most prized abilities are his detective skills, which Damian doesn’t really have the patience for (though that could simply be because he’s so naturally gifted in the first place). While we’re on that vein, I have to assume Dick’s “unbeatable” thing must be acrobatics, but I can’t help but wonder; what if it was humility? I know, I know, Dick hasn’t always been depicted as the most humble individual, but I think his stint as Batman revealed a lot of deference. Really, I just think it would be funny if Damian were forced to try and prove he’s better than someone at being humble.
This was a fun, smart issue, and it promises to kick off a fun, smart arc. I really couldn’t be more excited to see how the war of the Robins plays out.
Peter: The idea of this War of Robins thing is pretty sweet. Ever since Damian showed up in Gotham he’s been at odds with pretty much everyone, especially Tim. Their relationship has always been pretty dynamic. This story arc will hopefully prove to really prove to air out their dirty laundry. Plus, Tim is finally going to make contributions to a Batman book. Lets be serious, his involvement in the Night of the Owls was pretty lame. Now that we can expect to see Tim in a Batman book in ernest, hopefully it will be awesome.
The image above of Tim, Dick and Jason is pretty cool. Seeing them all together is quite nice, plus, with Dick’s change from a blue bird to a red bird, and Jason’s choice to wear a red bat, plus Tim’s red costume really gives them all a very unifying look. While they have all left Bruce’s side, this really connects them all. It’s quite cool.
I’m kind of confused by this issue in terms of Damian. In issue 8 he was this little sad sack who didn’t know who he really was or what he wanted to be. In short; your average depressed 10 year old. What I can’t understand is how he somehow went 180 on that, and now is just an arrogant little shit again. I wish Damian would just make up his mind. I had these great ideas that we would see Damian on the up and up, but he really hasn’t gone much of anywhere.
Clearly some of this ‘War’ has already started. Tim and Damian’s epic throw down in the cave, complete with yelling banter really gets things rolling. The idea that Tim really isn’t all that perfect is pretty interesting. Dick kinda fell into the role, Jason was just angry, but Tim earned the role. Also, consider this little exchange of dialog:
The stark differences in opinions between Tim and Damian is fine. The fact that Damian has that creepy little smirk on his face is a little creepy. Also, I can’t help but want to think of a good metaphor for them smashing Jason’s memorial costume. I’m not sure what that metaphor is, but it’ll come to me eventually.
When Jason was a little upset that he didn’t get invited to the family portrait sitting, I couldn’t help but think that he wasn’t the only member of the family not invited. Clearly Cass got left out of this shot.
Also, despite the fact that only two of those people are related by blood, they look startling like one another. Bruce has always seemed to end up with Robins that look alike. He even made Jason dye his hair to help protect his identity.
I’m very excited about this new story arc. It shows a lot of promise. Also, this device reminds me of the torture device on Han Solo in Empire Strikes Back.
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