Today, Spencer and Michael are discussing Robin: Son of Batman 9, originally released February 17th, 2016.
Spencer: Up until yesterday, I didn’t know that Robin: Son of Batman 9 was Patrick Gleason’s final issue as writer and penciller on the title. With the suddenness of the news — and the circumstances surrounding Gleason’s departure still unknown — it’s hard to tell whether this issue was meant to serve as the finale to his run, or was originally planned as the beginning of something more. Either way, it highlights Gleason’s greatest strengths as a creator, but a few of his more notable weaknesses as well.
Gleason’s affection for Damian Wayne has always come across loud and clear in his work, and with that affection comes an excellent understanding of Damian’s character and a profound respect for his past. All those strengths are evident in Robin: Son of Batman 9‘s first scene, which finds Damian spying on his amnesiac father Bruce at the Lucius Fox Center for Gotham Youth, where he’s been working since recovering from the events of “Endgame.” It’s a tragic moment, and Gleason milks it for all its worth, foregoing dialogue completely in favor of letting his art tell the story.
I love how this scene taps into so many of Damian’s fears in such an effortless way. Damian’s never been a “real” kid, never played before, so already the sight of all these normal kids having fun must have him awful melancholy. Then of course, we see Damian’s father, who currently has no memory of him, catching one of these children. On that final page, the kid, Bruce, and Julie Madison form a kind of family unit Damian was never able to have with his father and Talia. There’s such an ache to this scene, the pain of what Damian’s lost and the pain of what he was never able to have in the first place.
The heartbreaking punctuation to that moment, though, comes on the next page.
This moment could perhaps feel a little goofy in any other context, but after those three pages it’s just gut-wrenching. It helps, though, that there’s pre-established history of Damian doing this kind of thing. This page is actually a callback to one from Batman and Robin 38:
For all their similarities, though, there’s also a marked contrast between these two pages. What was once a playful moment between father and son (or at least the prelude to one) has become a moment of mourning for a relationship lost. By referencing better times, Gleason reminds us all of what exactly it is Damian’s lost. It’s a smart, effective use of continuity, and that’s something Gleason’s always excelled at.
After this nocturnal visit, Damian vows to keep Gotham safe until his father’s return, and has several encounters (which I’ll get into later on), the latter of which just emphasizes how alone he feels. Just as Damian’s about to give up, though, Goliath comes to his rescue, reminding Robin that he’s not really alone, not if he doesn’t want to be. He returns to the Batcave, where he deputizes Goliath (in a call-back to Dick Grayson-as-Robin’s origin story) and enlists the rest of his menagerie into his battle against crime. Again, that last image of a heroic Damian surrounded by his pets might be a little silly, but it just fits Damian — one of my favorite elements of Gleason’s take on Damian is how his more childish attributes occasionally break through his arrogant, cynical shell.
This ending also emphasizes the idea of making your own family, which seems to be the next step in Damian’s continuing maturation. He knows Bruce will be Batman again someday, and in the meantime, is ready to branch out and make relationships outside his blood-family; to form his own circle of friends and allies separate from his father’s. Yeah, with Maya retired, those relationships are currently restricted to Damian’s pets, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. The kid’s gonna be okay, and if this was indeed intended to be Gleason’s farewell to Damian, then it’s a touching, appropriate one.
For all his strengths, though, Gleason’s biggest weakness as a writer is still his dialogue, which severely hampers Damian’s encounter with some young mercenary associates of Maya’s. I think their concepts are interesting enough (dumb gamer kids with access to extreme technology), and Gleason works some funny jokes into the battle (O.H.I.O.), but their constant references to gaming terms are just annoying, instead of funny or clever. It’s the same problem Gleason had writing Deathstroke in issue 4 — in an attempt to create an unique voice for these guys, he goes overboard with slang and jargon. I can’t take them seriously, and I can’t buy that Damian would let them rattle him as much as they do either.
Also frustrating is Damian’s encounter Terminus’ goons. Not only does the scene serve no narrative purpose, but it just highlights how those characters never really worked in the first place.
These villains — all permanently damaged by Batman and Robin — are ultimately pretty tragic, so it feels strange for Gleason to play them for humor; I don’t feel comfortable laughing at Bat-head’s insanity since it was caused by Batman throwing a Batarang through his brain. Tomasi never found a proper tone for these characters, and Gleason doesn’t either, which makes their random inclusion in his final issue all the more frustrating.
Still, whatever his faults, I’ve loved Gleason’s interpretation of Damian Wayne for years now, and I’ve enjoyed seeing his skills as a writer evolve as well, so I’m pretty bummed to see his time with the character come to an end. How about you, Michael?
Michael: It’s his last issue? I didn’t know this either; since and DC’s website is always maddening to navigate, the solicits for the next few issues are misleading. I’m right there with you on what worked in Robin: Son of Batman 9 and what didn’t. As you said, Patrick Gleason has a huge soft spot for Damian — he’s been a shepherd of the character since before The New 52 after all. Gleason is a hell of an artist, with a dynamic Bruce Timm-esque style. And, as Spencer mentioned, he’s got the continuity-focused attention to detail that satisfies that recall part of your brain. I don’t know if this is Gleason’s finest script, but he tells an incredibly powerful story visually. Along with the bedroom perch scene, the cover of Robin: Son of Batman 9 is itself a visual reference: to Batman and Robin 22 – Tomasi and Gleason’s first pre-New 52 issue of the book.
Gleason’s pencils have always been the standout part of Robin: Son of Batman. Some of these visuals – many devoid of dialogue — are pretty overt in their message of Damian’s loneliness, but nevertheless awesome and effective. One thing that struck me as a little bit of cheeky foreshadowing was Damian’s silhouette in Bruce’s window, his hair spiked up as if in devil horns.
Near the end of the book Damian engages in some playful banter about being the devil with the painfully annoying duo of Snowfox and Wunderfox. I love me some referencing, which is why Gleason’s work with Damian in Robin: Son of Batman and Batman and Robin has been so rewarding. Though his inclusion of the Terminus goons (thank you for reminding me who they were Spencer) is odd and unjustified, it also ties into that referential narrative that Gleason has been building.
It was great to have Goliath come to Damian’s rescue — though we haven’t known the big oaf for longer than eight-ish issues we do so love him. I’d be lying to you if I said that the Damian/Goliath “swearing in” panel wasn’t my favorite of the whole damn issue.
The whole “swearing in” oath of Dick and Bruce is so goddamn corny, classic and iconic — to see Damian extending this custom to his faithful friend Goliath warmed my heart in surprise. Did Tomasi and Gleason have Bruce do this ceremony with Damian? I swear they did but I can’t quite remember when.
Another amazing moment was seeing Goliath and Damian lording over Gotham.
There’s a lot of layers in that image: Damian perched on Goliath who in turn is perched on gargoyles. At the bottom of that pyramid you have facsimiles of monsters, followed by a sentimental real monster followed by a boy-man who struggles with the fear of being a monster. That’s a hell of a lot of monsterish imagery for one Gotham rooftop. Then again, you see the cross in the background as well — a potent symbol for Gleason’s final issue of a series dedicated to Damian attaining redemption.
Maybe that’s a fitting enough end for Gleason’s last issue of Robin: Son of Batman? The series was crafted from the post-Endgame world of Batman where Damian had no choice but to be on his own. Since Bruce is on his way back to the cape and cowl and DC itself is facing some major, mysterious changes in “Rebirth,” this might be the best time for Gleason and Damian’s story to end. Or — fingers crossed — take a brief pause.