While some people skip annuals, feeling that they don’t add anything to the burdensome layers of continuity already in place, that’s exactly why I like checking them out, even on books I don’t normally read. With less of an emphasis on advancing the overall plot, you get a better grip on the actual quality of the creators involved.
Or perhaps that’s just me.
Written by Peter Tomasi
Illustrated by Ardian Syaf
• Robin leads Batman on an unrelenting hunt across the globe for family secrets that promise to change them both forever.
• If you think you know Bruce Wayne…think again!
There is a good amount of solid character work in this issue, but not necessarily with Bruce himself. It is hard to give Bruce character at this point; he has been juggled around so much not just in terms of the stories he has been in, but in how he is characterized, that there really is no definite voice for him that doesn’t just sound like cliched, by the books Batman scripting. As such, while Tomasi’s attempts to humanize Bruce are very well thought out, Bruce’s hollowness makes them seem merely sentimental. Something about the black hole that is Bruce’s emotional side, as much as Tomasi has been trying to remedy this, turn genuinely well-done emotional beats into scenes where we become acutely aware that we are supposed to be feeling for Bruce — which, of course, means we don’t feel for him at all.
Tomasi’s Damian is much more enjoyable: he does not voice the character quite like his creator, Morrison, does, but he still gets his motivations, which are just as important. In fact, the route Tomasi takes Damian down is one of those ones that seems obvious with hindsight. Why would Damian be content with being Robin for more than a few weeks? Damian idolizes Bruce, and, more than anything, he wants to be Bruce. From what we know about Damian, does anyone honestly think he would wait for Bruce to retire in order to assume the mantle? The very straightfaced way Damian plays the role compared to cries of “Bat-kid!” is perfect, and his treatment of the people he saves reinforces that he is doing this more to prove his worth to his father than because he is completely invested in doing good. While it is always weird to see one writer’s pet character written by others, even though that’s the nature of cape comics, Tomasi has proven himself to be one of the better writers to tackle this character who is all-too-easy to portray as one-dimensional.
The true star of the issue, despite not being the focus, is Alfred, whom Tomasi scripts brilliantly. Like, good enough that I would buy an Alfred ongoing written by Tomasi. Make it happen, DC.
Ardian Syaf has many strong qualities. His linework may be thick and heavy in parts, but it is rarely at the expense of readability. Apart from a couple of spots in the two page spread of Damian spreading terror in the hearts of criminals accross Gotham, this issue is easy on the eyes on an individual panel basis. When you expand your view to the layouts of panels and pages, the same can be said. Whil Syaf’s page may not have the same effortless flow as some of the industry’s top names, he still safely carries the reader from point A to point B without a hitch, and is able to pull of dynamic action scenes as they are called for. Stylistically, he’s a fine choice — his bold, action-packed art is great for superheroics, and particularly suits Gotham. But that’s just the thing: he doesn’t stick out. Syaf, while a talented artist, is also a prime example of the current DC house style. While he may technically stand out from some of the lesser artists in DC’s stable, he stylistically blends in as just another DC artist. It’s a shame, because, I repeat, he is quite talented, but sometimes it requires a bit more than ability to be truly memorable.
I haven’t been reading “Batman & Robin” since the New 52 began, and while this issue was not bad, it has not convinced me to change my ways — and I doubt it will convert anyone else, either. It’s an issue that attempts to bring more character to the Bat-family’s core, and while the plot is somewhat contrived and unclear — what exactly is Damian’s point? — it still allows for a fun diversion. Those folks who go to the comic shop particularly for Batman comics shouldn’t be disappointed with this one, but I can’t help but feel there are better choices on the shelf for a better price.Continued below
Final Verdict: 6.5 – It might be worth picking up if you’re a big Batman fan.