By Gavin Rehfeldt. Batman goes to Hell. Must be a Wednesday.

Batman And Robin #34 takes a bit of processing. Everyone in Batman’s circle of friends is involved and at cross-purposes. While Batman is on his one-man crusade, it’s difficult for anyone to trust him. While he says he doesn’t want to keep secrets, he realizes that sometimes one has to withhold information to properly implement a strategy. This makes him a loner in a way we haven’t seen often in the New52.

Peter J. Tomasi is reaching for something special with his Robin Rises arc (I can’t decide if I want Damian back!), and he has made an issue that’s all set-up for his Big Mission into an exciting mission of its own. True, this is the standard Batman adventure-and-intrigue, but this has no major ambitions compared to what Grant Morrison accomplished during his run on Batman. Still, Tomasi continues to pick up the threads Morrison has left behind and does a great job of incorporating what has come before. He even draws from Scott Snyder’s Death Of The Family in demonstrating the tenuous trust between the Bat-family members. I’m dubious Tomasi can land this arc in the end, as Damian Wayne’s resurrection is difficult to earn (if it even gets there!), though it’s fun in the meantime.

Batman And Robin #34 is broken into two acts, with the first being a talky, contemplative rebuilding scene, and the second barreling towards Batman’s inevitable escape into the extra-dimensional planet of Apokolips. In both cases the constant remains: Batman always wins!

The pacing of the first act is lovely, with spacious art and nicely composed panel structures. Gathering in the Batcave, Batman delivers his remorseful yet inspiring St. Crispin’s Day speech to launch the cavalry into battle. While the team dines on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Batman briefs them on motherboxes, Parademons, Ra’s Al Ghul, and the Hellbat suit which will allow him a fighting chance on the Hell-scape of Apokolips. After making amends and establishing a new sense of transparency with Red Robin, Batgirl, and Red Hood, the moment becomes somewhat deflated: Batman disappoints his family by expressing that his mission is a solo one, and no one is allowed to enter Hell with him because he needs his people defending Gotham in his absence. (There is only one Hellbat suit after all!) Also barred from the suicide mission is PB&J-loving Freshman Spyral Agent Dick Grayson, who drops from the ceiling to have a one-on-one with the big guy. Having Bruce Wayne ask Dick to step in as Batman should he not return from recovering Damian’s body is a beautiful moment quickly disrupted by Batman’s sneaky plan to use Spyral to distract the Justice League.

And distract he does. The major players, the “fliers”, in the current Justice League are separately drawn out far away from the JL Watchtower. The moment is brief and elegantly communicated in five panels leading into an entertaining scene with new Justice League member, Lex Luthor, and on the Watchtower two legendary rich boys of the DCU confront each other. Lex Luthor, it turns out, wants to help Bruce in his mission to steal the Hellbat suit and abscond to Apokolips in order to retrieve his son. This scene is a small treasure and I hope we continue to see greater developments in the Luthor/Wayne dynamic, as it is currently one of my favorites in the League. They appear to have similar interests, but Luthor’s is skewed towards self-service in the guise of humanitarianism. (Of course.) The question remains: what exactly is it about Apokolips that interests Luthor, and how might his interest point toward the recently announced Darkseid War?

When I see Peter Tomasi’s words accompanied by Patrick Gleason’s art, I get caught in a trance. As a team their body of work on Batman And Robin represent the height of what the New52 has been able to accomplish. The stories are fairly standard, with characters moving around like chess pieces, but each issue is executed professionally and passionately. Gleason’s interiors continue to be top notch with expressively shaded lines and effective environments. Bruce’s face looks suitably worn in the early proceedings and the final page induces goose-bumps. (One exception is Batgirl whose face looks odd, with out of proportion features and a perpetual duck-face.) The coloring is rich, and it is especially effective with the glowing reds of the Hellbat suit. Tomasi’s character work is lovely and often humorous, with the Bat-family tensely gathering around to get their dad’s approval while also questioning his sanity. The kids try to get the higher ground on Bruce, but ultimately know he’s the keystone to their whole existence. Still, they try: Red Robin challenges Bruce during a small moment, pointing out how Damian’s death has pushed Bruce to such extremities that he ultimately dissected Frankenstein. (Issue #19! It happened!) The small moments with a diminished Justice League are fun, especially Shazam razzing Wonder Woman.

There is no way I am getting off this ride, though we have to wait through an interruption next month with a Futures End tie-in, featuring Damian Wayne’s murderer, the Heretic. Following that tangent, which I hope skillfully ties into the current events somehow, there better be a big price to pay for the potential reversing of the brilliantly earned death of the latest Robin! Might we see a resurrected Talia standing next to her father soon? If the complex family dynamics keep playing out the way they have been, I’m feeling optimistic we’ll see her during this event. (Perhaps in a HellTalia suit?) Her body’s disappearance is starting to draw attention to itself by the subtle references to the big battle in the Himalayas in Robin Rises Omega, and it seems Ra’s is still out there scheming. There is so much potential here for a classic Batman Family story with a solid mix of humor and pain, but we won’t know until we reach the end and the dust has settled. This is definitely one of those stories where the reputation will depend on the ending, which is tough for creators and readers alike. Still, fun!

Batman wants to bring his son back and is willing to go through Hell to do it. It’s beautifully epic and personal stuff worth sticking around for, but I’m concerned that what seems to be the editorially mandated resurrection of Damian might be rushed. The two-act events of this issue could have breathed better as two issues. Having said that, Tomasi is creative for compressing a dense sequence of interactions and conflict into an entertaining whole.

DC Comics/$2.99

Written by Peter J. Tomasi.

Art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray.

Colored by John Kalisz.

7 out of 10