By Gavin Rehfeldt. Batman descends upon Apokolips ready to kick Parademon butt and claim his fallen son and sidekick, Damian. The Robin Rises saga continues in Batman And Robin #35, and while it’s stepping up the saga’s momentum, the book doesn’t accomplish anything huge. (Seems we’ll have to wait a little longer for that.)
This issue focuses on Batman’s vicious quest, yet there is a flip side to the Dark Knight’s angry coin in the contemplative gathering of the Bat-family (Alfred, Babs, Tim, and Jason), who take action to assist Batman in his risky mission, and provide a welcome counter-balance to this month’s yarn. Everything is working, but this issue doesn’t take off quite like it should, although deceiving Cyborg and deepening Titus the Bat-dog’s involvement bring some inspiration to the proceedings. Plus, Damian’s corpse is still yet to be recovered, and time is ticking towards this mission’s failure.
Patrick Gleason’s art is the real star of Batman And Robin: glass shards and spittle are vibrantly juxtaposed against walls of flame, which is an impressive feat. Peter J. Tomasi is a fine plotter, but his dialogue is inconsistent. It’s rattling to read a tossed-away pop culture reference, such as Batgirl invoking Han Solo (of all things), and conversations appear to be far too casual for the dire situation they’re in. The immediacy and operatic grandeur of Batman arriving on Apokolips is attempted, but doesn’t fully take flight. The energy is not high enough at this stage, and this issue feels like it lives for what may come, not for what is currently happening. That being said, this is not schlock. We have a handsome, professional issue of Batman And Robin, with touching character moments and epic action working to diversify the Batman lore. Sending Batman to Apokolips is a rarity (last time it happened was in Justice League #5! – Ed.), and his Hellbat armor is impressive.
So, about that Cyborg deception, which is the real centerpiece of this issue: Babs, Tim, and Jason have decided to impose themselves upon Batman’s mission to Apokolips, despite his request to stay and protect Gotham City, but have no access to a boomtube or motherbox. Alfred pieces together a plan to reign in Cyborg’s internal motherbox to engineer a tube by which the team can travel to Darkseid’s world. The sweetness and trust between the group and Cyborg is deliciously exploited, ending in Cyborg being forcibly pulled into the adventure of a lifetime. (Or deathtime, depending on how you look at it.) Cyborg now has a stake in the action and can’t immediately trust his newly assigned “captors,” which is a big, dynamic shift, and should interest readers. Also interesting is the gesture towards giving Babs, Tim, and Jason new outfits to maneuver the Apokoliptian terrain which appear to be mecha-Robin suits. This should make for good visuals next issue.
What’s not terribly interesting is Batman running around punching Parademons to find Godfrey. It has to happen, but punchy/fighty doesn’t really cause change or present an engaging emotional arc for characters. Thankfully, the ending of the issue plays to the strengths of why the interested citizens of Apokolips desire the former Damian Wayne’s corpse in the first place. The split-screen payoff on the last page is worth the one-dimensional “arc” for Batman. Every issue should bring about some kind of change for Batman, but he, regrettably, stays in combat mode for the entire issue. We do get one small glimpse at how the Hellbat suit is effecting him physically, but the effects aren’t clear. The supporting cast brings color and life to the reading and that’s a setback for a long-range arc for such an important and affected character.
Still, this is professional work, and here readers can find a new love for Batwoman. The touring Bat-family names her the sole protector of Gotham in their absence, and in her brief appearance Tomasi’s take is succinct and loving. I would gladly read a Tomasi run on Batwoman, as he has the gravitas and the sly wit to pull her off (her parting quip is a stinger). Batwoman’s presence during this exploration of Bat-family relationships should deliver.
More than anything else, what’s fun about Robin Rises is the exploration of Batman and his family in the wake of the mistrust that brewed from Death Of The Family. An appreciation for Bruce and Damian’s relationship might be more desired at this stage (it is his life we’re fighting for, after all), but the small and subtle gestures of the family coming together bring touching character moments to Batman And Robin #35: Barbara plays with Alfred the cat, while Jason plays fetch with Ace. These small choices hit harder than Batman’s punches to Godfrey’s face.
(A shout out-must be made to Chris Burnham’s excellent Monsters Of The Month variant cover. The small details and fantastic execution is to be applauded. Take notice of the artifacts in the hands of Batman’s sarcophagi counterpart, and Damian has the classic Burt Ward fist-punch. So fun! I want a mummy Batman And Robin Elseworlds, stat!)
Bruce Wayne is a grieving father filled with vengeance and agency, but right now it’s coming across as one-dimensional. There is an opportunity to tell this hugely personal story in an unconventional manner, and that is not being innovated presently. Still, this remains an affecting issue of Batman And Robin, if not a spectacular one. It will all depend on how this saga ends, and if it ends unsatisfactorily, then each issue along the journey can be docked a number grade. I’m avoiding the urge to look ahead at solicitations for future issues, as I want to be surprised, but I hope we can get to the giant moments next issue when everyone is gathered in one place, ready to accomplish their goal. It’s lovely to give the Bat-family Robin logos to put on their suits, but what is the love that they share with Damian? It feels somewhat superficial at this stage with Damian appearing as purely a MacGuffin: we receive one glimpse of Damian’s face in this entire issue, which emphasizes the question, “where is Damian in all of this Damian saving?”
Written by Peter J. Tomasi.
Art by Patrick Gleason/Mick Gray.
Colored by John Kalisz
7 out of 10