BMROB-Cv38-ds-35a08By Jarrod JonesEverything that made Batman and Robin great disappeared on February 27, 2013. When Damian Wayne fell under the blade of the Heretic back in Batman, Incorporated #8, the father-and-son dynamic was stolen from Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s indelible Batman and Robin. The joy of the book had then given way to grief.

What remained were even darker times for Bruce Wayne, whose sorrow was so severe (buy Batman and Robin #18), that the only way to salvage his sanity was to go on a quest to rescue his fallen son. That journey took Batman down some strange roads (at one point, the Caped Crusader kidnapped and, er… dissected Frankenstein in the hopes of learning how to resurrect the dead), ultimately leading the hero towards a one-man, all-out assault on Apokolips to take his child’s remains from the evil lord Darkseid. (It’s, um… it’s a long story.)

It’s hard to believe that a full year has scarcely passed between now and the day that Grant Morrison decided to kill off the one character who might have been his greatest gift to the Batman mythos, but it passed us by with a spectacular urgency: Peter J. Tomasi forced Batman through the emotional wringer in a manner so compelling that the writer has made this year arguably the most important of Batman and Robin‘s 38-issue run. And while Damian Wayne had to sit out for the majority of it, his triumphant return in last month’s Robin Rises: Alpha #1 has proven that Damian didn’t just rise from the dead. He’s come home, bringing something with him that may change the way Bruce Wayne looks at his son forever.

The energy that made Batman and Robin such an enjoyable book is back in issue #38, with Damian hale, hearty, and raring to throw himself back into the crime-busting business. From page one, it’s apparent that Tomasi’s signature poignancy has also returned, potent as ever: the opening splash page features an anxious Damian in full Robin regalia, crouching upon the headboard of a slumbering Bruce Wayne, tsking downward towards a Batman who would sleep away an evening’s crusade of smashing evil (even though it’s very likely that the clock has hardly reached 10:00pm).

BMROB-38-2-49d02He reaches to peel back the eyelids of his father like it’s Christmas morning, goading his old man to finally wake up and meet the criminal hordes that await them. With one word from Bruce (“… CAVE…”), Damian and Titus – the family Bat-Dog – are off, with such an absurd amount of enthusiasm painted on their faces that it would make even the most jaded comics reader sigh with content.

It’s a small, subtle flourish, but that one moment means the whole world to a family that is too often met with tragedy and fear. When we think about the lives of Batman and Robin, we reflect on the catastrophes they’ve defeated (or more frequently: their defeat in the face of catastrophe). With Batman and Robin #38, we fondly remember one more tiny, happy moment for two men who have sworn to protect Gotham City with their lives. If it’s not already obvious that Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have left their own enduring legacy on the legend of the Batman, let this one moment rightfully knock sense into those who would doubt it.

Damian Wayne is back, and it’s almost as if he never left: he dives into bullet-ridden skirmishes with the same amount of bravado he had when he was on the Leviathan beat alongside Dick Grayson, with a gigantic, cocky grin plastered across his cherubic face. Only this time, that enthusiasm is given far more credence than would be awarded to a decade of training by the League of Assassins. This time, Damian Wayne has powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. He can leap tall buildings in a single bound. He can bend steel in his bare hands. He can… ah, you get it. And that bravado entails that same level of aristocratic smugness Damian has always been guilty of, where the boy could never fathom why his father wouldn’t allow him the freedom his powers demand. (Bruce Wayne may be the Dark Knight, but he’s still a dad: “… fair doesn’t start until you’re twenty-one.”)

BMROB-38-4-b2a5cGrounding Damian from nightly patrols leaves the boy alone with his thoughts, and when they’re mixed with an unsurprising inability to sleep (a home-schooled vigilante can’t possibly knock out around midnight), Damian has vivid nightmares of his mother, his grandfather, and those who would be his brothers (all frighteningly rendered by Gleason and inker Mick Gray). He dreams of his family – or rather, the al Ghul empire – and it creates such a disquiet within Damian that Tomasi finally allows Robin to fly the coop into a starry night for some personal reflection. It all culminates with a deep-sea visit to Atlantis, where Aquaman provides our Boy Wonder something that may bring him peace.

What Damian does with this gift is moving enough, but what’s so disquieting about Superpower, Part One is what Damian might do once he’s home. The years spent on Tomasi and Gleason’s Batman and Robin have shown us a Robin that will only obey his father when he feels he should, but is only ready to disobey orders when he feels he must. Damian is a kid who’s still willing to do what is right, even if it is on his own terms, but with a newfound lease on life – coupled with powers that would make Superman blush – those terms may have to finally be met by his demanding superhero father. Batman and Robin is as strong as it has ever been. And it seems that Tomasi and Gleason aren’t near finished with the Dynamic Duo. Not by a long shot.

DC Comics/$2.99

Written by Peter J. Tomasi.

Art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray.

Colored by John Kalisz.

9 out of 10