As compared to the Superman One Year Later trade released about the same time, Batman: Face the Face feels like more of a continuation than a starting over. Batman here, returning to Gotham City after a year-long absence, is still making up for his past sins, and it adds a sense of continuity to the character, instead of forcing readers to accept an unnecessary reboot. The slate for Batman hasn't been wiped clean, and the most interesting thing may be watching Batman work toward redemption.
In Face the Face, Batman and Robin return to Gotham in time to foil an attack by Poison Ivy. Batman's old enemy Magpie is killed, along with the KGBeast and the Ventriloquest, with all evidence pointing to the recently recovered Harvey Dent, formerly Two-Face. With the help of Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and Jason Bard, Batman finds the mastermind behind the plot to frame Dent, but not before Dent scars himself again and returns to his life as Two-Face.
While the easy route might have been to let this trade start a "kinder, gentler" era for Batman, writer James Robinson instead portrays Batman's new outlook as a work in progress. Even though Batman appears perhaps over-nice to Robin and to Commissioner Jim Gordon, he still snubs a rookie police officer in the chapter issue. I took this as an indication that the new Batman was a softie, but no pushover; however, later Batman apologizes and explains himself to the officer. In another scene, Batman agrees to give formerly crooked cop Harvey Bullock a second chance. Both of these apologies show a Batman with faults, still liable to make emotional mistakes, but now willing to make up for them.
Of course, this new "make-nice" Batman may take some getting used to. Robinson offers a reminder in nearly every chapter as to what a strong team Batman and Robin have become after their year away, as if concerned when this story came out in monthly comics that the casual reader might have missed the beginning. What we end up with is a virtual Batman and Robin praise-fest, similar to the Clark Kent praise-fest in the Superman: Up, Up, and Away One Year Later trade. Though a bit overwhelming, it is nice to see the two characters getting along. They share a nice moment in the end that won't be surprising to readers who followed the Robin title before Infinite Crisis, but is an appropriate turning point in the characters' lives nonetheless.
Batman: Face the Face does a great job reintroducing Batman's villains, far better than Superman: Up, Up, and Away. For one thing, each of the villains used is integral to the plot. Robinson deftly gives each an interesting backstory, and seamlessly blends both classic and new Batman villains; the one-note villain Orca, for instance, has never been more fascinating. If there is one false spot, it's in Robinson's choice of the story's mastermind, a character more obscure than obscure. I'm not too keen on another Gotham ganglord a la Black Mask, though it also remains to be seen whether the Batman writers following Robinson even use the character again.
Perhaps because the Dark Knight hasn't just had a big-screen adventure where he "returns" from a long absense, the One Year Later trade Batman: Face the Face feels less cinematic than did the first Superman One Year Later trade; instead, it reads like a solid Batman comic book. Face the Face portends well for Batman in the new One Year Later era, offering a fresh take on the Dark Knight while classic elements remain intact.