Comic Book Resources interview correctly, it would seem like writer Peter Tomasi knew about the impending death of Robin Damian Wayne at least since the beginning of the New 52, which is rather what I hoped was the case. For Tomasi to have known about Damian's death for a while is to suggest that plans for the Batman and Robin book didn't drastically change, and so the stories readers have enjoyed so far are thematically tied to what comes next without any backstage rearranging.
Tomasi is one of my favorite DC writers and the stories in Batman and Robin Vol. 4: Requiem for Damian are generally enjoyable. But even given Tomasi's knowledge of Damian's fate, his depiction of Batman's emotional arc didn't feel quite earned to me. To an extent, I felt Tomasi took the path of least resistance here, turning Batman almost instantaneously into a hulking rage monster, a story I think we've seen already a number of times before. Put another way, Tomasi wrote exactly the story I might have expected for Batman-in-mourning, and I was disappointed that I wasn't more surprised.
[Review contains spoilers]
The basic difficulty with this story is that Tomasi resurrects "jerk Batman." I rather ardently believe that "jerk Batman" wasn't always Batman's default personality, but rather that "jerk Batman" is an invention of the 1990s "angst" trend and that couldn't quite be shaken going into the 2000s. I had thought we left "jerk Batman" behind after Infinite Crisis (see my "kinder, gentler Batman" theory), but that didn't last very long, and "jerk Batman" is back now.
I grant the character has just lost his son and we expect Batman to be emotionally devastated. But when we posit that Batman is the world's greatest detective, someone who ought understand others' emotional responses even to a preternatural level, it does not make sense to me that the same person should be so emotionally stunted that he reacts to the death of his son by pushing all of his other family away. This irrationally emotional stuntedness is the essence of "jerk Batman," and Requiem for Damian is essentially a "jerk Batman" collection -- in somewhat repetitive chapters, he pushes Red Robin away, and then he pushes Red Hood away, and then he pushes Batgirl away.
That's not even to mention that in the first chapter following Tomasi's silent issue, Batman kidnaps and disassembles Frankenstein. First, this shows no regard for Frankenstein's "life," which we might expect Batman to respect; second, for Batman to be trying to resurrect his son (into the bodies of corpses Batman has stolen) smacks enough of the evils of Ra's al Ghul that one would reasonably expect Batman would know better.
I'm reminded of the first issues of Geoff Johns's Superman: New Krypton storyline, where Superman mourned his father killed by Braniac even as he had to deal with the returned Kandorians. Superman did not fly into a rage at his friends and family, he did not embark on a mad plot to bring his father back, he simply went about his heroic activities. Yes, Pa Kent's death influenced Superman in the storyline and factored into the book, but it was nothing so unsubtle as Superman crashing through every wall he could find. The take-away was that Superman was in mourning, but Superman is a hero, and heroes do what they have to do; here, I think Tomasi focuses too much on the "dark" and not enough on the "knight."
Even as I might disagree with Tomasi's portrayal of Batman, however, it's undeniable that the new "Batman and ..." focus of this title (for however long it lasts) is a lot of fun. Solely the fact that Tomasi constructs a Batman/Frankenstein story is worth the price of admission, and given that we really haven't see all that many New 52 Bat-family team ups, having individual issues with Batman and Red Robin, Red Hood, Batgirl, Catwoman, and Nightwing are all interesting reads. And I know the best is yet to come, including Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and more Frankenstein.
I'm also always impressed, as a continuity wonk, at how much heavy lifting Tomasi does in terms of utilizing other stories. Batman and Robin Vol. 3 referenced a gamut of stories from Killing Joke to Grant Morrison's Batman books; here, Tomasi gives a nod to the Death of Superman, Death in the Family, Final Crisis, and specific current events in the Red Hood, Nightwing, Batgirl, Catwoman, and Justice League of America titles. It gives a nice sense that this book, as opposed to the Wonder Woman title for instance, does not exist in a bubble and that what happens in other titles matters to this one and vice versa. (Even if, again, Tomasi's acknowledgment that Batman has been through all of this before with the death of Jason Todd makes Batman's reactions this time around all the more over-the-top.)
And lest you think I'm terribly hard-hearted, Tomasi did succeed in a couple of scenes that made tangible the characters' feelings of loss. I wasn't quite so moved as some by the silent issue, which functioned well but maybe I'd heard too much about how moving it was to be actually affected. When Batman has to play back all the recordings he has of Damian's voice such to cobble together a faux voicemail for Damian's friend Carrie Kelly, that was wrenching (and while I understand the reasons for Batman needing to fake Damian's existence, I'm curious to see at what point Carrie discerns the truth). Also the final pages, where Batman comes to understand that Alfred blames himself for Damian's death just as much as Batman does, got to me, though I did wish Tomasi had given the moment a bit more room to breathe.
Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason (who's missed on the pages he doesn't draw in this volume) are one of my favorite current DC creative teams, and this has kept me looking forward to this title even though Batman and Robin Vol. 4: Requiem for Damian isn't the first time I didn't buy Tomasi's characterization of the Dark Knight. My own hope is that Tomasi is ultimately moving Batman toward acceptance of Damian's death (or, at least, some recognition of the value of his own family) prior to whatever comic book resurrections may be on the horizon. Where Tomasi takes Batman to will go a long way toward my final estimation of where Tomasi started Batman in this book.