Batman and Robin Vol. 6: The Hunt for Robin gets back to the title's recent roots in stories that pair Batman with Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and ultimately the entire post-Forever Evil Justice League. The book is both appropriately cosmic and also surprisingly ground-level, unexpectedly moving forward the saga of the entire Bat-family in a way I would have thought reserved for Scott Snyder's flagship Batman title. Batman may have Endgame, but Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason offer a Batman and Robin that's as important to the Batman line as it's ever been.
[Review contains spoilers]
I can't place the story exactly, but the conflict between Batman and the Justice League in Hunt for Robin feels very familiar, in a good way. There's a long tradition, of which JLA: Tower of Babel is among the best-known example, of Batman versus the Justice League stories. Of course there's also Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman versus the Justice League stories, but Batman's have that extra panache because he is, after all, just a "normal man," and yet he's always able to take down his fellow demigods. Tomasi plays this just right, with some of the League's newest members, like Shazam, attacking Batman overeagerly, but with the long-time Leaguers like Wonder Woman and Aquaman recognizing that even at odds with Batman, he's still their teammate. In this way the major fight here is never absurd or comical, but rather controlled in a manner that befits one of the Batman titles.
There's an iota of bad timing in DC Comics releasing Hunt for Robin a week or so before Justice League Vol. 6: Injustice League; you can reasonably (but not entirely) expect weekly comics to be published in continuity order, but not trades (Deathstroke and New Suicide Squad had a similar problem). As such, I was disconcerted, for instance, to hear Leaguer Lex Luthor call Batman "Wayne," but I imagine all will become clearer with time.
A latter issue here still involves the Justice League but is basically a Batman/Lex Luthor team-up, which is always an interesting pairing, both being billionaires and both being self-made "heroes." I liked that Luthor gave Batman a pass based on their similarities, though I didn't know what to read into Luthor sympathizing with Batman over the loss of his son, Damian. Unless Luthor is referring to Bizarro, which might be taking it a bit far, I couldn't tell if Luthor's sympathies came from personal experience, or if Luthor might be up to something (Lex Luthor as a good guy in general doesn't sit right with me, but that's a conversation for the Justice League review).
But though the Justice League takes the book's spotlight, the most notable aspect of Hunt for Robin is the almost-issue-long conversation Batman has with Batgirl, Red Robin, and Red Hood. We all knew post-Death of the Family reconciliation would come at some point, but I expected it in Snyder's Endgame, not mid-way through Tomasi's Batman and Robin finale (and I wonder if Endgame will reference Hunt or if it'll have a second proprietary reconciliation).
I find the "Batman lies to and uses his allies" trope tired, if for no other reason than it's been used so many times and also Batman's promised to change his ways so many time, so I liked very much Batman's promise of truthfulness from here on out. Of course, no sooner does the Bat-family leave than the not-dead Dick Grayson comes swinging down from the rafters, only to prove that even when Batman's claiming to be honest, he's still lying. (I do wish the "playing dead" idea had been Dick's and not Batman forcing him into it, such to make Batman a slightly less hideous person. Also, much as I like the Grayson title, the rest of the DC Universe creators' difficulty with integrating Dick's fate into their titles is wholly apparent here when the scene with the Bat-family, together again in reconciliation, makes absolutely no mention of the "departed" Dick Grayson whatsoever, and then Dick just lands in the Batcave with no acknowledgment that he just saw his beloved family that thinks him dead walk out the door.) Tomasi is masterful in his Bat-family interactions and I'd love to see him get a chance to one day write Batman coming clean when Tomasi can make Batman actually mean it.
Batman versus Darkseid in the next volume should be interesting, again because of man versus god, but also because of the shared history these two characters do -- or don't -- have. It's nice that the Robin Rises: Omega one-shot, which takes place in the middle here, brings in Andy Kubert, who drew Damian Wayne's debut some ten years ago with Grant Morrison, but also the issue includes a sequence that summarizes the past ten years of Batman and Robin history. Among that is a specific imagery of Batman's Return of Bruce Wayne time-traveling adventure, and also a panel of Batman getting hit by Omega beams, though this is never directly attributed to Darkseid. Further, there's an extended conversation about Darkseid in a subsequent chapter that suggests that the League has rarely, if ever, met Darkseid since Justice League Vol. 1: Origin, something that doesn't quite mesh with the existence, or not, of Final Crisis. Tomasi's "Robin Rises" storyline is the actual culmination of Morrison's years of Bat-stories, not Batman, Incorporated, and while I'm not eager for Tomasi's tenure to run out either, the whole thing poses a New 52 continuity mess that it's probably better we finally get past.
While DC Comics is playing around with new titles in different genres, might I humbly suggest giving Peter Tomasi another title besides Superman/Wonder Woman, namely Frankenstein with Doug Mahnke? Aside from the entire Justice League, aside from Lex Luthor, aside from Ra's al Ghul and the forces of Apokolips and the Bat-family living and "dead," another great part of this book is an issue that repairs the Batman/Frankenstein relationship (equally acceptable would be a Frankenstein/Batman buddy comedy).
That Tomasi can travel Batman effortlessly through these interactions with these various characters in Batman and Robin Vol. 6: The Hunt for Robin and have it all feel natural and convincingly Batman-esque reflects, once again, Tomasi's mastery of these characters. It will be strange not to have Tomasi with Patrick Gleason on Batman (just as it was strange, once upon a time, to no longer have Tomasi and Gleason on Green Lantern Corps), though Tomasi and Mahnke's upcoming run on Superman/Wonder Woman has a lot of appeal. Frankenstein cameo, maybe?
[Includes original and variant covers, sketches, issue script]