Review: Robin, Son of Batman Vol. 1: Year of Blood hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Given that since his inception Damian Wayne has been perpetually ten years old, it's sometimes hard to remember the character has been around at least ten years now. But by Tim Drake's tenth anniversary, the third Robin had already starred in more than fifty issues of his own solo comic; in comparison, Damian is still rather young in the process.

While I enjoyed Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Batman and Robin series, I have expressed that I did not think the arc of Damian's death and resurrection fully demonstrated Damian's growth as a character (an opinion, I know, not shared by all); however, I did find that the first volume of Gleason's Damian series (really, ultimately, a twelve-issue "maxiseries"), Robin, Son of Batman Vol. 1: Year of Blood, delivers on the concept of a "new" Damian Wayne. This, combined with some bold examination of what came before, makes Gleason's series feel authentically like the beginning of the second chapter in the Damian Wayne story.

[Review contains spoilers]

Patrick Gleason has been side by side with Peter Tomasi on some of my favorite comics of the last ten years, but I think it was valid to wonder how he would be as the solo writer/artist on a Damian book. The answer is that, at least without dedicated study, I couldn't really discern any difference in voice for Damian between Gleason and what Tomasi had done before (it helps perhaps that Damian has softened a mite in this story). If anything, Gleason gets a bit wordy at times with his dialogue (and has a strange habit of having Damian repeatedly call Maya "Nobody" Ducard "chica"), but not distractingly or unhappily so. The trademark Tomasi/Gleason emotional moments, often wholly sans dialogue, are still present here.

Gleason builds Year of Blood as something of an oddball buddy cop story, pairing Damian with Maya, who originally wants vengeance on Damian for the murder of her father in Batman and Robin Vol. 1: Born to Kill. Once the two team-up, Gleason punctuates Damian's lofty, often Shakespearean dialogue with Maya's slang, and it brings a refreshing normalcy to the proceedings. When Damian's teamed with Batman, everything occurs very loftily -- Damian is equally invested in the threats Batman is facing, etc. -- but here the audience gets some distance and outsider perspective that contributes charm to the story, and makes Damian's character more approachable as a result. Clearly teaming Damian with a character his own age works, suggesting good things for Tomasi's Super-Sons title.

It does bear mentioning that Year of Blood only really gets moving in its final two (of six) chapters. Up to that point mainly sees Damian atoning for his past sins during a Ra's al Ghul-inspired "Year of Blood" by returning artifacts that he stole, usually along with a run-in with the original owners. This plus Damian meeting and joining up with Maya occupies most of the first issues. There is a sense Gleason's brilliant, often madcap artistry is leading the story rather than the plot itself; that's especially true of the fourth chapter where Deathstroke is conveniently able to track Damian and Maya to a secret, hidden, underground Egyptian tomb mainly just for the purpose of a Deathstroke fight scene.

But those last two issues are razor-sharp, once Gleason brings Damian's resurrected mother Talia into play. I could take or leave Gleason's vague Lu'un Darga villain here, but Damian's angry interplay with his mother crackles, and especially when Damian's "brother" clones from Batman and Robin Vol. 6: The Hunt for Robin give their lives for him. Gleason cuts to the absolute heart of it in the book's epilogue, when Damian asks Talia, finally and simply, "Why did you kill me, mother?" The reply Gleason provides Talia is controversial in the extreme, as Talia tells Damian she lost herself "in the vision of another." Whether that implicates Ra's al Ghul or Grant Morrison is uncertain, but the fact that these characters are finally talking about this three years after the fact is can't-miss.

Throughout the book, but also especially in the epilogue, Damian's character growth is apparent. In increasingly startling scenes, we see the death of one of Damian's servants and his part in the maiming of another, but then we're reminded of the character's youth when he breaks down after killing the family of the bat-beast Goliath; here I think is our first hint that Damian never fully accepted the al Ghuls' indoctrination and perhaps recognized it as abuse. Coming full circle from the start of the New 52, in the epilogue Damian acknowledges the weight of killing Maya's father in Born to Kill (and perhaps why Batman prohibits killing at all): "When I took his life, I took away any possibility he had to turn his life around -- You will never forget what I did to you." These are rather astounding sentiments coming from Damian, and again suggest the closing of an arc that I don't think was satisfactorily wrapped up in Batman and Robin.

Following Robin, Son of Batman Vol. 1: Year of Blood, Patrick Gleason loses Damian, of sorts; Gleason will co-write him a little in Superman and then Peter Tomasi will write him in Super-Sons, and I suspect that means Gleason is in the wings though perhaps not wholly so. The writer with the real onus to keep on what Gleason has established here is Green Arrow's Benjamin Percy on the Rebirth Teen Titans, having Damian most assuredly be hard on his team but also alluding to the magnanimity that's become part of him now. That'd be the best way to recognize the growth in Gleason's title as real and relevant.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketches, unused cover sketch, cover and page pencils]
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  1. I really liked this book and I was saddened to learn that Patrick Gleason didn't write the last 4 issues of the series.

  2. I think Ray Fawkes did a brilliant job finishing out the series. But then, I also think Tomasi and Gleason finished out Batman and Robin brilliantly. I think their work shown brightest in the death and resurrection arc, one of the strongest culminations of any creative run I've followed. It was the first time they got to drive the story, and they absolutely ran with it. To my mind, it's exactly why DC gave them Superman.

    1. I was concerned when PeterB said someone else finished the series, and then unsure when I read that it was Fawkes; I liked his Constantine but other stuff has been hit or miss. I know Tony's a fan of these few Damian Wayne series, so if he calls it "brilliant" then I'm more optimistic.

    2. I haven't read the second book yet (I'm waiting for the TPB next month). So hopefully it's as good as Tony says. :)

  3. CE, are you going to do the april 2017 trade solicitations like you usually do every month?

    1. Tomorrow, actually; thanks for asking. The lateness of the solicitations this month messed with my schedule a little bit.

  4. While Batman and Robin was one of my absolute favourite of the New 52 I did find the ending rather abrupt, this book feels in my mind a more fitting resolution and along with B&R has cemented Damian Wayne as one of my favourite characters in the DC universe, pretty amazing since I actually hated him in his introduction in Batman and Son.

  5. Gleason did a fantastic job progressing the character here. Coming off a resurrection, there was a severe risk of Damian becoming stale with no direction, but Gleason builds a character arc that just makes perfect logical sense.