Dick, the We Are Robin gang, and Batgirl team up to save Bruce, while Mother’s conspiracy threatens them all in unexpected places.
Picking up directly from the last panel of issue #3, Bruce Wayne is facing a crowd of ax-wielding assassins in the kitchen of his own party. A tux-clad Dick Grayson tackles him to stow safely in another while Dick fights off the attackers. Duke Thomas and the We Are Robin gang burst in to protect Bruce, followed by Batgirl (Barbara Gordon).
The fight ends abruptly, with the attackers apparently simply halting, and Dick, the Robins, and Barbara take stock. Barbara and the Robins escort Bruce home, still befuddled. Dick regains contact with Red Robin (Tim Drake) back at the Batcave, where Harper Row is following Cassandra Cain around the farther reaches of the cave. Tim and Dick discuss the attack, as Tim lost contact during the fight due to extremely surprisingly sophisticated computer techniques. They note that the people at the party who attacked Bruce were on the list – not as targets, but unwitting agents who can be activated. As Stephanie Brown (Spoiler) panics about Harper following an assassin, Dick follows the lead of the axes used in the attack to a home with Drake on the mailbox. Tim, Red Hood (Jason Todd), and Stephanie bicker about what to do with the disappeared Harper and Cassandra, but Tim receives a call, and answers it with the foreboding words, “Hello, Mother.”
This issue falls into roughly three plotlines. The first half mostly wraps up the attack on Bruce’s life at his party, colliding Dick with the We Are Robin kids and Batgirl in an amazing fight scene. Writer Steve Orlando and penciller Scot Eaton create some amazing fight choreography for Dick, utilizing wall-walking, thrown-ax catching, and inverted leg sweeps in a display that rises to the level of Dick and Cassandra’s fight in the first issue, and far outmatches the two previous issues’ fights. Dick, Duke, and Babs each get hero moments that perfectly match their characters, and Barbara again appears much more mature and intelligent than in her own title (as does Dick). The added numbers are useful, as the last panel of issue #3 indicates a minimum of 19 attackers, an impressive fight. Orlando also throws in really fun references to classic action films such as Zatoichi, a blind swordsman, in Duke’s shouted order for the Robins to guard their eyes against Babs’ handheld flashbang.
What’s not quite as impressive is the ending of the fight and its aftermath. The attackers apparently come to their senses, possibly indicated that Mother’s programming or brainwashing only lasts for a few minutes, but without any direct reason given or commented upon by the characters. The aftermath also disappoints, as Cassandra and Harper’s plot from the last issue hits exactly the same beat as last issue – Cassandra slips away, Harper follows. The added element of Stephanie’s panic and distrust of Cassandra is a bit jarring since Steph didn’t comment at all on Cassandra last issue, and indeed was shown holding Cassandra after Dick stopped Jason from hurting her. It also leads to an annoying conflict between Stephanie, Tim, and Jason, with Stephanie apparently forgetting all of Eiko’s training over in the Catwoman title, Tim continuing to be cartoonishly condescending, and Stephanie making a very ill-judged comment about Cassandra’s worth.
The artwork, however, raises the issue significantly above the last issue. While Paul Pelletier’s style was appealing and competent, it showed signs of haste. Scot Eaton’s style is a sharp, clean break from Pelletier’s more rounded lines, and Gabe Eltaeb’s bright, careful colors throw the action and characters into beautiful relief. Eltaeb’s lighting is on clear display in the panel where a line of light from a cracked door shines on Bruce’s confused face:
It’s nice to see a set art pattern develop – while each illustrator has rendered the Batcave differently in this series (with the infirmary apparently now being in a different section of the cave, even though it appeared to be in the same section as the Batcomputer last issue), there’s the expected second page splash, with a pair of characters (flashback Batman and Robin in issue #1, Cassandra and the Orphan in issue #2, Cassandra and Jason in issue #3, and Dick and Bruce in this issue) flying through the air in the top spread, underlined by the issue title, credits, and clarifying panels below.
The connections to other titles are starting to feel a bit excessive for a standalone event title – references to Batgirl, Grayson, and We Are Robin feel unnecessary, as well as throwing some confusion onto the chronology of this series. The events of this first month of issues have covered less than 24 hours (as far as I can tell, it’s still the night that Dick met up with Red Hood and Red Robin to chase the cyclist). The lack of chronological momentum has the Cassandra/Harper plot moving excruciatingly slowly to keep pace with the fight scenes, bringing to mind the forgettable Batwing/Corrigan/Arkham haunting plot from the first Eternal. Here’s hoping that plotline gets more focus and traction soon.
Which brings us to the question of plot. After a month of issues (plus 8-page preview), we have some ideas of the two major mysteries this series is following: Mother, and Batman’s secret. For the former, we have questions about who she is, what she is planning, and how can the Batfamily stop it. Her agents, Orphan (who might possibly be the boy from Cairo in the first issue), Poppy, and Cassandra all have mysterious backstories and agendas. For the latter thread, we have the flashbacks (which were mysteriously absent this issue), with the shooting in Cairo, the hunt for Scarecrow that will eventually lead to Prague, and Batman’s meeting with Cassandra. The solicitations and interviews about future issues also lead to the question of how characters like Damian Wayne and Bane will fit into the plot, and what Harper and Cassandra’s ultimate places in the Batfamily will be.
This issue gave us a tiny bit of information on Mother’s abilities – to create sleeper agents who can be activated by a phone call and are unaware of their programming – but no information on her goals or identity. Since there were no flashbacks this issue, the question of Batman’s secret didn’t advance at all. Leave comments below on what plotlines you find most interesting, or your theories about how some of these questions will be answered!
A brilliant kitchen fight setpiece, a glacially slow B-plot with Cassandra Cain, and a few unnecessarily sour and confusing character notes. 4 out of 5 for the action, 3 out of 5 for the characterization, leading to an overall rating of…