After a night of venting his frustration on the criminals in Gotham City, Bruce returns to the cave to find a letter that Damian wrote, declaring his intention to help Batman fight against Leviathan and stating his love and pride for being Bruce’s son.
The best issues say the most with the least amount of dialogue. So it’s with Batman and Robin #18 that the entire story has nary a word or sound effect lettered into the page, leaving with the reader the sense of grief and loss that Bruce feels throughout. This is an extremely powerful issue, possibly the most emotional Batman story done in decades.
Enormous credit goes to Peter Tomasi for establishing Bruce’s thought process and grief at the loss of Damian in a way that feels fresh, honest and genuine. This type of situation has been done a few times before, most famously when the Joker killed Jason Todd. What sets this issue apart from most anything else that I’ve read however is the attention spent on Bruce’s thought process. It’s tricky for one because technically the Leviathan story is not over. We don’t know what happens to Talia or how Bruce immediately responds to seeing his only son die. None of that matters in this issue. Damian’s gone, and Bruce is in a world of hurt.
The thing that makes this loss more palpable than Jason’s or Stephanie’s or anyone else is that in this book Damian’s development as Bruce’s partner and a member of the Bat-Family was always front and center. The character himself was an on-going story, one that readers had been following for the past three and a half years. To compare to Jason Todd again, he had development as well but it was nowhere near as focused as Damian’s was. On The Batman Universe Comic Cast, we discussed during the first year of New 52 Batman and Robin issues how the title went back and forth of Bruce and Damian’s relationship. Seeing how it ended up and the kind of person Damian was by the end of his tenure, it puts so much into perspective, especially considering that Tomasi knew of Damian’s doom when the title first re-launched.
It all comes together for an extremely powerful issue of Batman wallowing in sorrow. The first page shows the fire in his eyes (literally) as he attempts to deal with his new situation. Throughout the issue, Batman calmly goes through the motions, only being overtaken by moments of anger in intermittent scenes. Tomasi establishes that the loss of Damian hurts Bruce not simply because they were partners, or that Damian was his son. It’s the development that Damian underwent in the short amount of time he was living with Bruce and before him Dick that eats away at Batman’s heart. Damian had the worst upbringing of any Robin and was the youngest and thereby most vulnerable of the Bat-Family. Despite this, he matured on his own and decided to follow his own destiny up to the very end. It’s a growth that outdoes Dick and Jason’s to be quite frank. Batman’s rage and grief is over the loss of potential that Damian’s development promised, and the unfairness that his death eschews any sort of nobility at the end of the day. It has nothing to do with the life of the Robins or Batman, or Damian’s heritage in being both a Wayne and an al Ghul. It has to do with cruel, random fate, both of Damian’s passing, and the fact that Bruce has been made to witness such promise in a ten year old boy firsthand only to have it taken away at a moment’s notice.
Gleason’s artwork is deserving of an Eisner with this issue. Never before has Batman’s emotions been so evocatively portrayed without the subterfuge of dialogue to spell it out. Mick Gray and John Kalisz’s inks and colors equally deserve praise, particularly the chiaroscuro that Wayne Manor presents with its reds and blacks in the opening scene.
This might be the best Batman issue in decades, considering the job it had to do and the level of effectiveness in how it exceeded expectations.
Batman and Robin #18:
Reviewed by Donovan Grant