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Review: Batman and Robin #38

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Standing in front of a bright, solid yellow background and boldly ripping apart a nice suit that he never actually wears to reveal his costume, Damian Wayne makes a statement on the excellent front cover of Batman and Robin #38. Yes, resistant to Marvel’s new strategy of relaunching a book at #1 whenever a big status quo change happens, DC Comics put out the 38th issue of Batman and Robin this week, kicking off the new, super-powered Robin. There are some really interesting character moments for Damian, along with some downright awesome visual storytelling. However, some of the characterization comes across as odd, and the transition from Damian coming back to life to donning the costume again feels rushed and overly familiar. It’s a compelling yet flawed comic that reveals the strengths and weakness of the creative team of Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason.

The first comic with Damian in it after the few that contained the moments after his resurrection, Batman and Robin #38 jumps right into a routine that feels awfully familiar. The duo hit the streets to patrol, Robin oversteps his boundaries, Batman gets mad, they argue. It’s the same spiel seen in early chapters of the Bruce/Damian saga, Damian’s use of superpowers merely a superficial addition to his insubordination. This coming off as unoriginal is one thing, but what’s worse is that it’s jarring. Damian died and is aware that his father went head-to-head with Darkseid, a villain threatening to the entire Justice League let alone the mortal Batman, and still acts just as hard-headed as before. It was a powerful, emotionally-resonate moment whenever the two hugged after the resurrection, but this comic cheapens that moment by giving it little to no lasting weight, at least so far.

The comic gets much more interesting whenever Damian finds himself having nightmares about his mother, who he discovered died just moments after he did, and father. This disturbing sequence brings up memories of the nightmare sequence in #17 that tied into the “Death of the Family” arc in Batman, delivering a fascinating jump into the psychology of Damian while giving Gleason an excuse to unleash some surreal and creepy visuals. After this dream sequence, Damian rockets off around the globe, eventually finding himself in Atlantis having a conversation with Aquaman about the clones of himself. All of this is lovely to read, exploring a pretty twisted, familial relationship Damian found himself pushed into after his revival.

These two plot threads take up the majority of the issue, which is good, because they’re much better than the rest. These beats feel like a satisfying result of the resurrection rather than a dull and weird return to form. Still, these parts use Damian’s superpowers merely as a tool to progress a story that doesn’t require them in the first place. The biggest and boldest aspect of the new status quo is Damian’s superpowers, but commentary on how this affects the DC Universe at large and even just Damian’s psychology are nowhere to be found in any substantial form. There’s more to the resurrection than the powers, sure, and this comic does capitalize on those nicely.

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The art never stops being absolutely gorgeous throughout, too. Gleason is one of the best artists working for the big two, a notion that isn’t said often enough. He pulls off explosive action as well as gross imagery wonderfully, but he can do subtle character stuff alongside the more attention-grabbing work just as well. The most remarkable thing about Gleason is found in anything he draws, regardless of tone, and that’s his ability to use sequential art to tell a story without the need for any words on the panel. Whenever Damian bursts into Raz Al Guhl’s lab to look for his clones, there’s very little dialogue or narration, but the illustrations translate his frustration, anger and confusion perfectly. So too does the scene focused on his actual interactions with the clones get across the quiet expression of love and bonding with little help from words.

There’s a lot to love in Batman and Robin #38 despite some blatant problems with the transition to what should be a really fresh-feeling status quo. Great moments here work with intriguing plot threads introduced in the “Robin Rises” arc as well as in the last couple issues of Batman Inc., but his superpowers are barely explored in any meaningful way and much of the beginning of the comic comes off as stale. The only part of this comic that comes out of the fray unscathed without any caveat is Gleason’s stupendous art.

Story: Peter J. Tomasi Art: Patrick Gleason
Story: 7.0 Art: 9.5 Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Buy

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