Writer: Mark Waid
Artists: Mahmud Asrar & Scott Godlewski
Colour Artist: Jordi Bellaire
Letterer: Steve Wands
Review by Steven Lee Sharpe
Phew! How much can I talk about the events in Batman Vs Robin #4 without spoiling the issue?
Batman’s spent the previous three chapters learning a lot about what his son, Damian, has been up to, whilst also having a lot of what he thought he could rely on slowly peeled away from him.
In the last issue, the Dark Knight entered a crucible of sorts, having tracked Damian to Lazarus Island. He then found himself up against the past Robins. Each of the three previous issues has ended with Batman walking away, or fleeing, from something important to him and the journey’s been both a physical and emotional test.
Now it’s time to enter the lair of the beast.
The first part of the issue gives us what we’ve been promised from the start: Batman versus Robin.
Given the way writer Mark Waid has been working the theme of fathers and sons into the series, it’s difficult not to read the battle as something more than just a fight between two superheroes. Each punch or kick is spliced with Batman’s memories of bonding with Damian.
In the battles with each of the Robins, Waid’s shown how the connection between Bruce and Damian goes deeper than with the other Teen Wonders. It’s as if the stakes are higher and the personal responsibility’s greater. They share genes, they share fighting techniques, and Batman identifies the martial art moves either from their recognized names (Kakato Geri, Age Uke, etc.) or as “a Wildcat right hook”.
Batman also acknowledges that Damian has had more teachers than he has, “some unknown to me.” Thanks to his battle with the other Robins, he’s also in a weakened state. Will this be a case where the student grows beyond the teachings of their master and where the son inevitably steps out of the shadow of his father?
There’s a great panel, midway through the battle, that shows Damian looking focused in a warrior stance, wearing his version of the Batsuit. Meanwhile, Batman’s hunched, struggling, almost weighed down by his cape. In the background, Doctor Fate’s helmet sits between them almost hanging in the air, metaphorically watching them.
Then comes the twist in the plot that shows you why you should never underestimate Batman, and suddenly you’re reminded why it is that every single villain has done so to their peril. It’s a cute storytelling trick, but the revelation’s expertly handled.
Then events really kick off.
Once again, Waid asks a lot from his artists, and Mahmud Asrar and Scott Godlewski duly deliver. This is a writer who’s done his research, calling out martial arts moves that needed to be captured accurately without looking like they’ve simply been photo referenced. More importantly, as the plot starts to really speed up, the art manages to convey a lot of important moments without any diminished gravitas. Images that probably deserve a full page manage to be just as impactful in just one panel.
Of course, the issue benefits from being the launching point for DC’s new event Lazarus Planet which, along with the results of Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths, will provide a road map for the year ahead, under the Dawn of DC banner.
Even though there’s still one more issue to go in the series, the way the plot comes together in Batman Vs Robin #4 makes it feel like a final issue – albeit with a whopping big cliffhanger at the end of it. It certainly does enough to build anticipation for both Batman Vs Robin #5 and Lazarus Planet: Alpha #1.
Batman Vs Robin has felt like an important series, and this is the issue where it makes good on that promise. We get significant character moments, resolutions that can only lead to further developments, and (ALERT! ALERT!) the first look at a new character who’s bound to be a major player at some point in the year to come. All of this while not compromising on the theme of fathers and sons.
It’s a lot to pack in of course, but wouldn’t be great if all comics were this good?
Images Courtesy of DC Entertainment