I detect a pattern here. In having looked at three of the Bat-family’s character books in the last week or so, and having observed that each of them bear the subtitle of Death of the Family, it would seem that DC’s directive to cash in on the immense popularity of the Batman brand has reached we budgeteers of the trade paperback-reading variety. Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the Family contains the book’s first annual, the two-issue story explaining how Robin ended up “at the table,” Batman #17, and an epilogue chapter that really only sort of relates to story at large. This trade back is a lean volume, and while the Annual provided a nice insight into the growing relationship between Bruce and Damian, the rest of the lean content seemed simply to take a long time to answer a simple question.
I think the issue with the Batman & Robin book on the whole is that it struggles to work alongside the large-crossover story structure that DC has chosen for Batman in the wake of the aforementioned popularity. As Batman is busy dealing with whatever principal threat has come to Gotham City, the Batman & Robin book inherits the task of telling readers “what Robin is up to.” As the book’s greatest strength is its development of the burgeoning father-son relationship between Bruce and Damian, especially through the first major arc dealing with Nobody, it seems backward to drop that development to accommodate the crossover structure and shoehorn Damian into his own “standalone” chapters. We readers are treated to a few great issues of father-son crimefighting at a time until DC’s need for every Batman arc to be a universe-wide crossover interrupts the development and sends Damian off by himself. This trade paperback is possessed of the same lurching narrative pace, and is all the weaker for it.
The artwork of Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray does not contribute in any way to that perceived weakness. Like the cover blurb tells you, some of the things that these artists do with the Joker and his face are truly, memorably disturbing in a way that Capullo, Benes, and Sampere sidestep in their own representations of the villain. His eyes seem emptier, and his long speeches meditate almost as well as they do under Snyder’s script. Whatever problems that this book’s story structure has under DC’s crossover-heavy plan for Batman, the artwork does not contribute to them–the book looks great, and certainly offers some looks at the characters that you can’t find anywhere else.
As with Batgirl, Bat-family completionists will need to know how Damian ends up taking his place in the final showdown between Batman and the Joker, and should take a couple of hours to read Vol. 3 before the next giant crossover, Zero Year, is published in trade in October. The content in this collection is as lean as any of those published under DC’s new distribution model, and as striking as the art can be, this book will likely not stand out as a must-read for most.
Backlog Rating: 5.5/10