writer: Peter J. Tomasi
artist: Patrick Gleason
The secret to the success of Batman and Robin these days is that it's secretly really only Robin. If that weren't clear enough already, then this tie-in with "Death of the Family" should make it insanely obvious to anyone. Damian Wayne is undoubtedly a keeper.
Of course, what helps make this series such a success is the dynamic duo of Pete Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, who have been a crack team for years, but are only now just reaching the peak of their collaboration. It's a rare instance of a supporting book in a crossover event anchored by a far more famous title (Scott Snyder's Batman) decisively stealing the show, and it's all because of Damian's confrontation with the Joker.
Part of what makes it work so well is Gleason's art, which may have never looked better than in this issue. His worthy subject, apparently, is the Joker's gruesome new appearance. Gleason is no stranger to strange, having put in his time with plenty of aliens in Green Lantern Corps (the source of his collaboration with Tomasi), but he seems to have found new levels of inspiration depicting the face-as-a-mask version of the Joker, flies abuzzing and all. It's really quite remarkable. I've long appreciated his work, but this is seriously his best.
Of course, it's the psychological duel between Joker and the latest incarnation of Robin that takes center stage. After murdering Jason Todd in "Death in the Family," it was kind of hard to see where Joker could go next, other than the sensational maiming of Batgirl. He became a signature foe for Tim Drake in the series of mini-series that led to the first Robin series, but otherwise disappeared off the radar.
So it's no wonder that Snyder chose to depict his comeback as a war against the Batman family, and with so many Robins running around, the Joker is like a kid in a candy store. It does strain credulity that he would have the energy to torment all of them at more or less the same time (a conceptual weak point in this event that is thematically so similar to Snyder's previous "Night of the Owls"), but if we get to have Joker meet Damian, then all the better. Although of course they did previously encounter each other in a previous incarnation of Batman and Robin under the auspices of Grant Morrison. But the Joker was biding his time, apparently for this. He wasn't exactly himself.
(Although the joke of the character is that he can have any personality he wants.)
The challenge for every writer in this event is to present Joker in such a way that he seems immediately relevant, striking personally at each of the members of the Batman family. Some of his targets are more obvious. Damian certainly isn't. And he's also the one character who isn't afraid of the Joker.
At times Tomasi and Gleason have forgotten that their best feature in this series is Damian, and when they aren't inspired it's obvious. But when they are, they produce their best work, and this is the best of the best, belying the common adage that a crossover produces perfunctory material. Creators who don't mind accepting a challenge will be able to work with anything. Well, these guys have recognized that the Joker at his best is capable of the best, and...as I'm sure you suspect by now, I'm pretty high on this issue. It's probably the mandatory reading of "Death of the Family," with all apologies to Snyder.