Robin doesn’t miss a single step as the series takes a small deviation from the overall tournament to continue its wonderful thread of Damian Wayne’s overall development and growth. The wealth of color, darkness, fun, brutality, and meaningful character moments is still at the forefront of this story in every single facet. Fans have wanted another Damian exploring solo series for years, and this team is more than delivering.
Damian Wayne’s overconfidence and rage have gotten him killed once and close to killed in the short time that he’s been on Lazarus Island. Broken and still healing, it’s time for the young man to receive some potent lessons from the most unexpected of sources: his grandfather Ra’s al Ghul.
One thing that often happens with long-time recurring villains in comics, and in any long-form ongoing story franchise, is a tendency to eventually just have them lean more towards the cackling evil for evil’s sake feeling type of villain. Some villains are designed from the start to be this way, while others have had more complicated reasons for their ‘villainy,’ making them more human-like and sometimes even relatable. Ra’s was a more complicated and layered antagonist, who at times has tended to end up more cackling evil for evil’s sake (often tied to the effects of continued use of the Lazarus pits) as opposed to his more nuanced appearances.
Joshua Williamson takes Ra’s back to a more nuanced and developed place as he resides on a deserted island following his last defeat in the recent Batman and the Outsiders series. There is a lot that is learned about his mindset and his goals, some of his views about how humanity has harmed the planet (aimed specifically at how we can hardly see the stars anymore) returning to the forefront. At the same time, despite the villainy and actions of the past, there seems to be care shown for his grandson as well as some very potent advice.
While Ra’s might be aligned towards the villain/antagonist side of things, the advice given about who actually is the greatest enemy of most people is so relatedly and painfully true.
Most of the issue is about the grandfather and grandson’s back and forth, lessons being taught and words being exchanged about their lives and their connections, and their overall goals. This is just the latest person that has offered to teach Damian about how to be better and actually show him how he can win since his rage reaction ways keep getting him beaten right now.
There are times where when the artist changes on a book once the overall dynamic has been set, it somewhat becomes far too noticeable. This is not the fault of the artist, as they are given the gig and do the work, sometimes styles just ‘clash’ in a way that isn’t necessarily good or bad. This is not one of those cases.
Jorge Corona steps into the art for this issue for the regular Gleb Melnikov, who still provides the main cover, and their styles are quite similar. There are some differences, they are different artists after all, but none of them are so different that it stands out. Honestly, it was all so engaging that it wasn’t till going back through the book that it fully clicked that the artist was different.
The video game-like energy of this fighting tournament storyline has not been lost even with the art change, as Corona has his own use of close-up panels similar to Melnikov and matches a lot of the energy that was coming from the previous issues. This is helped by the fact that Luis Guerrero and Troy Peteri are still aboard on colors and letters respectively.
There is a panel with the momentary death of a bigger cast member of the series (everyone gets resurrected and has three lives in this tournament) where they all kill it (sorry had to do it). Corona’s pencils bring the brutal scene to life while Guerrero pulls back the colors dramatically and increases the shadows which just makes it more brutal. All capped off with the literally bloody SFX that Peteri drops in to fully complete the brutal and harsh feeling of the overall panel.
Along that vein, Guerrero and Peteri continue to make the colors and letter workflow so wonderfully where the colors shift back and forth perfectly to fit the tone (from the brighter island of Ra’s to the darker Lazarus island and elsewhere) and the dialogue dances around the panels in the best way possible.
This series is about a fighting tournament, yes, but the contributions overall from the entire team continue to hit home that at its heart it’s a human story. The next chapter in the long saga of Damian Wayne and how he’s dealing with the legacy weight upon his shoulders and dealing with the fall out of what happened to Alfred Pennyworth. The struggle between him trying to be something bigger than his mother, father, and grandfather and just being a young person is sad to watch because it’s so relatable.
Truly it remains the Damian story that fans have been waiting for.
Robin #4 is now on sale in print and digitally from DC Comics.