Batman and Robin #19 comes with a stirring cover by upcoming penciller Patrick Gleason, working with Mark Irwin. Anyone else hear the opening bars of the Adam West TV show?
The heart of this issue is a conversation between Una Nemo - the woman with the large hole in her head who calls herself The Absence - and the Dynamite Duo. Having overcome the overconfident pair, she has them bound in back-to back-chairs with trepanning drills whirring towards them. She wants to know whether either Batman or Robin will deliberately shuffle in their seat, edge their partner towards a likely death more quickly in order to delay their own demise by a second or two. And what can she learn about the soul of Bruce Wayne from the way two of his Batman Inc associates face death?
The situation is gripping, the exchanges equally so. As the drills inch towards Batman and Robin, we inch towards an understanding of what makes the Absence tick, what she wants.
By the close of the issue the Absence hasn't drilled a hole in their heads, she's done the opposite. She's put something in there - her point of view. Now they're looking at Bruce Wayne partly as she does: Una's making them face up to how, without meaning to, he's damaged all three of them.
It's a daring note to end the issue on, and one for which writer Paul Cornell deserves enormous credit. He's taken a fill-in assignment and provided not just efficient thrills and a colourful new villain, he's delivered a story that matters. He's changed the way two of Bruce's boys see him, and it's a perspective that could lead to fascinating stories, should the regular Batman creative teams be smart enough to follow up on them.
Or maybe Cornell himself can give us a sequel, either with or without the charismatic Una. I like that she presents herself as mad, but really isn't. If there were any doubt, this snippet of dialogue implies that she's actually the only sane person in Gotham (click to enlarge).
With 'The Sum of her Parts' Cornell has proven himself more than adept at handling the heroes of Gotham and their world, and I hope that one day he'll begin an indefinite run on a Batman Family title.
Artistic partners Scott McDaniel and Rob Hunter use shadows and angles to get the most drama out of the trepanning segment, and tell the rest of the story equally well. Their artwork for Alfred, Dick and Damian in the final scene sells the point of the story perfectly.
If you passed on the last three issues of Batman and Robin because, yes, technically they're fill-ins, please reconsider. This is one of the most enjoyably thought-provoking stories in years.