Who Terminus began as, and what his beef is, we don't learn this time. We do see that he's gathering a gang made up of criminals who came off badly when they faced the Caped Crusader (one of them may be a New 52 version of z-lister Magpie). As drawn on the final page by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray, the new-look Terminus - he was pretty freaky to start with - is a strangely sexy brute, so I'll be back next time to see what he gets up to.
This time, most of the pages are devoted to Robins and rivalry. Bruce Wayne has gathered former partners Dick and Tim, and current companion Damian, for a family portrait. Alfred's there too, looking so young, I thought he was a disguised Jason Todd. But Red Hood's not invited to this clan meet, having a problem with the fact that Bruce Wayne never avenged his death at the hands of the Joker.
It's a fair point.
As it happens, Red Hood does show up, still in Gotham after his involvement in the Night of the Owls (it's not stated but this issue has to occur after the conclusion of the current Bat-event, given that there's no Talon-tainted threat to hand and, well, it was only one night. And a bit. Gosh, so Bruce survives!). Jason is summoned to a meeting of Robins by Damian, who has a challenge for them typical of the most arrogant brat Gotham ever did see. 'Day or night, when you least expect it, I'm going to defeat you at something you feel unbeatable at.' Nightwing and Red Hood are nonplussed, but before the issue is out Damian has well and truly made the super-cool Red Robin blow his top. Writer Peter Tomasi gives us the confrontation I've been waiting years to see, and he doesn't flub it. I was going to include a few panels here, but seeing them in context just makes them so much better. All I'll say is that Batman and Robin is brought to you today by the letter 'R' for Rambunctious.
This issue is full of terrific moments highlighting the differing personalities of the Robins. There's Dick, the original, grown up into the coolest of cats and protective of his legacy; Tim the detective, always wishing to honour the part originated by Dick; Jason, angry at being shoved into the role of Dick redux, but still feeling a certain kinship with the other Robins; and Damian, the endlessly fascinating Boy Fruit Loop who honestly believes no Robin can hold a candle to him.
The character who comes off badly here is Bruce Wayne, keeping from his other sons the fact that Damian has killed again. And smiling when considering his wayward boy - has he finally found the perfect 'soldier'?
This issue firmly ties Tim's recent Teen Titans adventures in with his Batman Family status, something his current 'home book' has failed to do. It also references events in Batman Inc. I really appreciate that, along with such incidental pleasures as Bruce making his own crimefighting equipment rather than relying on genius hunchbacks or his own labs; and Damian's definitive statement of who he is.
With four Robins to draw, you might forgive Gleason for giving us basically the same guy at four different heights, but he cares enough to gift them their own looks. Even out of costume, for their sitting with Mister Benioff, they're anything but Bruce Wayne mini-mes. And in costume they look fantastic, especially Red Hood - when Red Hood and the Outsiders artist Patrick Rocafort goes over to Superman later this year, DC should tap Gleason for an arc or two. Especially if he brings Mick Gray with him - I've never seen Gleason's art look so good. I like the solidity of Gleason's people, but occasionally faces have looked as if their owner has Bell's Palsy. With Gray on inks, there's a stylish consistency alongside the strength. The only dodgy-looking souls are the ones meant to look off, Terminus's 'League of Punchbugs', and even they, in their own way, look magnificent.
The colouring by veteran John Kalisz is extremely effective, emphasising the drama of individual scenes, while Carlos M Mangual's letters are solid. Kalisz also colours the cover, a gorgeous composition by Gleason and Gray that is, as they say, suitable for framing.
Batman #10 is getting all the attention this week, but good as that is, this is the better book, building on decades of characterisation while taking advantage of the fresh opportunities afforded by DC's recent revamp. It boasts a thoroughly entertaining script, one that surprises and thrills without descending into soap opera shocks, and I can't believe fans of Robin - any Robin - won't love it.