Author: John Bierly
March 15, 2013

SYNOPSIS: In the wake of unspeakable tragedy, Batman is in danger of losing his humanity. And in the backup story, fan-favorite character Harper Row returns -- but will she be able to pull Batman back from the brink?

Anyone else have a headache? My noggin's still throbbin' from being beaten over the head by BATMAN #18's explicit insistence that Harper Row will become the next Robin, from the cover's bird perched on a pair of boots that need filling to the first letter of the hopeful word Harper's late mother taught her on its final page.

I'm not complaining. It's a good thing Harper's belief in Batman shines bright, because there's plenty of darkness in Batman's mourning of his fallen 10-year-old son and his subsequent berserker rage that culminates in deliberately punching Harper through a fence so hard he breaks her nose. I'm still not happy about that.

Writer Scott Snyder's dialogue is a little more on-the-nose than usual, which holds this issue at stark contrast to the silent masterpiece Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason devastatingly delivered in the pages of this month's BATMAN AND ROBIN.

The graphic stabbing of a little boy by a gargantuan adversary in BATMAN, INC. #8 was hard enough to take, which makes navigating this issue's grim grit even more difficult. Batman doesn't sleep for days, stalking and pulverizing criminals even in broad daylight until he starts to get sloppy. I feel like we've seen it all before, you know?

BATMAN #18 Cover by Greg Capullo
(Click on the image to purchase this issue!)

What keeps the story fresh is Harper, whose mastery of Gotham's electrical grid helps her "sense" that something's wrong with Batman. The jumpsuit and gadgets she gathers to try to save his life a second time are crude, but her need for something greater is rooted in the same kinds of loss that drive Bruce and his various Robins. (Snyder writes a particularly harsh scene early in the issue when Harper and her gay brother visit their father in prison and he refers to them as his "daughters.")

Guest artist Andy Kubert draws a mean Batman, which fits the story's emotional brutality, but I wonder if this issue would have been easier to connect to had regular penciller Greg Capullo drawn it. His visuals have defined this book from the beginning, and this is an awfully important story to have such a jarring aesthetic change. Whether or not this was intentional, it works.

The more contemplative lines of artist Alex Maleev, who draws the backup story co-written by Snyder and James Tynion IV, do much to soothe the book's harsh opening acts. Harper unknowingly calms the beast within Batman via an impromptu visit to Bruce Wayne himself, leading to a rooftop conversation that just might mark the beginning of a new alliance.

BATMAN #18 is a rough, raw read, but maybe that's the point. That it ends in hope is inspiring, giving Batman an opportunity to take a different kind of partnership path should he choose to give Harper a chance. - John Bierly

GRADE (Part 1): B
GRADE (Part 2): A

John Bierly still can't believe he
gets to write for BOF.
Check out JOHNBIERLY.COM to read about the other things he writes about.

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