Patrick Gleason gets top billing in Robin, Son of Batman Vol. 2: Dawn of the Demons, but in fact all but one of the seven issues collected here are written or co-written by Ray Fawkes (Constantine) with art by Ramon Bachs. Arguably Fawkes's book takes a step back from Gleason's first volume if only because Fawkes basically does again a second (and even a third) time what Gleason has already done; at the same time, Fawkes finds in Damian some interesting metaphors that help make the character more relatable. Artist Ramon Bachs too has the difficulty of simply not being Gleason, but his art is fun and attractive (and not wholly dissimilar from Gleason's), and I wouldn't mind seeing Bachs on another DC title in Rebirth.
[Review contains spoilers]
The strongest moments of Ray Fawkes's Robin, Son of Batman are when Damian sees his parents, Batman Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, working together and gets a childlike smile on his face, and then again when Batman and Talia inevitably start warring with one another and Damian turns to his surrogate family of NoBody Maya Ducard and the giant bat Goliath. Damian has been at times a lofty and inscrutable character, for better or worse, and it has not always been my preference to see him act like a ten year old, but at the same time, there's something charming in Fawkes distilling the centuries- and continuities-old feud between Batman and the al Ghuls into a small child wishing for peace between his "divorced" parents. If again I've found Damian sometimes inconsistently written (often erring on the side of making him too much a "normal" boy), Fawkes's device here expertly preserves all the complications inherent in the character while at the same time cutting right through to the character's most human of sentiments.
DC structures this book such to print first the seventh issue, a Robin War tie-in by Gleason and Fawkes (with art by Scott McDaniel); then the ninth issue, Gleason's last; and then the eighth issue and issues #10-13, all written by Fawkes, such to put the Gleason material first and then give Fawkes the run of the rest of the book. That's fine and probably the right thing to do. Fawkes's issue #8 is a flashback story taking place within Gleason's Robin, Son of Batman Vol. 1: Year of Blood, somewhat inconsequential, and for that reason the book gets a slow start; the Robin War issue would seem to have major ramifications for Damian, but those events aren't mentioned again here, only in Grayson and the Rebirth Nightwing.
What is ultimately then Fawkes's main three-parter, issues #10-12, sees Damian pursuing Suren Darga, son of Den Darga, whose Lu'un Darga family rivals the al Ghuls. Damian's attempt to keep Den from resurrecting the Dargas encompassed most of Year of Blood, so while on one hand I appreciate Fawkes keeping the series on its path instead of reinventing it whole cloth, on the other hand this fixation with Darga begins to seem repetitive, especially when Fawkes spotlights the Dargas one more time in issue #13, nearly edging Damian out.
Fawkes does well, however, in pitting Damian against a foe his own age, something I don't think we've seen before (that reminds of Chuck Dixon's classic Tim Drake going up against the teen-aged Anarky and the General) and to ultimately tie the conflict to Damian's own arc. When Damian tries to convince Suren to turn from the path his evil father set for him, we authentically know where Damian's coming from, and if I had doubts about a new older Damian for Rebirth, Dawn of the Demons distinctly demarcates evidence of Damian's growth as he begins his next chapter. (Fawkes's story also takes Damian to Gorilla City and Dinosaur Island, both of which offer opportunities for fun art by Bachs.)
Patrick Gleason's own final issue frontloads its emotional moments, with the one-two punch of Damian seeing his emotionally-distant father, amnesic during Batman: Superheavy, now smiling with his surrogate children, and then there's a stark callback scene to the Batman and Robin title that reinforces Damian's loneliness. It's a hopeful issue ultimately, of sorts, with Damian deputizing Goliath as his pseudo-Robin and surrounding himself with his pets. Gleason demonstrates his artistic strength at the beginning and end in the pages and panels that frame Damian against great expanses; the middle part where Damian fights a variety of D-list villains tends to get busy and cluttered.
Still, it's most impressive that I'm pretty sure Patrick Gleason consistently draws Damian without the baby tooth he lost a couple issues ago, an unnecessary detail that demonstrates Gleason's commitment; of course I'm following Gleason and company over into the Rebirth Superman. Despite that I think Ray Fawkes is writing Damian a little more earnest than he should be ("What I'm going to be ... is victorious!"), there's an authentically funny NoBody joke in here that Fawkes should be proud of. Robin: Son of Batman Vol. 2: Dawn of the Demons brings Damian's own series to a fine close.
[Includes original and variant covers; Robin War text pages]
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