"Batman & Robin" #18, written by Peter J. Tomasi with art from Patrick Gleason with Mick Gray on inks, John Kalisz on colors and lettering from Taylor Esposito investigates what happens when the latter half of the title is removed. This is one of the saddest single comic books I've read. It's a gutcheck that warrants reflection and sympathy. This isn't the first time Tomasi has delivered a stunning issue focused on the passing of a character and the coping of those left behind and he continues a great streak of post-mortem stories here.
While there have been countless deaths throughout comic book history, one of my personal favorite (for lack of a better word) post-mortem comic books is from Peter J. Tomasi: "Final Crisis: Requiem" #1. That issue was pre-relaunch and featured the death of another beloved DC character, but Tomasi made a statement in that issue that he could reflect upon the impression a character leaves behind with the very best of comic book authors. "Batman and Robin" #18 trumps that issue without a single word of dialog or sound effect.
Tomasi effectively gets out of the way and empowers the dark, emotional work of Patrick Gleason (with tremendous ink work from Mick Gray) to take over the story. The heartbreaking scenes of a father reflecting in his child's room, pouring through the effects of his deceased child are mind-numbing and depressing as all get out, but that becomes further accentuated once Bruce Wayne flips open a stunning sketchbook that reveals a great deal of the important components of young Damian's short life. Bruce's grieving is compounded with that of Alfred, shown with visible streaks of tears pouring down his cheeks. The two men don't bother to console one another, finding strength and resolve simply in the presence of the other. These wordless, emotional beats pack a wallop and illustrate the grieving process quite effectively, thanks in no small part to the deep, rich shadows enveloping the entire issue.
Gleason seizes the opportunity of this emotional issue to produce some different page layouts and panel construction and each one conveys the barrage of emotions Batman endures. Batman's blind fury takes out a light pole, his rage fills the rooftop of Gotham Police's headquarters, and his despair elicits the silent scream everyone has felt at the loss of a loved one. Even Titus is mopey, in the way that a dog missing their "favorite" person of the house can be. Gleason, Gray and colorist John Kalisz fill the pages with emotion, passion and texture, imploring the reader to spend more time with the grieving father of Damian Wayne. The only words in "Batman and Robin" #18, following the credits are the notes from Damian Wayne in his sketchbook and a very powerful note left for his father.
I bought this digitally as I couldn't wait to get to the comic shop today to get started on my reviews, but I must confess I plan on buying the floppy of this book as well. Maybe I'll hold off for the hardcover, maybe I won't. At any rate, Tomasi and Gleason deliver a fantastic story of grief and despair that is certain to prove noteworthy, shareable and perhaps even timeless. Tomasi has gone on record to explain that Batman will share the title with a number of partners over the next few months, but what truly becomes of this book following that run of guest stars remains to be seen. For now, "Batman and Robin" #18 is one of the best single issues of Tomasi and Gleason's collaboration.