Review by Ian Keogh
While better writers have ensured a complexity to Batman’s relationship with Robin, it’s generally simmered below the surface, but with Damian Wayne the parameters have shifted entirely. Peter J. Tomasi’s view is of Robin as a perfectly packaged combat machine, callous and confident, which could be seen as the characteristics that make Bruce Wayne so effective as Batman, but taken to extremes that include murder. Bruce’s view of Damian is of a damaged child where some form of rescue needs to take place, while Damian views Batman as too cautious and with nonsensical rules about not harming evil-doers. He also resents what Batman keeps from him in the name of protecting a ten year old. It’s certainly one festering emotional stew, and Tomasi’s Batman is more openly introspective and uncertain than has been common, yet at times ponderously so in the course of what’s a generally punchy outing.
Tomasi also introduces continuity implant Morgan Ducard, who calls himself Nobody, a mystery murderer at first in an armoured costume not far removed from Batman’s own. He’s a threat Batman takes seriously, and with good reason as his ethical foundation for dealing with criminals is to kill them in order to prevent them menacing again. It’s contrary to the message Batman wants to implant in Robin, yet the assertion that Batman’s enemies have killed many times since he first dealt with them is undeniable.
Patrick Gleason accompanies a dark script with dark art, his characters often hidden or obscured in shadows, with the distinctive red illumination points of Nobody’s costume a consistently eye-catching visual device. There’s a lot of thought put into viewpoints and layouts, and Tim Sale appears to be very influential, which all adds up to the stylish dynamism required from a Batman story. From midway many flashbacks are supplied, and Gleason with colourist John Kalisz differentiates these by taking a less shadowy approach.
How far Born to Kill succeeds as an engaging story hinges on how convincing any reader finds Robin. As used by Grant Morrison the idea of a child trained from birth to be the perfect assassin straddled a credibility line, but were it not for Gleason drawing him as his age, Tomasi’s speech patterns could be applied to any smart adult. In a world of Batman and his technology perhaps that’s plausible, or perhaps it’s not. Robin is key, not sidelined, and the story evolves into his temptation. Nobody’s beliefs appear to coincide more with his own, so will he be seduced? The thinking behind the answer to that is well considered.
The stiff dialogue of the opening chapters eventually gives way to something more likely to be voiced by Batman, but the Robin conundrum remains. The series continues with Pearl, or the entirety is available in an Omnibus.
This content alone was retitled Bad Blood (taken from the second chapter title instead of the first) when reissued in hardcover as a DC Essential package.