Writer: Jon Lewis
Artists: Pete Woods (p), Andrew Pepoy (i)
The book opens with Robin caught in the grip of the mystery device that was delivered to his house in the previous issue, as we see it's a communication device that is being used to send him a message from the future. As an elderly Alfred shows him the hellish environment that Gotham City is destined to become when a collection of costumed heroes attempt the siege control of the city, we see Alfred is just about to tell Tim which costumed hero will set this tragedy in motion, when he is gunned down. Deeply disturbed by what he has just seen, we see Robin joins Batman as they pay a visit to the home of the thug who seemingly delivered the device to Tim's house, where they see the man is just as confused about the device as they are, and one look at the man is enough to tell Tim that this man lacks the intelligence to have built the device. Uncertain about whether he should start casting a closer look at the circle of costumed crime-fighters that patrol Gotham City, for an early sign of the madness that the future Alfred claimed would befall one of them, we see Tim lies to Batman when Bruce asks him why his head's not in the game. We then rejoin Tim the next day as he's come to believe the message was a hoax designed to make him distrust his allies, and he sets out to discover who is responsible for this obvious bit of trickery.
Given Tim is teammates with Impulse who was born in the future and was sent back in time, the scene where the Alfred from the future attempts to placate Tim's inability to accept that time travel is possible felt a bit awkward. I mean Tim's been popping around the DCU for long enough that I'd be truly surprised if he hasn't already had an adventure in the past and/or future, or at least seen some concrete evidence that time-travel is not only possible, but it's actually quite a common occurrence in the super-hero community. Still, I do like the fact that the story does leave the door open that this message from the future may not be genuine, given there is a somewhat manufactured element to the tape, as I found it a little too coincidental that Alfred's death came just as he was ready to name the person that Robin was supposed to keep an eye on. I mean, just once I'd like to see a movie, or television show where the dying person is actually able to clearly name their killer before they die, as it's reached the point where the surprise factor that they were able to offer up the killer's name would be enough to make up for the lack of mystery that would result from having the murderer's identity revealed right at the start. In any event, the final page also seems to play up the idea that Tim was right to doubt the validity of the recording.
Than again if the time travel element is genuine than Jon Lewis has crafted a fairly interesting little premise that evokes memories of the classic X-Men "Days of Future Past" adventure, where a character from a hellish future sends a message back to the past in a bid to prevent a future tragedy from playing out. Now this is a fairly common time travel plot, and Jon Lewis isn't exactly breaking new ground by having a time travel story effectively set in the present day, but he has added a new element in that one has to openly question whether the time-travel angle is all a hoax that is playing on readers expectations, or is Robin dismissing a very real danger that he could be taking steps to prevent. Now if the time treadmill hadn't been blown to kingdom come over in the pages of the Flash I'd suggest that Robin could very easily discover if the message was a hoax, but as it stands the story does manage to achieve a fairly tricky, and rather impressive balancing act in which one is left to question what type of story has Jon Lewis set in motion. The last page also manages to deliver two fairly solid mysteries, as I want to know who is following Robin, and what is the urgent message that Batman has sent him. Based on the shadow image's appearance and movement, I suspect Tim's pursuer is Nightwing, but this simply leaves me with another question.
Pete Woods remains one of the truly underappreciated artists in the industry, as I never see his name rate a mention on any lists. I certainly applaud his commitment to this title, as he's been with this book for three and a half years now, which is really quite impressive in today's industry, and it doesn't hurt that his work is ideally suited to the book's lead, as Robin looks his age in this title. I mean he looks like a young adult who more often than not wears his emotions on his sleeve, and Pete Wood's wide array of facial expressions is certainly a big plus as well. Now our look at the hellish future wasn't as horrific as it needed to be, as the cityscape looked washed out, and the action that is clearly shown is a bit tame, though I will say Alfred's death is quite impressive. The art does some nice work conveying the confusion & sense of panic that comes over the mindless thug that supposedly built the device that delivered the message to Robin, and one has to love how Batman prevents the man's escape. I also enjoyed the way the art conveyed Batman's concern over Robin's poor performance by using a look of annoyance. The cover to this issue is also quite impressive in the way it jumps out at the reader, though the missing beard is a bit disappointing from an artistic continuity sense. Still at least it makes an attempt to detail a scene from inside the book, which has become a rare occurrence as of late on comic covers.
A pretty enjoyable time travel plot, that is helped considerably by the notion that the time travel angle might very well be an elaborate hoax. In fact speaking as a fan who has been treated to what has to be well over a hundred different versions of the time travel concept, I have to say that I rather hope that it is a hoax, as this would be a refreshing change. Now as is the case with most of Jon Lewis's work on this title the material does take some time to get going, and the dire warning from the future could a greater sense of urgency. However, this book continues to deliver some of the best interaction between Batman & Robin I've ever come across, as Jon Lewis displays a very solid understanding of the idea that while Batman is not the most open of personalities, he's capable of expressing concern for Robin's welfare, and isn't above playing a parental figure when he feels the situation demands it of him. The last page cliffhangers are also surprisingly effective, given the low key nature of the issue itself.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!