"It's your job to be a father, not a mechanic, Master Bruce."
This piece of dialogue essentially encapsulates Tomasi's writing of Bruce and Damian Wayne not only as Batman and Robin but also as father and son. I'm quite pleased that he's taking the time to develop this relationship alongside the plot for his series which is finally beginning to take shape in this issue, Bad Blood.
Remember that first scenes in the first issue that made no sense unless you're familiar with Grant Morrison's Batman Inc.? Well, I suppose I need to do a short background now. Basically, Bruce Wayne decided to expand or 'franchise' his mask and costume into a network that aims to recruit crime fighters across the globe who will work under his name, hence Batman Incorporated. One of the several projects is the man-bat army which you should keep in mind because that's awesome and you will see more of it pretty soon in other Batman titles. Now the villain who appears in the first issue is called 'Nobody' who seemed to be targeting and murdering Wayne-financed crusaders. Said villain confronts Bruce Wayne while they're both out of their costumes and it's pretty hilarious that he just laid out his plans to destroy everything Batman stands for during a sunny afternoon with children running around, playing. I wasn't entirely convinced that I'm supposed to take this guy seriously (especially since he reminds me of Morpheus from The Matrix) but hopefully my first impression will be just that.
Gleason's art for this issue looks great but the landscape details seem to be lacking. More often than not, I'm not even sure where we're supposed to be. That's not my only critique for this issue. The part that bugs me the most is the length it took for me to finish it without being completely engrossed (unless of course I focus all my attention on the father-son tension). It seems to me that Tomasi might be taking his time in a unremarkable pace that could lose a reader's interest. However, I do enjoy how contradictory Bruce Wayne's motivation and treatment when it comes to Damian. He considers it an obligation to repair him somehow, to which Alfred iterates that being a parent means so much more than doing that. But in spite of Bruce expressing such a sentiment, he is being realistic about it as well. He knows Damian will never have another life aside from a violence-ridden one, so his goal really is to at least curb the boy's impulses and turn it into something meaningful and noble, hence the crime-fighting. But is that enough?
And though his heart is in the right place, Bruce neglects the simplest of parent-child interactions which is to tell your son you're proud of him. Alfred pointed this out quickly which seemed to only baffle Bruce. To him, acknowledging his son's performance as 'commendable' is the best fatherly compliment he could give. There's this interesting set of panels in the middle where Damian kills a bat from the cave and throws the carcass away, all the while Alfred watches from the shadows with a worried look on his face. I interpreted that scene as an indication of the widening chasm between Bruce and Damian and how neither of them can entirely accept each other underneath the mask. Damian doesn't seem at all that dismissive towards his father as much as he likes to project; I believe he certainly wants to feel something more than fleeting admiration for a man who is the legendary Dark Knight and I think this creates the tension and complicates their interactions.
In that sense, this issue did a fantastic job adding another dimension to the dynamic (with Alfred as another way for readers to look at the relationship in a different perspective), but it wasn't one that I would consider a solid installment by itself in its entirety. It's too short and lacked the action and suspense which I felt the zero issue was able to emulate before. But I still have high hopes that Tomasi and Gleason will deliver in the next ones.
*I'm giving it some credit for the Bruce-Damian-Alfred angle