The Dynamic Dream
Patrick Gleason's artwork is just perfect for this issue. 95% of this issue is a series of incredibly intense dream sequences that have a surprising level of grounding to the surreality. These dreams are not totally trippy Dali paintings or something, but rather the kind of dreams where some things are clearly wrong, but you can be 100% convinced that you're not dreaming until something drastic happens. And in the wake of Death of the Family, it is the strong connection between two fathers and two sons once again, just like the epilogue issue of the NoBody arc, and the recent annual.
The framing device is just about the only part of the issue that isn't a dream sequence, but its just as brilliant. Batman and Robin return to the Batcave and share such a typical Batman Family kind of evening with Alfred and Titus as they change out of their uniforms, eat, and head to bed. There's hardly a word spoken between them, but it doesn't change how connected they are. And the final trio of panels depicting each man/boy about to sleep, demonstrating the core differences between the three with a simple shot of their head as they ready themselves to dream is incredible. I do have one concern about this who scene, and it's..... is Robin not wearing any pants in that one panel, and even though we're seeing his crotch head on Gleason just didn't draw his dick? Dude, you could've at least given him underwear or something. It's just weird.
Damian's dream is the most prominent, as his goes through several pages. It starts out illustrating his innate internal conflict, as a setting mirroring one from Batman and Robin #0 holds a meeting of two Damians, exactly alike in appearance, yet slightly different in personality. Essentially they're seen as his version of the angel and devil on his shoulder, yet each of them is so much more truly him than any other shoulder deities. From the context I have dubbed them Damian Wayne, and Damian Al Ghul. It is in the subtleties in their dialogue and mannerisms that we see this, and see how Damian Wayne is winning. His secret concern for Alfred is finally opened up, followed by another equally intense scene where symbolism kicks into high gear, some a little obvious but still strangely awesome, and climaxing in a dark mirror of the iconic Batman inspiration scene with the bell.
Alfred's dream is short, but so very telling. He relives some of his happiest days, serving Thomas and Martha, but his distant, melancholic smile before he heads into the Batcave suggests he's fully aware this is a fleeting memory often relived. And then Death of the Family is relived, as Joker invades Alfred's mind, a lingering fear perhaps. Those newer to Batman may see what follows as Alfred succumbing to darker urges after his torture at the hands of The Joker, but they clearly don't know Alfred well enough. Alfred was former British Secret Service, and though he doesn't take glee in murder, he doesn't abide strictly to Batman's "No Kill, No Guns" policy. I mean, when Batman stumbled through a secret entrance back in Batman #7, Alfred raised a shotgun before he was certain who was coming, and Bruce didn't have one word to say about it. Alfred is Bruce's 'father' but also he's a support beam for The House of Wayne. If someone absolutely needs to be killed, Alfred won't be afraid to do what needs to be done. He's done it before in his life, and he knows how to keep it from eating his soul. His facial expression as he returns to sleep isn't a vengeful glee, it's a fatherly sense of relief. This scene is an absolutely perfect expression of everything that is Alfred Pennyworth.
Batman's dream is the shortest, the most surreal, and the least telling. There's nothing wrong with it, but it doesn't tell us as much new information as the others do; except for one thing. He trusts his son. This IS a huge moment for the character, and it drives the last two scenes, but overall it's just not quite as special as the other dreams.
In Conclusion: 5/5
This issue doesn't advance any story, really, but like the Annual its a definitive moment in Damian's character development, as well as his and Bruce's development as part of the Batman and Robin duo. In addition to that, it gives us a definitive look into the man that is Alfred Pennyworth. There's really nothing wrong with this issue aside from a baby'd handful of tiny nitpicks, and it's really a can't miss one-off story for Bat-fans, especially fans of Damian and Alfred.