The art in this book, courtesy of Andy Kubert’s linework and Brad Anderson’s colors, is a feast for the eyes. The character designs for both villains and Batman are creative and bizarre, reflecting a Gotham that's only become stranger as time has gone on. The action, which is most of what this book is, is some of the most hard-hitting absolutely vicious I've seen all week. It's interesting how the various people who wear the cowel are defined by their fighting style. We're, of course, familiar with the precision of Bruce Wayne, we glimpsed the violent grace of Dick Grayson, but Damian is a barely contained maelstrom of blades and strikes. His upbringing by the League of Assassins has clearly not been fully forgotten as we see blood splashing and splattering across every page and panel. There's something almost decadent about this title's willingness to go darker than most other books under the DC banner, and there's a certain shocking catharsis from how the art is presented.
The colors, likewise, compliment this action, painting everything with a dark moodiness that beautifully contrasts the horrific imagery on nearly every page. It certainly doesn't make it more "realistic," but I don't think that's what the book is or should be going for. It gives it a stylized beauty that makes what's happening more palatable, but never allows the viewer to fully turn away from it. The colors commit to the darkness of this universe and give it a kind of stark, grim beauty.
The writing, also provided by Kubert, for this series has been on a fairly steady uptick after a so-so offering from the first issue. That, unfortunately, does not hold out for this final issue as we backslide into unnecessarily long exposition (and not plot exposition, inner monologues that explain what's going on in the panel) and far, far too many unanswered questions. We left last issue on a huge cliffhanger of the Jackanapes being commanded by a sort of "imposter" Joker, but this issue gives us absolutely no insight into who this person is. Damian even remarks on "wanting to hear this guy's story some day," but why wait? Who is this person? All they ever say is that as Damian is to Bruce, he is to Joker. This would all be well and good, but we get a reveal halfway through the issue that completely invalidates everything that happened previously and ensures that, even were we to learn his identity at a later time, it would ring completely hollow.
There's also no escaping it: this book should have been five issues rather than four. The first half of this issue feels unnecessarily abrupt, but the second half feels like it takes place in another issue entirely. The denouement is weak, we never get any kind of satisfactory answer on what, exactly, happens to Bruce Wayne and the ending, which should be a moment of incredible, rising triumph, feels bogged down and empty by what comes directly before it. The issue feels like two halves of two issues sandwiched together, creating a feeling of incredible dissonance. While the visuals are stunning and extremely creative, they feel disconnected, like a series of separate panels that had dialog added after the fact. There's also always a level of suspension of disbelief between the amount of violence Batman (in any form) inflicts upon people and the fact that he "doesn't kill," but this book takes that to a ridiculous level, having one villain at a certain point almost literally eviscerated, but not killed.
It's unfortunate that this book had been so steadily improving only to snag on this final issue. The visuals are still stunning and any page would make a worthy addition to any collection, but the dialog and storyline seem to have been a distant second priority because it descends into nonsense and unearned twists with teases that never pay off. It never reaches to total madness of something like Batman: Odyssey, but it comes off very much as a book that should be purchased for visuals over story content. The visuals still make it worth checking out, but that comes with a pretty giant IF.