Overall- OK, there is a lot to cover in this issue, as I'm sure anyone reading this would expect. Batman is gone. The streets of Gotham City are in a constant state of turmoil due to the fact that the Caped Crusader is no more. In response to the chaos, Nightwing(Dick Grayson)has organized all of Gotham City's vigilantes and protectors into a group loosely called the Network. The Network consists of Dick, Robin(Tim Drake), Knight and Squire, Huntress, Catwoman, Oracle, Black Canary, Wildcat, Lady Blackbird, Batgirl and a few others. Even with all of these heroes operating together, the street gangs of Gotham feel that with Batman out of the way, the time is ripe to make a grab for power. Two-Face and the Penguin have basically divided up the major gangs of Gotham and have them attacking and killing each other as well as innocents in an attempt to garner as much power as possible.
Dick is totally against the idea of ANYONE dressing up in Batman's cape and cowl, while Tim and Alfred feel that Gotham NEEDS their Dark Knight to pull the city out of the abyss. While Dick and his allies fight around the clock, they are making little progress in the crime riddled streets of Gotham. However, there have been rumors of someone dressed as Batman, but dealing with criminals in an extremely brutal way, a way that often ends with the criminals dead. At one of this "Batman's" crime scenes, Tim gets a hold of an authentic Batarang, which means that whoever this fake Batman is, he has or had access to Batman's equipment at one time or another.
While Tim and Dick argue again about the idea of one of them needing to fill the cape and cowl, the Black Mask makes his dramatic return from the dead(you know villains never stay dead in comic books!)and frees nearly one hundred of the worst inmates Arkham Asylum has to offer. The Arkham inmates, being a crazy bunch, refuse to follow Black Mask's leadership, so he tells them that they were secretly fed a radio activated chemical implant that can kill any one of them at the touch of a button. To prove this point, Black Mask proceeds to kills one of the inmates by remote control. He then tells the lunatics that Batman is dead and to emphasise his point, he blows up Arkham Asylum while all of the inmates watch. Black Mask then activates an altered Bat-Signal from the destroyed Asylum which illuminates the night sky with Batman's logo with the letters R.I.P. written across it.
Commissioner Gordon and Nightwing arrive at Arkham and are surprised at the level of planning this attack must have taken. Not only is Arkham nearly obliterated, but most worrisome of all, the inmates seem to have vanished without a trace. With Dick out of the Batcave, Tim makes the fateful decision to take one of Batman's old costumes(the one with the yellow and black Batman logo on the chest)and goes out in search of the murderous fake Batman.
Black Mask sends Killer Croc and Poison Ivy to the Gotham docks to destroy a shipment of weapons Two-Face was expecting, in order to show Two-Face that Black Mask is the new king of the Gotham underworld from this point on. While Croc and Ivy are at the docks, we find Damian Wayne trying to impress some girl by joyriding with her in the Batmobile. Oracle jams the controls of the Batmobile and tells Damian that since he is closest to the docks and something is happening there, he should go and check it out. Oracle then remotely ejects Damian's girlfriend from the passenger seat and sends him towards the docks.
Unfortunately, Croc smashes into the Batmobile and Ivy wrecks the road, which sends Damian careening into a swamp. Damian emerges from the wrecked Batmobile, and finds Ivy and Croc waiting for him. Croc spits out Damian's girlfriend's shoe and says that he's still hungry. Before the two villains can grab Damian, Nightwing swoops in on his glider and flies Damian to safety... For the moment.
Before long, Nightwing's glider is hit by a massive blast which knocks Nightwing out cold. Nightwing and Damian crash into a building and Damian helps the groggy Nightwing to his feet. Within seconds, they are struck from behind by another explosion that sends them flying. The second explosion seems to have cleared Dick's head a bit and he tells Damien to stay down and out of sight, since he realizes they are surrounded by several heavily armed thugs. Dick stands up to draw the thugs attention away from Damian and tells the thugs to come and get him. The thugs inform Dick that Black Mask has ordered the death of every Gotham vigilante and prepare to turn Dick into Swiss cheese. Before any thug can take a single shot at Dick, a heavily armored(and armed)Batman jumps out of the shadows guns blazing, killing the armed thugs left and right, while stating, "I AM BATMAN."
This comic was WAY better than I expected and was well worth the $3.99 cover price. Tony Daniel(writer)masterfully handled the relationships between the various members of the Bat-family, from Dick and Tim's fundamental disagreement concerning Tim's viewpoint that Gotham needs a Batman, even if it isn't Bruce and Dick's reluctance to have anybody "replace" the man who has meant so much to him throughout his life, to the dynamic between Tim and Squire, as well as the relationship between Dick and Damian. Everybody acted exactly how I would have expected them to act, which means Tony did his job very well. Nobody seemed out of character.
The return of the Black Mask was a pleasant and unexpected surprise(what can I say, I like the sadistic S.O.B.), and I'll be interested in seeing just how long Black Mask will be able to keep the nutcases from Arkham under his thumb, I'm guessing not very long at all! Most importantly, this was the first time I ever actually liked Damian Wayne in any Batman comic book! Normally, I can't stand that little pest, but this book showed him to be human as opposed to the emotionless fighting machine Grant Morrison was fond of writing him as. Damian actually acted like a kid his age, instead of someone 5 times older than his age. I was VERY happy with the way Tony Daniel handled Damian, and I hope Grant follows suit.
So, the question is, who is the psychotic fake Batman? My money is on Jason Todd, since he would have access to the various Bat-gadgets Robin was finding at the scenes of his fights. Of course, Azrael is also an option, since this fake Batman is constantly leaving notes at the scenes of his crimes that simply say, "I am Batman". Since Azrael WAS Batman back in the 1990's, he's also a strong possibility. All in all, I really and truly enjoyed this comic book and for a score, I'm going to give it a 10 out of 10. I was really on the fence concerning what I should score this comic, and was torn between 9 and 10, but since I really had no major complaints about this comic book, a 10 it is. I can't wait until the next issue!