Manimal: Proving Ground
Credits: Alan Grant (writer), Bret Blevins (penciler), Bob Smith and Bret Blevins (inks), Todd Klein (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)
Summary: Bruce orders Robin and Nightwing to follow Jean-Paul, while he continues his training. Another master tracks Bruce to his cabin in the woods, and even though Bruce defeats him in battle, he remains unconvinced that he’s ready to return as Batman. Meanwhile, Jean-Paul continues his search for Carlton LeHah, his father’s murderer.
Irrelevant Continuity: According to Bruce’s research, the St. Dumas that Jean-Paul’s order was created to serve possibly never existed.
Total N00B: I’m assuming Carlton LeHah appeared in the Sword of Azrael miniseries, because the characters in this issue certainly talk about him as if he’s an established character. We do get a fairly lengthy flashback explaining the Order of Dumas and how Jean-Paul received the mantle of Azrael, the first time this information has been revealed in the sixty or so comics that have been reprinted so far.
Review: I think Alan Grant still hates Azrael, but thankfully he’s not the sole focus of the series anymore. The double-sized remit allows Grant a lot of space to focus on Bruce and his insecurities over returning as Batman, along with numerous pages of him training and fighting another unnamed master. And symbolic animal imagery, of course. The martial arts scenes get a little tiresome, but Grant’s third-person narration does a lot to humanize Bruce and make his current situation feel like a legitimate character arc, instead of filler before his inevitable return as Batman. The rest of the story is pretty blatant filler, though, as Jean-Paul keeps talking to visions, Robin and Nightwing fight some generic thugs, and as I said, Bruce trains and trains like he’s in a Rocky montage. The few good scenes don’t do enough to distract from the padding. Another great cover, though.