So, I've said for a while now that I'd post my thoughts on this chapter in the ongoing Batverse-saga, but it got delayed again and again in favor of chronologically earlier installments I read. Prodigal was at first published in Batman #512 - #514, Shadow of the Bat #32 - #34, Detective Comics #679 - #681 and Robin #11 - #13. That means I'm missing a good chunk of the context (once again) because the last stories I've read set before that compilation are the Batman Year 3 story line in Batman #436 - #439. I've read summaries of some following events on web sites and even before that I'd heard about the new Robin, about the Knightfall storyline, about Azrael as Batman etc., but that is not the same as reading the canon first hand. (That would be one of those disclaimers I mentioned in my last post.)
Before I comment on the story I want to say three things about the art.
First, of course the style is changing throughout the paperback, because the chapters weren't all done by the same artists, but it bugged me that not even the basics of the Batman costume stayed the same from one chapter to the next. For example one chapter the cape has these upward pointing spike-thingies on the shoulders (sorry, I have really no idea what you could call those), the next chapter the cape lies flat on the shoulders, the Bat logo on the chest has totally different sizes too, sometimes really large, sometimes very small, and there is other stuff too. I don't know if it would have bothered me in the same way had I read the story as single issues, but still -- I think there ought to be some basic guidelines how the current costumes and environment ought to look like within stories done in several series by several artists.
Second, it's annoying that some of the artists can do only one angry facial expression. The one expression is of course this "grr" look, with the teeth showing and clenched onto each other. That is not the most realistic angry expression in the first place, but it gets really ridiculous when it stays the same through several panels, while the character is talking and shouting no less. Who talks angrily with their teeth clenched the whole time? I get that this expression might be easily recognizable in panorama shots when the faces are quite small and there aren't a lot of options to do a detailed face, but in close-ups? It just looks silly and not at all dramatic. For an especially bad example look at the pages 41 and 42 in the paperback. I was totally thrown out of the story at that point because it just looked like a silly comic book. I mean four panels where Dick (as Batman) talks and talks and talks, all with bared, clenched teeth in close-ups, you might think he was a ventriloquist just like that one lunatic bad guy.
Third, overall I like the art of those chapters least that were the Robin issues originally, drawn by Phil Jimenez and John Cleary (pencils), and John Stokes and Ray Kryssing (inks), regardless of the combination of those artists over the three Robin issues (though there are slight differences).
Oh, and one other thing (I guess I have four things to say about the art after all): I find it really annoying when I have to turn around the comic while reading, just because the artists thought it was cooler not to work with the given format for their first page.
Despite all this I still enjoyed the story. In Prodigal Dick takes over the Batman identity after Bruce reclaimed it from Jean Paul -- well Bruce thrusts the cape and cowl into his hands and he accepts reluctantly is a bit more accurate -- and it is a turning point for Dick. At the beginning he seems to worry more or less whether he is good enough to fill the role, but during his "tour" as Batman the emphasis shifts to a realization that he and Bruce simply aren't the same kind of vigilante, that he is not driven in the same way, especially that he is less of a loner than Batman tends (and often wants) to be, though some feelings of inadequacy remain:
"It never stops, never ends -- and if an entire police force can become overwhelmed and demoralized, how does one man, alone in an eternal night of evil and violence possibly cope? By being driven, obsessed, more than a normal man...and a lot more than I'm prepared, or able to be. There is only one Batman. It wasn't Jean Paul Valley, and it isn't me. Come back Bruce..the night needs you...and all I can do is curse the bat eclipsing my heart."
A bit purple prose like, but it fits Dick's mood at that point.
During Prodigal Dick also has to confront some unresolved issues from his past, has to face old enemies with whom he feels he failed in the past, like Two-Face, and throughout the story I enjoyed the interactions between Dick and Tim, it feels a lot like an older brother, younger bother relationship. And I'm just a sucker for buddy interactions, and this is much closer to "buddy" than to the "father-son" vibe that's going on between Batman and Robin when Bruce is the Batman.
I also like the bit where Tim and Barbara (or rather Robin and Oracle) both have problems with maintaining their secret vigilante identity because they face frequent interruptions from family members.
And towards the end, when Bruce comes back, he and Dick make at least some progress in talking about their relationship, though again (like in their argument way earlier in #416) Dick pushes and Bruce is defensive and somehow can't give Dick all the answers he wants.
All in all Prodigal is a sort of "coming of age" story for Dick, and I enjoyed it.