The issue begins with Dick and Harper meeting the Sculptor, the woman who Mother uses to "mold" her children into their "new" selves. However, the Sculptor has decided to rebel against Mother because she can't go through another purge like the other that Mother is conducting in Prague, since it means killing all the children. She intentionally left the trail for Harper to follow to Cain's residence, expositing that Cain would never have left so easy of one. (This explanation goes to my point from last issue, that the authors did a terrible job of showing how Harper tracked down Cain. That said, it still would've been helpful to watch Harper find the trail on her own, even if it was a fake one that the Sculptor set.)
The Sculptor reveals that Cain is Orphan, and she offers to take Dick on a journey of her mind so that he can fully understand Mother. Dick tells her that he can't, because of his Hypnos, so Harper goes instead. Along the way, we're witness to Cassandra's brutal childhood, as we learn that Orphan was training her in secret to be the most brutal of Mother's children. Mother is ultimately displeased with Orphan for acting outside her orders and forbids him to consider Cass as part of their family (if you'll excuse the expression). The Sculptor then leads Harper to the moment when Batman seems to be ready to buy a new Robin. (He refers to the Robin as "her," though it seems unlikely that it's Cass, given Mother's "disowning" of her.) Harper mumbles his name, leading Dick to break the connection with a taser. He then demands that the Sculptor take him to Batman, regardless of the danger.
Needless to say, it's an intense issue. Brisson does a solid job of handling a story with so much exposition, keeping the focus on the characters in the flashback and not on the overly convenient way that we're treated to this information in the first place. Although the art is uneven (due to the use of two artists with pretty different styles), I have to say that I'm pleased that we're making progress on the central mystery. After all, this issue answers some questions, even though those answers raise more questions.
First, my theory that David Cain was Cassandra's father is proven correct here, though it complicates my theory that Batman killed Cassandra's parents (and not Cain's) in issue #1. If Batman didn't turn Cassandra into who she is, then did he turn Cain into Orphan? If so, it again raises the question of when exactly he started working with Mother?`
Second, we learn here that Mother was using Scarecrow's fear gas to simulate the trauma that she previously created the old-fashioned way, as Cain did with Cassandra (by murdering seemingly dozens if not hundreds of people in front of her). She tells David that she went with the gas because "we must adapt or perish," but Snyder and Tynion don't identify the catalyst for her realizing that. What about the old-fashioned way wasn't working any more?
Again, although heavy on the exposition, this issue helps right the ship a bit after the last two issues disappointed. I'm hoping that we get someone like King or Seeley to handle Dick's confrontation with the (supposed) truth about Batman. Talk about intense.
*** (three of five stars)