Review: Batman and Robin: Batman vs. Robin deluxe hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin loses some of its irreverence with the second volume, Batman vs. Robin, and actually becomes a little bit heartfelt. This is a strange turn for a book whose first volume seemed to bask in its own psychedelica, and whose entire point seemed to be the commercialism and impermanence of superheroes. Instead, Batman vs. Robin was something of an ode to the Dynamic Duo, belying the title; I'm not sure it was stronger than the book's premiere, but it was certainly interesting.

[Contains spoilers]

The two stories collected here, "Blackest Knight" and "Batman vs. Robin," explore on one hand Dick Grayson's desperate attempt to resurrect his mentor, and on the other hand Damian Wayne's real affection for Dick and for his role as Robin. Both stories are about Robins, past and present, clinging to their mentors; the latter, however, is the more surprising in that I hadn't expected Damian to actually like being Robin.

In the advertising for Batman vs. Robin, I guessed Damian would be mislead by his mother Talia or otherwise believe himself smarter than Dick Grayson and try to overcome him. I didn't expect a story where Damian renounces his mother for Dick, and is then forced to fight Dick against his will. Morrison does well adding to the tragedy of the scene in that Damian is conscious and knows he's attacking Dick even as he doesn't want to. I found it interesting that Damian expresses concern about the potential return of Bruce Wayne, in that it might mean he and Dick would no longer be Batman and Robin; we didn't see Bruce interact with Damian all that much, but it's interesting that Damian seems to relate to Dick better, perhaps because there's less than in teaming with "the" original Batman.

To an extent, however, the "Batman vs. Robin" chapters are not a story so much as an extended trailer describing the Wayne family history that one will encounter in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne. "Blackest Knight" is not much of a story either (as compared to Batman and Robin's initial outing versus Professor Pyg and his circus of freaks); it does guest-star Greg Rucka's Batwoman, which is always a plus, but the story of the heroes solving a Religion of Crime prophecy is too much like Rucka's Batwoman and Question storylines. Maybe the potential for Bruce Wayne's Lazarus Pit resurrection held more cache for single issue readers, when Return of Bruce Wayne wasn't just around the corner, but I wasn't so much moved by the plot as I was interested in the little bits Morrison sets out about the characters.

That is, in addition to what we learn about Damian, I was thrilled to see Dick Grayson fail miserably in "Blackest Knight." Here Dick has hidden away Bruce Wayne's corpse, travels around the world to drop it into a Lazarus Pit (never a good idea, and something he's previously warned others not to do), ends up unleashing a mad Batman clone, and nearly gets Damian and Alfred killed in the process. For all the years we've read "perfect" Batman, even written by Grant Morrison himself, this is a welcome change; and Morrison even dispenses with any recriminations, either. In the absence of Bruce Wayne, the Batman title lacks the kind of overbearing presence it used to have, where if Nighting or Robin took a flyer, Batman was there at the end to tell them they did wrong; I appreciate the madcap and experimental feel Batman and Robin has now, with a Batman who can "do wrong."

There's no doubt much to be made at the end of this book about the burgeoning connections Grant Morrison's Batman run has to Peter Milligan's story "Dark Knight, Dark City" from Batman #452-454, or about the revelation that normal, plain-talking Oberon Sexton is actually the Joker (my guess, Joker didn't know who he was until he lost the mask, either). I am more taken by the possibility that all of this -- Dr. Hurt, the Black Glove -- may be people Batman meets in the past, and that their attack on him was so mysterious because Batman hadn't met them before, but they had met him. Morrison wrote one of my all-time favorite superhero time-travel stories, JLA: Rock of Ages, and if what's coming up in the Bat-books has that kind of Rock of Ages magic, I'm all for it.

Batman vs. Robin is not as edgy as Batman Reborn, as if even Morrison knows the real attention is on Return of Bruce Wayne, but it is an action-packed superhero story. Batman vs. Robin is still a "thinker" -- I had to read some pages of Dick Grayson in Britain twice to fully grasp what was going on -- but not like Batman Reborn or Batman RIP, and in that way Batman vs. Robin reminded me of more of Morrison's JLA work; not so cerebral all the time, and instead just good comics.

I'm in for the next volume, of course, and then maybe I'll give Peter Tomasi's run on the book a try. I was going to jump ship along with Grant Morrison, but if Tomasi examines what it means to be a Batman or a Robin as Morrison does here, that's something I'd keep an eye on.

[Contains full covers, copious notes by Grant Morrison (deluxe hardcover). Printed on glossy paper.]

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9 comments:

  1. Cameron Stewart. Nuff said

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  2. I read this in single issues, mostly because I couldn't wait to get my hands on the next Morrison chapter, so I can vouch for "Blackest Knight" holding a lot of intrigue month to month (because of scheduling mishaps, the issues actually appeared biweekly, which was GREAT). I had always assumed Bruce Wayne would use Lazarus Pits to return, but Morrison threw me for a loop on this one.

    I too thought #7-12 were more serious than the first six, but rightfully so. Morrison's "season" on B&R was coming to its big finale, and in a sense this collection lets us know where our heroes stand with each other and without Bruce. This is definitely more esoteric Morrison; there's a fair amount of material in #10-12 that reads like a teaser for RoBW, but most of it you can figure out fairly quickly (hmm, all these portraits from the past look like Bruce...).

    Can't wait for your review of the final trade (whenever that comes out) - for my money, Frazer Irving was the best artist on the title (even better than Quitely), and that final arc is full of manic exuberant intensity. Not sure how it'll read in a collected edition, but it was certainly the best monthly on my pull list. Also looking forward to your review of Brightest Day.

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  3. Couldn't agree more about Irving. His art was really nice, I loved his take on the Joker. Very creepy.

    Us trade waiters will have to wait till May for the third volume of B&R; that's rather silly as RoBW will have a February release date.

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  4. Abu - reading the next leg of Morrison's run on Batman in trades is going to be difficult. RoBW, B&R Vol. 3, and Time and the Batman should all be read together, with TatB coming first since it bridges the gap from the helicopter crash in RIP to the beginning of RoBW #1. Not sure which issues should be read in which order after that, but you should finish RoBW before getting to the last pages of B&R #15. It's so puzzling, but at least with Batman Inc. things are getting more linear.

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  5. TatB should definitely be read before RoBW, even though it will only come out in March. Reading B&R Vol. 3 after RoBW would work just fine, but it's a shame it will take so long to be released.

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  6. I'm looking forward to Batman Inc. I agree that it does seem to be more linear and won't be intertwined with other mini's -- hopefully.

    I forgot about the delays for B&R and RoBW; probably why the trades got pushed back. This, along with WoS, there seems to be a lot of time before they are released. WoS finished in May and the trade will be released in Feb. I know trade waiters have to wait but that does seem a little excessive.

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  7. It's about time that DC got their collected editions in order and followed Marvel's example. Trades are out in an extremely timely fashion, generally about 2 months after the issues finish.

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  8. I'm not reading too much Marvel but I do pick up a few titles but when I look at their release schedule I am amazed at how fast their trades are released. It is nice.

    DC seems to continue to be pushing people more to their monthlies. That's fine, I don't see and don't think monthlies will go away in my lifetime (I'm 30 now). But obviously the trade paperback market is growing and looks like it'll continue so it would be nice to have a nice balance between the two markets.

    Trade waiting became annoying for me when I caught up with the DCU. I will say this though, the waiting has had a positive affect; it introduced me to other titles -- especially from Image -- and I am enjoying those a lot.

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  9. Tradewaiting was painful when I first started doing it, but now I'm quite comfortable getting 4 or so collections a month. There's always something to buy so I think I'll cope with the delayed pleasure of reading these Batbooks in the correct order.

    There was something really great about this volume, despite the lack of gobsmacking Quitely art, I find myself enjoying it much more than volume 1.

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