Review: Batman and Robin Vol. 3: Death of the Family hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, December 02, 2013

Once again, while I adored the first volume of Peter Tomasi's Batman and Robin, I found the second volume scattered and lacking. Batman and Robin Vol. 3: Death of the Family is a better story, though it's hampered by being an especially short trade -- just three regular issues and an annual, discounting that Batman #17 that keeps showing up everywhere and that I'm skipping by this point.

[Review contains spoilers]

By virtue of the first Batman and Robin collection being eight issues, that placed both the "Night of the Owls" crossover and the lead-in to "Death of the Family" in volume two, whereas most Bat-books only handled "Owls" in volume two and saved all of "Death" for volume three. Batman and Robin's proper two-part "Death of the Family" tie-in is collected here, but by virtue of goings on in Batman Inc. Vol. 2, the book cuts off after the one-off issue #17, before the book changes in issue #18.

It's probably right to break Batman and Robin before "Requiem," such that there's a clear place for Batman Inc. to fit in; however, again, it makes for a short trade that equally feels light on story and forward momentum, which is problematic after the equally-sluggish volume two.

As with the last volume, I place little of this at Tomasi's feet, or at least it doesn't hurt my esteem of his writing any. Clearly Tomasi's storytelling is being buffeted by events taking place in a slew of other titles; the sheer amount of continuity that Tomasi references in this book -- Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family, Batman Inc. Vol. 1: Demon Star, and the pre-New 52 Batman and Robin Vol. 3: Batman Must Die, among others -- attests to how much this book must keep up with.

Even so, Tomasi's two-part "Death of the Family" tie-in is quite enjoyable. Tomasi gets the Joker's new voice and mission, a la Scott Snyder, perhaps better than Gail Simone did in her Batgirl volume; Simone's Joker, while horrifying, could as easily have been the pre-New 52 Joker, whereas Tomasi's is distinctly the new, Batman's-one-and-only version. Artist Patrick Gleason is firmly in his element here, depicting grotesqueries of the Joker's massacred face that even Greg Capullo didn't achieve in Death of the Family proper; there's also a straighter edge to Gleason's lines here, whereas his work is often more rounded, that evokes artist Doug Mahnke.

Certainly the "Death of the Family" tie-in story gets to the heart of what Batman and Robin is all about, especially the second part. Damian believes he's fighting his crazed father, Batman, to the death, and wrapped up in the fight are all of Damian's complicated levels -- how he adores his father but would indeed like to best him in combat, how were Damian pushed far enough, he might very well be willing to kill Batman, but somewhere the better angels of his nature exist such that he ultimately sacrifices himself instead. Though one drawback to Tomasi's "Death" story is that it doesn't relate to the ongoing stories of the series as a whole, like Simone's did, certainly the thematic elements are there.

Given that Death is essentially Tomasi's swan song for the Damian Wayne character, it's fitting that the volume is largely a study of this latest Robin. The "Death" two-parter is bookended by the annual and issue #17, each one-off stories that demonstrate the dualities of Damian's character. In the annual, Damian sends Bruce Wayne on a scavenger hunt that legitimately reveals to him long-lost artifacts of his parents' lives; at the same time, Damian uses Batman's absence to become a pseudo Bat-kid, doling out harsh justice in a costume similar to the future Damian's from Batman #666. (Pity this issue and the current "Bat-kid" craze couldn't have coincided better.)

The final chapter, issue #17, delves into Bruce Wayne, Alfred, and Damian's dreams. This is lighter fare, of the kind that would probably seem like filler if we didn't understand this to be the beginning of Tomasi's good-bye to Damian. The final scene, in which dream-Damian basks in eating a snack with his father on the rooftops over Gotham, makes clear finally what differentiates Damian as a Robin and why he's unique in being a Robin and Bruce's son. Surely the other Robins have had affection for Bruce and saw him as a father-figure and role model, but perhaps there's never been a Robin before who loves Bruce as Damian does. We see this in the end, when all the fighting is done, that what Damian dreams about is simply spending time with his father; the altar that Damian has bloodied his knuckles on this entire series has been trying to receive that love in return.

I have suggested there have been some emotional moments in Tomasi's Batman and Robin that I think have been un-earned, more for the purposes of the story than emerging organically from the story. With this last book, I finally get it -- finally Tomasi has made a compelling argument for me as to why Damian acts the way he does (if not necessarily where Bruce's affection comes from). Tomasi timed it right, or wrong, depending on your point of view; Damian suddenly "works" for me in this book, just at the point where he won't be appearing in it any longer.

Overall I liked Batman and Robin Vol. 3: Death in the Family, though the volume left me wanting more, and not in a good way. Though I wouldn't trade anything for the first eight issues of this series, collecting it in that way has created an awkward push-and-pull through the second and third volumes. Fortunately, the fourth collection is said to collect six issues and maybe that will help this book regain its original equilibrium, even once this title is Batman and Robin no longer.

[Includes covers, Tomasi's script pages, Patrick Gleason's sketches]

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