Review: Batman and Robin Vol. 7: Robin Rises hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, June 02, 2016

I'm a fan of the Batman and Robin title and especially of creators Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, and that's kept me hooked on this title even though it's been frustrating at times. Batman and Robin Vol. 7: Robin Rises is one of those frustrating times, where I continue to enjoy the creative team's output even as the story itself isn't up to the level of what's come before. Tomasi channels the limits of Bat-zaniness here, and I suppose that's good, but in the end Rises didn't conclude this series as definitively as I wanted.

[Review contains spoilers]

What's really important here is that Damian Wayne is back. Batman does not need more than one dead Robin in his mythos and especially the death of Batman's son seems exceptionally cruel. The extent to which this would affect Batman is probably reflected in how completely the other Bat-titles have largely sidestepped Damian's death altogether. But Tomasi puts that all behind us, and the "how" is less important than the "what."

That "how" is an all-too-rare cosmic action Batman story, and with a super-powered Robin to boot. There's nothing wrong with that, and perhaps more notable than Batman fighting Darkseid is seeing Red Robin, Batgirl, and Red Hood up against the forces of Apokolips, and teamed up with Cyborg. That's wild, doing things with these characters that no writer has done before, and I enjoyed Robin Rises on the level of a summer blockbuster movie.

At the same time, there's a second-chapter sequence where Batman is just plowing through Apokoliptian monsters, which reminds the reader of Grant Morrison's near-invincible Batman. Even despite Batman's Hellbat suit (and the mutable physics of comic books), this book stretches believability to an extent. I sense, however, that Tomasi's story is purposefully over the top, including when Alfred, warned in the Batcave of a pending incursion from Apokolips, straightens his tie, brushes his hair, puts on his jacket, and then straps on a giant otherworldly gun to prepare to blow them all to hell.

This Silver Age vibe to the book is reinforced by the annual that finishes the book, set almost entirely with a Batman and resurrected Robin in space suits on the moon. It's the annual that seals the book, seeing Damian once again ignoring his father's direct orders, but with Batman having to acknowledge Damian's correct handling of the matter. It's a hopeful moment, with Damian and Batman agreeing that "it sure is great to be us."

The book needs this, because between the four-part "Robin Rises" and the annual is the book's concluding story, the three-part "Superpower," which I didn't feel concluded the book satisfactorily on its own. I don't look askance at all at three issues that are mostly Batman and Robin talking to one another, nor ones that let Patrick Gleason draw the Justice League. But as Batman and Robin's closing arc, the story offers very few lessons learned; Damian's still headstrong, Batman's still cautioning him to control himself. There's a mild suggestion at the end that Damian showed restraint in fighting alongside Shazam, but I didn't even note it in the story until Batman remarks on it outright later on. As has often been the case, the gains in Bruce and Damian Wayne's relationship in this book are presented factually by Tomasi rather than the reader being made to feel them emotionally. Fortunately the annual helps correct what "Superpower" doesn't achieve.

Robin Rises includes the Robin Rises: Alpha issue, with art by Andy Kubert. It remains fitting for Kubert to bookend this story given his role in Damian's first appearances, though Alpha repeats about 10 pages of the previous issue such to make Alpha's necessity uncertain at the outset. Kubert certainly draws the rock 'em, sock 'em action well, though figures in the background get a bit fuzzy. In both the Alpha and proceeding issue, Tomasi suggests something about how Batman could at that moment either resurrect Damian or Bruce's parents, a curious intimation never fully explained. When Kubert draws it, he has young Bruce grabbing the leg of his parents' killer, a nicely subtle and unusual suggestion that Bruce fought back in that fateful moment in Crime Alley.

Again, I don't always think Batman and Robin, and Batman and Robin Vol. 7: Robin Rises, did enough to explore Bruce and Damian Wayne's relationship, but there's plenty of good moments in this and all the books (especially, here, Patrick Gleason drawing Aquaman again and Damian's reasons for visiting him). Rises also remains unclear on Batman's history with Darkseid; the previous volume specifically referenced when Darkseid sent Batman back in time in Final Crisis, but in this book it seems the two haven't met since Justice League Vol. 1: Origin. But those are minor issues in a highly imaginative volume that caps off a fine run (the first volume, Born to Kill, remains among the best of the New 52), and I'm very eager to follow Peter Tomasi, Gleason, and Doug Mahnke into the "Rebirth" Superman title.

[Includes original and variant covers, Patrick Gleason sketches and pages]
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6 comments:

  1. The greater point, I think, is that Bruce finally made peace with Damian. That was the whole point. He had been fighting the idea of this rebellious son until he died, and the death made him realize how important Damian was to him. So when Damian finally returns, he has to face the reality of it all over again, and at this point realizes that maybe Damian wasn't as bad as he once thought. This was subtle storytelling surrounded by bombast. It was like nothing anyone would ever have expected. Everyone just kind of expected Damian to remain pigeon-holed as that nasty little kid who's rude to everyone. The genius of Tomasi's version is that he was a lot of things, but he was never that. I think that's the thing that's prevented a lot of fans from appreciating this brilliant run.

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    1. I agree with you 100% Tony. Tomasi and Gleason did great things with the relationship between Bruce and Damian all through this series, and this last arc was a great ending to it.

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    2. Well put; I can read that between the lines of the annual, at least.

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  2. I love that Batman was supercompetent here, after being portrayed as a nincompoop in Forever Evil, I feel his fans were owed some retribution. Then again, I do recognize that there is divide between people who think Batman is just some rich dude in a costume and people who (like me) believe that he is a man who made himself into more than just a man, the peak of humanity.

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    1. What was the issue with Forever Evil? Not knowing Nightwing was alive/not being able to save him?

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    2. A combination of laughable Justice League contingency plans, sheer ineffectiveness when dealing with the Injustice Gang and not realizing/questioning the fact that his Kryptonite ring was stolen. Now mind you, I'm not saying his plans should be 100% foolproof or he should be able to beat the Injustice gang or any such insanity, but the way he handled each situation was just incredibly ineffective/mischaracterized.

      For example, preparing to beat Green Lantern with a half-charged power ring would be like me preparing to beat Tiger Woods in a golf match with a half-broken club. It's his game to win and my equipment doesn't even work.

      Also, the Injustice Gang orders Batman to follow their lead and he acquiesces? After they've visibly murdered someone in his presence and have not been dissuaded of doing so again? That's almost entirely out of character.

      The Kryptonite ring scene I shouldn't even have to explain, Lex is the smartest man in the world not a ninja and Bruce is never that unaware.

      Geoff Johns seems to believe that Batman's effectiveness is based almost entirely on his ability to inspire fear. This is not an opinion I share, but you know, it's not an invalid take on the character. That is, if you make his intimidation actually have an effect on the other characters surrounding him, instead of using it as a showcase for how badass everyone else is. It just makes the character look really weak.

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