Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

17 December 2010

Batman & Robin, v. 2: Batman vs. Robin

Collects: Batman & Robin #7-12 (2010)

Released: November 2010 (DC)

Format: 168 pages / color / $24.99 / ISBN: 9781401228330

What is this?: Batman and Robin investigate the true fate of Bruce Wayne.

The culprits: Writer Grant Morrison and pencilers Cameron M. Stewart and Andy Clarke

As the calendar marches toward Christmas, once again, I have decided that nothing says the holiday season like a child in a red-and-green costume punching and stabbing people. Batman and Robin, v. 2: Batman vs. Robin is even more Christmas-y than Batman: Shadows of Gotham, v. 1: Hush Money because it involves awkward family gatherings. Sure, when my family gets together for the season, we generally don’t attempting to murder a step-brother or learn about a clone-brother that will replace a family member in his mother’s, but there’s still the general aura of awkwardness and disapproval that really says, “Season’s greetings.”

Batman & Robin, v. 2: Batman vs. Robin coverI looked at the first issue of Batman & Robin in one of my Quarter Bin reviews, and it was intriguing. Batman & Robin is writer Grant Morrison’s baby, and with him in charge, there’s little chance of it being boring. (Incomprehensible, maybe, but not boring.) That’s a very good thing, because this collection centers around the resurrection of Bruce Wayne — an event that was inevitable as soon as we learned Bruce Wayne was dying, let alone when it was first hinted at in the book. With something as inevitable as Wayne’s return, there’s little joy in the destination, so we have to enjoy the journey, and Morrison does string us along on quite a journey — puzzles in portraits, secret passages, bat demons, architecture and graveyard patterns — as Damian sniffs disdainfully at Tim Drake’s theory of Batman being sent back in time and the da Vinci Code style shenanigans. Morrison adds in a few red herrings in the form of Lazarus Pits and dead clones (hey! it’s comics!).

Fortunately, that’s just the “A” plot — I doubt even Morrison could make that unstoppable plot train interesting if that were the entirety of Batman vs. Robin. Morrison brings in Batwoman for a three-issue arc, tangentially hauling along the plots of the Crime Coven and the prophecies of the Crime Bible. Then, in the second arc, he goes on to include the return of Dr. Hurt and the Black Glove, introduce Oberon Sexton, and show Damian’s battle for independence from his mother. In that second arc, there’s a good mix of subplot types — one leads to a surprising reveal at the end of the book, one is a teaser for future stories, and the other complicates the main story. The latter, Damian vs. his mother, Talia, is my favorite; it’s a nice idea that Talia would use her wayward son as a weapon against the man who she feels isn’t really worthy to wear her dead lover’s costume. I also like the inclusion of Knight and Squire (essentially the British Batman and Robin) in the first arc; the loony Silver-Age background and adversaries — such as Old King Cole, who has mine and chimney-themed henchmen — are a hoot.

The rest of the “B” and subplots are less enjoyable. It’s fortunate that there’s such an easy main plot to hang on to; I can see being easily frustrated or confused by the Black Glove or 99 Fiends or domino references if you weren’t overly familiar with the “Batman: RIP” storyline or the previous Batman & Robin issues. Neither the editors nor Morrison do much to make you familiar with that information either. And then there’s the Crime Bible prophecies and Batwoman; I have no idea what a new reader would make of that — incoherent babble, I suppose. When a true mystery comes along, like the identity of Oberon Sexton, it’s impossible for readers to know whether that’s something they should already be aware of or something to be revealed.

The art for the two arcs in Batman & Robin are divided between two pencilers, Cameron M. Stewart and Andy Clarke. I like Stewart’s art quite a bit, although I admit that’s because it fits in the general smooth, pretty style that I admire the most. He has a lot of funny with the goofy, faux-Silver Age world that is British crime. His action scenes are fluid and easy to follow, and he does a good job with emotion. On the other hand, his style feels a little light for a Batwoman or a resurrection / madness of Bruce Wayne story, dealing with death and revival as it does. (It isn’t all his fault; Morrison doesn’t exactly get across the monumental nature of using the Lazarus Pit to return from the dead, treating it more like a scenery-moving stage direction.) Also, his characters are astonishingly clean and bright, despite fighting coal-themed villains in a coal mine.

Clarke is less my mug of tea and more of a Frank Quitely type, for those readers who are looking for the style of the title’s regular artist. His heavily hatched style would have been more at home in the first arc, as it gives the characters and scenes a sense of texture that would have fit the grubby underground settings. It’s a welcome change, though. On the other hand, his characters have a tendency to look frozen when not actually in action, especially Talia and Alfred.

Batman vs. Robin is a fun book, but it’s not for those who are just looking to pick up a random Batman book — even though I didn’t think as much of it, Hush Money is the book for readers coming back or new to Batman. But if you have a reasonable familiarity with the past five years of DC continuity, have the ability to ignore bits you don’t quite understand, or are looking to get into Bat-Family continuity, then Batman vs. Robin might be right up your alley.

Rating: Batman symbol Batman symbol Batman symbol Batman symbol (3.5 of 5)

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