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

14 September 2010

The Quarter Bin: Batman & Robin #1

Trade paperbacks and — God forbid — hardbacks are a big risk; dropping $14.99 to $34.99 on material you’re not sure about can lead to buyer’s remorse and bitter, bitter recriminations. Why didn’t someone warn you that Captain America and the Falcon, v. 1: Two Americas was so bad? A sample would have warned you, but you had to order the whole thing.

Well, I’m not made of money either. So I’m trying out that sampling approach in The Quarter Bin. Recent comics that have lower promotional prices, are Free Comic Book Day giveaways, or I have found in that holy of holies, the Quarter Bin, get a quick review and a recommendation on whether it might be worthwhile to pick up the trade. So, without further ado, we have …

The Issue: Batman & Robin (special edition) #1 (August 2009, DC)

The Culprits: Written by Grant Morrison, art by Frank Quitely

The Hook: Cheerful Dick Grayson takes over as Batman, with Bruce Wayne’s brooding son, Damian, as his Robin.

Collected in: Batman and Robin, v. 1: Batman Reborn

Batman & Robin #1 coverStrengths: You know what you’re going to get with a Grant Morrison story — some interesting story ideas and some sick villains. The latter is here, as the villains go from cartoonishly ugly to terrifying within a single issue. The former … not yet, although that’s not a bad thing when Morrison writes for DC: he has a fascination with Silver Age ideas / stories that should be left alone. This isn’t Silver Age stuff, although there is a whiff of silver in the circus folk adversaries and their mysterious cargo of dominoes. On the other hand, I want to know why those dominoes are important. Dick slips into the Batman costume with some — but not too much — angst while watching Damian slip into his old costume. Morrison revives the Bronze Age Batcave under the Wayne Foundation building (not that it’s named in the story) for the new Batman.

Weaknesses: European carnies? Really? Against Batman? Also, I don’t like Frank Quitely’s art — I find it creepy at the best of times — those wide heads that aren’t quite … smooth, unsettling faces. The Flying Batmobile doesn’t particularly look like a Batmobile.

Mitigation: Many people think I’m stupid for not liking Quitely’s art, that he’s quite innovative and an excellent storyteller. And I do like the slightly retro styling of the vehicles in Quitely’s Gotham. On the other hand, there’s always time for Morrison to run off the rails, as he occasionally did in Batman: R.I.P..

Judgment: I enjoyed this and was intrigued by the story, occasionally in spite of myself. There’s a definite emphasis on the new — from the Batcave to the Batmobile, everything but Alfred has been changed and rearranged for a new Batman — so it actually feels different from what has come before. Even if Bruce Wayne is coming back and Morrison’s spent the last couple of years writing Batman.

Hardcover, TPB, or Nothing?: Unless you disliked Morrison’s previous Bat-work, I would recommend the TPB — I enjoy Batman, and I enjoyed Morrison and Quitely’s collaboration on New X-Men — but that doesn’t come out for another seven months. So if you want Batman & Robin in a collected form, you have to go with the hardcover until next year.

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