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

05 October 2012

Batman and Robin, v. 1: Born to Kill

Collects: Batman and Robin v. 2 #1-8 (2011-2)

Released: July 2012 (DC)

Format: 192 pages / color / $24.99 / ISBN: 9781401234874

What is this?: The New 52 reboot of the adventures of Batman (Bruce Wayne) and Robin (his son, Damian) against a villain from Bruce’s past.

The culprits: Writer Peter J. Tomasi and artist Patrick Gleason

Oh, DC reboots … I never get tired of you. No, wait, that’s not true — I’m sick and tired of them. This is unfortunate, because at the current rate, I expect four or five full or partial reboots before I start collecting my meager Social Security checks.

But approaching senility, I think, will make the reboots more palatable because I will no longer wonder: what do I need to remember? What should I forget? Because rebooted titles never get rid of everything.

Batman and Robin, v. 1: Born to Kill coverTake the New 52’s Batman and Robin, v. 1: Born to Kill. I read Grant Morrison’s entire pre-reboot run on the title; what do I need to remember from it? Did that series even happen? Did Dick Grayson train Damian Wayne at any time? Or did Bruce Wayne’s son immediately begin training with Bruce? What is Bruce’s relationship with Talia, Damian’s mother? We haven’t seen Damian and Bruce interact much, but is Damian’s character the same?

Admittedly, most of those questions aren’t important or are only important when the writer chooses to address them. But their presence is distracting, and I have trouble dismissing them and others out of hand, especially when writer Peter J. Tomasi seems to have changed who Damian is.

Seems to have changed Damian. One can argue he is acting differently in different circumstances. In Morrison’s series, Damian was a brat, supremely confident in his abilities, and annoyingly dismissive of patience and Dick Grayson. In Tomasi’s series, Damian is unintentionally dangerous, cruel, impatient, petulant, and obsessed with Daddy. I do not like Tomasi’s Damian, either on his own or in comparison with Morrison’s Damian. But it may be fair to say I don’t care for Damian when he’s around Bruce Wayne rather than Dick.

The art doesn’t help Tomasi sell his version of Damian. There are a couple of moments in which Patrick Gleason‘s illustrations are supposed to convey some subtlety of Damian’s character, but the art does not do so. In Tomasi’s pitch for the series, included at the end of Born to Kill, it mentions Damian killing a “sick” bat. But in the actual issue, Damian snatches a seemingly healthy bat out of the air and crushes it. This transforms the act from “morally debatable” to “psychopathic.” When Bruce gives Damian a dog after this, it feels less like an act of therapy or socialization than a death sentence for the dog. (Of course it isn’t, which makes Damian’s bat-killing mystifying or irrelevant.)

In another scene, Bruce angrily scatters some of Damian’s drawings. What upsets Bruce is largely unseen — one drawing has Two-Face’s head split by an axe, but there’s no indication of who wielded the axe. (Seriously, the picture is more high-school doodling than disturbing.) The rest the pictures that are visible are innocuous, leaving the question of what upset Bruce so much: that a boy raised by the League of Assassins and sent into the streets every night to punish criminals and psychopaths would draw violent images? I would be shocked if he did not.

But Tomasi is hitting the father / son dynamic heavily. Bruce has been a father before, to Dick (and possibly Jason?), when Dick was about the age Damian is (probably.) Yet he totally mishandles Damian — his behavior would be a mishandling of any child or any Robin. But Bruce reacts differently when Damian is captured than when any other Robin was taken, threatening to kill his captor and losing his cool … I supposed blood really is thicker than formal adoption papers. It makes me think less of Bruce, though. His concern over Damian’s development if he were to disappear is touching, except that he was gone and presumed dead for quite a while, and Dick did a fine job.

As for the plot, Tomasi installs one of perquisites of the reboot: the continuity implant. Bruce and Damian are menaced by Morgan Ducard, a.k.a. Nobody. Morgan is the son of bloodthirsty manhunter Henry Ducard, one of the men who trained Bruce to be Batman. Morgan’s got his own daddy issues, a grudge against Bruce, and a similar mission to Batman’s. Morgan is a vigilante as well, but he kills the criminals he captures, and he derides Batman for being soft on crime by merely imprisoning the punks. So Morgan goes about killing small-time criminals, trying to convince Damian to become his student, and attempting to kill Bruce. This is … so, so dull, especially spread over eight issues. Morgan knows Bruce is Batman, but he doesn’t do anything clever with this knowledge; he goes for the gloating kill after capturing Bruce, then he tries for a garden-variety seduction-by-darkness of Damian.

Tamosi’s dialogue is sometimes tin-eared, especially in battle scenes; when, for instance, Batman and Robin burst in on gunmen, one says, “What the hell?!,” and Batman responds, “Yes, that’s exactly where you are tonight!” That’s awful. Or sometimes the dialogue just feels wrong for the characters: when Nobody is about to kill a human trafficker in a vat of acid, Damian complains Nobody is “dunking him in acid!” (I don’t think the “dunking” is the sticking point.) But Tomasi does get a few moments right, most of them involving Alfred and his parenting suggestions. But Born to Kill doesn’t collect eight issues of Alfred & Robin or Butlering Comics, so that’s cold comfort.

Tomasi also missed on a few names. He uses Henri Ducard — the alias Ra’s al Ghul uses in the movie Batman Begins — for Morgan’s father and Bruce’s former mentor. 66 Is this to suggest Ducard is Ra’s or draw a parallel between them? Probably not, but that’s what I thought of. Morgan’s nom du revanche, Nobody, is clever if you’re Odysseus or an imaginary friend; otherwise, it’s a mistake, as Morgan has a strong sense of self and leaves an unignorable trail of dead and missing in his wake. And as for the Great Dane Bruce buys for Damian — OK, I can see avoiding Ace (the Bat Hound) as being too obvious. But if you’re going to name a Great Dane after a Shakespearean character, I can think of one involved with a bloodbath and having parental issues that fits. Or, if “Hamlet” is too on the nose, why not “Horatio,” which makes a great name for a sounding board? Either is better than “Titus,” which Damian ultimately chooses.

Other than my previous complaints about Gleason, I have few objections to his art. I liked his design of the Russian Batman, even though he is only briefly in the book. Nobody’s design, though, is a generic mishmash: insectoid (apparent multiple eyes) and black, with glove blasters. Perhaps that fits a character “Nobody” better than a truly distinctive design. Gleason’s action scenes are chaotic without devolving into incoherence; although there are some confusing bits, I never lost the thread of the narrative.

Still Gleason’s art isn’t enough to pull Kill past “acceptable.” Is there anything wrong with Kill? No, not in the long run. I’m a little confused why DC started the reboot in this title with such weak fare, and I’m downright bewildered by the positive blurbs on the cover. It’s a slow story and not a very interesting one.

Rating: Batman symbol Batman symbol (2 of 5)

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