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Review: ‘Batman and Robin’ Nos. 1-2

2009 August 24

First, some disclaimers. Or maybe the following is simply full self-disclosure.

I’m not what you’d call a Grant Morrison fan. As my buddy Jett at (my favorite Web site of all time) has said, I have a love-hate relationship with him.

On the one hand, I can look back and see just how good Morrison is to pick up throwaway stories from the 1950s and 60s and make them into something much more intriguing. You might say I can see the method in his madness — to some extent.

It’s his madness that, well, makes me crazy. His stubborn refusal to write in a linear fashion is nothing short of frustrating to read. Just about the time I’m getting into the groove of his writing in a particular sequence, Morrison abruptly changes scenes with little or no transition or logical explanation.

He’s one of the few writers whom I have to say doesn’t make his multi-issue storylines quite long enough. Take “Batman & Son” — actually the whole impetus in some ways for “Batman Reborn”; it actually needed just one more issue so the conclusion didn’t feel so rushed. (Click here for my detailed BOF review of “Batman & Son.”)

I’m also not down with how the comics media treats Morrison like some rock god. After reading, watching or listening to one of their interviews with him, I always have to ask if any of those reporters ever read any of Morrison’s work with any subjective, critical eyes. Sheeees!

Enough of that.

In the first two issues of BATMAN AND ROBIN, Morrison seems to have turned a creative corner. Or maybe, with the help of frequent collaborator artist Frank Quitely, maybe GM is going back to the simple yet profound storytelling he did in ALL-STAR SUPERMAN.

I tell you, it works. GM should continue writing minimal dialogue and let these expressive artists like Quitely and Tony Daniels tell the story instead of cramming so many words into too many word balloons. (“Batman: R.I.P.,” anyone?! Cruise here for the last part of my issue-by-issue review.)

In issue 1, Morrison proves he can right tightly by pretty much summarizing Dick Grayson’s thoughts in “Battle for the Cowl.” (Read my review of the first third of the limited series here.) He tells Alfred he’s not having second thoughts about being Batman, saying: “I’ve always known what I’d do if … if anything happened to Bruce. I just didn’t want to face it. …

“As long as I was Nightwing, I could pretend I’d never have to take over as Batman. I could act as if he’d always be around,” Dick says.

Quitely reveals his own brilliance by using a half-page and four panels to show how the Batcave is set up under Wayne Tower and how Alfred accesses it. And that name — The Bunker — is quite cool. Another great moment is the new Batman and Robin (“together again for the first time”) leaping from the hovering Batmobile using their new paracapes.

The preview page after the final pages of issue 1 is a nifty way to preview upcoming storylines. The four images prompt lots of questions without giving away too much: Is the villain with the red dome as inspired by the Red Hood as he seems to? Is that the spectre of the Bruce Wayne Batman watching the Dick Grayson Batman fighting Batwoman? Does Dick not approve of Batwoman’s crimefighting techniques or visa versa? Will Morrison be bringing back Doctor Hurt?

The opening page of issue 2 shows a hero in as much anguish as I’ve ever seen. Dick would rightly be extremely bothered that Damian went too far against an opponent. (It’s not too different from Bruce’s relationship with the second Robin, Jason Todd. My guess is Morrison will be doing more to explore these similarities.)

Dick, like Bruce, would be traumatized to know a suspect (albeit a low-level villain) was killed under his watch, not to mention his new mentor has no sense of self control.

And Morrison, unlike in his BATMAN run, nails Alfred. Only the butler (and Damian’s creator, Morrison) could succinctly assure Dick he “was never this much of a brat” when he was Robin because he had loving parents. Leave it to the former stage actor and Bruce’s surrogate father to have the new Batman consider his new job “a performance … not as a memorial.”

That’s not to mention Dick’s insight to Damian’s maddeningly arrogant personality: “that know-it-all super villian sneer, that snide … .” This is Morrison at his best. I hope he can keep this momentum rolling and fulfill the potential for this promising new addition to the Batman mythos. Grade: A-

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