BATMAN AND ROBIN #14 (review)

I’ve been as hot on Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin title as I have been on any D.C. title, which is to say, I’ve been luke-warm.  Most of the DCU (Vertigo excluded) just doesn’t rock me.  But B&R has been solid from the beginning, due largely to to the fact that author Grant Morrison hasn’t allowed the book to descend into unexplained “insider” stuff beyond the reach of anybody who hasn’t studied Batman like the Torah.  Morrison typically allows too much to happen between panels (where nobody can see, Grant!) and doesn’t condescend to help new-ish readers follow along (I haven’t read everything you’ve ever written, dude!). But he hasn’t done that in Batman and Robin.  Perhaps it’s because he was there for the launch of issue #1, and really got to define the relationship between the characters?  Or maybe it’s because I was there for the launch of issue #1, so I can follow it better?  Probably a little of both.

Anyway, Morrison makes references to the larger Batverse in this series, but he doesn’t use that mythology to drive the B&R story.  That makes the series fairly self-contained; no small feat in a world where there are at least six other Bat-books on the shelf every month.  I tried to count them once, but I couldn’t find them all among the forest of Deadpool titles.
With issue #14, he’s about 90 pages away from ending his run on the title (he’s leaving to do “Batman, Inc.”) and it looks like he’s (gasp!) actually going to wrap some things up.

The issue has scenes between Damian Wayne Robin and the Joker (at left) that recall the latter’s brutal bludgeoning of the former version of the former, so many years ago.  (It’s a story recounted in the excellent new DVD “Batman: Under the Red Hood.”)  The dialogue is both clever and haunting, which is how Joker ought to be written (but usually isn’t).  Truly, it’s the best Joker stuff I’ve ever read.  In fact, it’s some of the best chilling psychopath stuff I’ve read, period.  And I’ve read a lot of chilling psychopath stuff.

And the art is amazing.  Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give is to say that Frazer Irving doesn’t make me miss Frank Quietly.  I’d say, in fact, that Morrison’s layered “less is more” narrative style works so well in B&R because of the artists.  The flow from panel to panel and page to page have unspoken transitions that help the book read more like a story and less like a series of cool thoughts and ideas (which, frankly, was the biggest weakness with Batman: R.I.P.).  I’m still a little lost in the Pyg storyline, but it’s amusing nonetheless.

The best part of the series is watching Dick Grayson go from solo-offshoot/mature sidekick to mentor and teacher, and watching Damian Wayne respond by going from being a wild, uncontrollable ball of dangerous fury (remember how he acted in issues #1-5?) to being . . . Well, a less uncontrollable ball of fury.  At least he’s willing to talk about it now.  And one suspects that this latest instance of hubris, which leads in issue #14 to Damian being trapped at the mercy of Joker, will help improve his attitude even more.

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