Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
The Dynamic Duo return (sort of) in this new monthly series by Grant Morrison.
In the aftermath of Grant Morrison's epic Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis, now that the dust has settled from the brief Battle for the Cowl storyline DC has launched a series of new Bat-related titles that explore how the ancillary characters (and Gotham City itself) respond to the apparent death of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Frankly, I skipped Battle for the Cowl in its entirety and have little to no interest in most of these new storylines. It's almost ironic. When I was a kid reading comic books I did so for the characters and gave little to no thought about the writers. Now I read primarily for the writers and care less about who they're writing for, trusting that whether or not I'm a "fan" of a particular hero, if the writer is really good they'll craft a compelling and satisfying story regardless.
When I read that current comic book mastermind Grant Morrison would be writing a new monthly series about a new Batman and Robin team, I was most assuredly intrigued. When I read that Morrison intended (among other things) to turn the Batman/Robin relationship on its head by having "a more light-hearted and spontaneous Batman and a scowling, bad ass Robin." I decided that even though I've never been a fan of the Boy Wonder, I simply had to start reading this book from the very beginning. We're three issues into the series and the first story arc is complete. How has Batman & Robin (REBORN) been so far? Read on for my review.
SPOILER WARNING! If you haven't read the Battle for the Cowl storyline or these first three issues you're in for some major SPOILERS!
At the heart of this series is the dynamic between the new Batman and the new Robin. Dick Grayson (the first Robin who later became Nightwing) won the Battle for the Cowl and has assumed the mantle of Batman. Stepping into the role of Robin is Bruce Wayne's violent and egotistical son Damien. Raised by his mother Talia al Ghul and trained by the League of Assassins, Damien had a brief and turbulent relationship with Bruce. With his apparent death, it falls to Dick to serve as mentor to Damien, a situation neither is happy with or really wants. However, Dick and Damien have to work out their issues on the fly, as new villains have come to an ostensibly Bat-less Gotham with decidedly malevolent intentions.
It's not surprising that Morrison is not content to play around with existing villains, though he's written them superbly in the past. In the first three issues there isn't a single existing member of Batman's rogues gallery that makes an appearance. Instead Morrison introduces new foes in the form of degenerate members of the Circus of Strange, led by the "genuinely disturbed and disconnected" Professor Pyg. And Morrison has succeeded. Obsessed with making people "perfect" (and you better believe that word gets quotation marks as Pyg's idea of "perfection" involves a drill, circular saw, and doll-like mask that sears itself to the recipient's flesh) Pyg will feel right at home in Arkham alongside Batman's other rogues. Perhaps the most compelling thing about the Professor is how "normal" his craziness is. By that I mean Pyg isn't necessarily attached to any kind of gimmick, unlike many of Batman's more popular enemies such as Poison Ivy and her plants, or Scarecrow and his fear tactics, or The Riddler and his riddles. True, he wears a cheap pig mask, but otherwise he dresses in normal clothes and wears a butcher's apron. He's not grossly obese and obsessed with food, wallowing in filth, truffles or anything else typically associated with swine.
I have read an undocumented claim that Pyg is short for Pygmalion, a legendary sculptor who fell in love with one of his sculptures. I wouldn't put it past Morrison to look to the ancient Roman poet Ovid for inspiration, and Pyg's obsession with making people "perfect" could be seen as a seriously demented version of the Pygmalion myth. While I'd consider the jury still out on that, it is safe to say that Morrison has accomplished his goal of creating "one of the weirdest, most insane characters that's ever been in Batman." There's a two page spread in issue #3 where Pyg describes his origin to Damien/Robin that I think encapsulates what Morrison has tried to do with the Pyg character, and it's some of the craziest, most fucked up stuff I've read in a comic.
But where Batman & Robin really shines is in the dynamic of Dick and Damien's interaction. There's Dick's worst fears realized (having to take over for Bruce), his feeling of inadequacy, and his conviction that no one (including Commissioner Gordon and the GCPD) takes him seriously. There's Damien's near obsessive desire for approval from his father (something he isn't likely to receive anytime in the near future) and the conflict of that with his martial upbringing that is resulting in him being certainly the most brutal Robin ever as well as his constant disregard for Dick's authority and authenticity as Batman.
Morrison's fantastic writing has been coupled with All-Star Superman collaborater Frank Quietly's art. His work is once again stellar, and the only downside is that Quietly will be taking a break after the first three issues. Philip Tan will be taking over for the next three issues, and Frazer Irving will be assuming the art responsibilities for the three issues after that. Quietly will return for the final three issues of the series. I'm not familiar with Tan or Irving's previous work, and while they might both do perfectly acceptable jobs I worry they might not reach the bar Quietly has set in these first three issues. Additionally, the Batman & Robin series as a whole might not have the same kind of cohesiveness that All-Star Superman enjoyed with this revolving door of artists.
Time will tell as the second story arc ("Revenge of the Red Hood") starts with issue #4 next month. But as I said near the beginning of this review, with Morrison at the helm regardless of who is handling the art I think we're in for a helluva ride as Batman & Robin continues.
4.5 out of 5!