By: Jon M. Wilson
The first issue of the book that is going to introduce us to the partnership between this New 52 Dynamic Duo opens on the Russian analog of Batman taking down a thug and then getting taken down himself by an invisible masked man called Mr. Nobody. Cut scene to Wayne Manor in Gotham City at night, where Bruce Wayne decides that the way he remembers his parents has to change. He goes to wake up Damien, but Damien is already awake by the time Bruce gets there. It’s only ten o’clock, but Bruce tells Damian that they have a stop to make before patrols, so they’re going out early. They slide down their poles to the Batcave, put on their Batman and Robin costumes, and depart in the Batgyro, a sort of spherical water tunnel vehicle, for the sewers below Crime Alley. Batman tells Robin about his annual visit to the location of his parents’ death, and that this will be the last time. Batman has chosen to stop dwelling on the horrible memories of his parents’ murder and to instead celebrate their lives by commemorating their wedding anniversary each year. Robin is rather impatient with Batman’s sentimentality, and Batman is a bit impatient with Robin’s impatience. Alfred radio’s that there is a problem at Gotham University, and the Duo head out. Some men in gas masks who like to bicker with each other are stealing irradiated fuel from a nuclear installment in the university. Batman and Robin attack, but three of the men escape and find the Batgyro. They use it as an escape vehicle, and Robin goes after them. Batman stays behind because in the fight, a bullet has punctured the containment wall for the water that cools the radiation rods. Robin disables the gyro’s stabilizers, and the vehicle explodes, killing the men within. Batman shoots a hole in the ceiling above the rods, which drains the water from the swimming pool on the above floor and keeps the radiation rods safe. Batman tears a new hole in Robin for his carelessness, and Robin lies in denying that his actions killed anyone. The story ends in Moscow with Mr. Nobody putting the Russian Batman in a vat that seems to be dissolving him. His closing lines are that Batman’s “global circus act has to end” and that it’s time to pay Bruce Wayne a visit.
According to the writer, Peter J. Tomasi, Batman and Robin’s niche is to focus on the conflicted father/son dynamic between Batman and his new Robin. There will be superhero stories, but the focus will be on the relationship. As such, I’m glad that this title didn’t lead out the Batman family of titles last week. Detective Comics #1 gave us a great example of Batman essentials, where this story uses a revisit of key points of Batman’s origin as a vehicle to illustrate the tension between Bruce and Damian. Their relationship is definitely a difficult one for both involved. When Bruce awakens Damian, Damian looks like he’d rather break Bruce’s hand than knowingly allow himself to be touched. Bruce’s entire trauma drama regarding his parents is nothing Damian can relate to, and he sees this as weakness in Bruce. Mr. Nobody’s two brief scenes in this comic are more of a tease than a serious presentation of a threat to Batman, but if his statement that he needs to visit Bruce is an indication of knowing Batman’s identity, this could get problematic soon. The strength of this book is in the Bruce/Damian bits because once it goes beyond that, there are some problems. Actually, the first nitpick is from the first scene, and that is that Russian Batman had no name, and I kinda hate having to call him “Russian Batman” because theoretically, in this fictitious world, he’s a man with a story who has chosen to follow Batman’s example for a whole set of reasons unknown to us. He’s introduced and eliminated with no thought to who he is. My other problem is art-related, so I’ll mention it below. A cool line from Batman about his parents is, “The future’s always in the process of interpreting the meaning of the past.” I felt that was a nice metatextual statement regarding the entire New 52 initiative and its redefinition of these heroes and their origins. Speaking of origins, Batman specifically describes Robin as being ten years old, but so far we have no further information on his history and how it fits into the new timeline. Tomasi has said in interviews that Damian’s origin will be getting some attention next issue, so I’m looking forward to that. One continuity question I have is, if Damian is living in Wayne Manor, then why are we only seeing him in one of Batman’s four (and next month, five) ongoing monthly titles? While I didn’t feel that Damian needed to be in last week’s Detective story, I do wonder what he is doing during those times we don’t see him.
The art in this book is rather good when it comes to style. There is a lot of darkness, a lot of shadow. Gleason and Gray make great use of the black capes of both the Russian Batman and our own. Page 4, with Bruce sitting alone with his thoughts, is beautiful. It’s so moody and sets the tone for the rest of the issue. The stark difference in size between Batman and Robin is a bit shocking at times. It’s easy to remember that this Robin is, more than any other possibly, a mere boy, at least physically. We don’t see a lot of Mr. Nobody yet, but it appears that he might be taking fashion advice from the Ghost over in Marvel. One major problem in the art, though, was the storytelling in the fight. It was rather difficult to follow the details of what was happening. The sequence of events, particularly pertaining to Batman’s activities with the rods and the pool above, are just not abundantly clear. It wasn’t until sitting down and dissecting the panels for the above synopsis that I finally made sense of it all, and that was at least my third reading of the book. His style and the look of the characters are great, but the action storytelling could use some improvement.
Batman and Robin has me intrigued. I am enjoying the tension between the father Batman and the son Robin. I’m hoping origins and backgrounds are made clear, but I have no problem with Tomasi taking his time with this. The art was beautiful, but its lack of clarity in the second half really hurt my enjoyment of this issue. Hoping for better in the future.
Overall Grade: 7/10