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Sunday Slugfest: Batman and Robin #8

Posted: Sunday, February 14, 2010
By: Thom Young

Grant Morrison
Cameron Stewart (with Tony Avina, colors)
DC Comics
"Blackest Knight, Part Two: Batman vs. Batman"

Editor's Note: The reviews in this week's slugfest have been written and/or edited in an attempt to not contain any spoilers about the revelation of the identity of the resurrected Batman corpse in Batman and Robin #8.

Chris Kiser:
Dave Wallace:
Thom Young:




Chris Kiser:

The latest issue of Batman and Robin hangs its hat entirely on the answer to one question: Who is buried in Bruce Wayne's tomb?

While the Best Comic in the World has never failed to send fans salivating in anticipation of reading the next installment, that truism has especially been the case this month. Issue #7 delivered the first real cliffhanger of the series--bringing Dick Grayson's Batman to the cusp of a pivotal moment in his adventures, as well as promising a resolution to one of the Bat-franchise's biggest mysteries.

Ever since it was revealed that Bruce Wayne was alive and kicking in a prehistoric Batcave, speculation has run rampant over whose body Superman carried out of Darkseid's lair in Final Crisis #6. The comics Internet has certainly seen its fair share of theories ranging from the mundane to the farfetched.

When Grant Morrison finally unveils the truth this issue, it's not the mind-blowing revelation that some may have been prepared for. However, it is an answer that makes perfect sense given the world this comic inhabits. Now that all the cards are on the table, those who weren't able to deduce the Bat-corpse's identity will be left wondering how they missed such an obvious set of clues.

The triumph of this series lies in Morrison's ability to make the solution to this enigma feel completely logical. Sci-fi elements abound in this latest Batman and Robin story arc, yet not once do they come across as improper additions to the Bat-mythos.

It has been no secret that Morrison has recently sought to incorporate the fantastical nature of Silver Age Batman stories into the world of the contemporary grim-and-gritty Dark Knight. After all, it was just over a year ago that we saw Bruce Wayne running around in a purple cowl calling himself the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.

Even so, the R.I.P. era stopped short of completely tearing Gotham City from its real-world moorings. Batman and Robin's alleged trips to alien planets were still being explained away in rational terms as the hallucinatory effects of a psychological experiment.

Such an out is not being provided this time around, as Batman and Robin #8 is clear-cut, no-holds-barred science fiction. Those earlier Batman issues now feel like an appetizer for the main course presently being prepared. It's a complete 180-degree turn away from the Christopher Nolan film series, yet it's every bit as amazing.

Morrison is showing audiences that the futuristic technologies and super-powered beings found elsewhere in the DCU can be warmly welcomed into Batman's corner of the world provided that the many beloved aspects of the character's history are respected as well. I once instantly scoffed at any Bat-book that ventured too far into typical superhero territory, but those days are now behind me.

Batman and Robin is more than an excellent series packed with fun and excitement. It's a successful reinvention of the modern Batman paradigm.




Dave Wallace:

After the brilliant build-up of Batman and Robin #7, it's perhaps inevitable that this issue's payoff to that chapter's climactic cliffhanger falls a little flat.

This certainly isn't a bad comic. The revelation of the identity of the corpse that Dick took to the British Lazarus pit is is one that I didn't see coming, but one that allows Grant Morrison yet another opportunity to explore the notion of the "replacement Batmen" theme that has been a staple of his Batman run so far.

It also allows the writer the opportunity to pit different variations of "replacement Batmen" (Dick Grayson, the Knight, and Batwoman) against "the resurrected Batman" in an exciting fight sequence that makes the conflict between the various replacements more literal than ever before. There are also plenty of connections to previous Morrison storylines here--some of which reinforce recent continuity within the Batbooks.

For example, the acknowledgement that Dick's current plan is a rash reaction to the Red Hood's taunts in the previous arc goes some way to explaining his headstrong attitude and assuredness that using a Lazarus pit to resurrect the corpse is the right thing to do despite Dick admonishing Tim Drake for attempting to use one of the pits to resurrect his parents in the "Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" crossover.

There's also a reference to the childish themes that are adopted by Batwoman's enemies that is a clear allusion to "Alice," the antagonist from Greg Rucka and JH Williams III's first Batwoman arc in Detective Comics. However, some of the connections are slightly less obvious.

For instance, King Coal's reference to the idea that "there's a hole in everything" echoes the notion of a black hole at the base of creation in Final Crisis, as well as Dr. Hurt's assertion at the end of "Batman RIP" that he is "the hole in things . . . the piece that can never fit, there since the beginning". I like the idea that Morrison is tying all of his recent work together, and I look forward to seeing what other connections to his past work he introduces in future issues of Batman and Robin.

That said, there are some holes in the logic of Morrison's plot that detract from the story. In order to contrive a climactic showdown with Damian in Gotham, Morrison has the resurrected Batman briskly exit the mine and immediately use the Bat-gyros computer to locate the Batplane at the Tower of London. He then flies at top speed to the penthouse apartment of Wayne tower where Damian recently arrived and is being looked after by Alfred.

We're not given any explanation as to how the resurrected Batman was able find his way through the maze of tunnels that Dick needed help in navigating to find the Lazarus Pit. No reason is provided for the resurrected Batman's apparently inherent awareness of the fact that Dick left the Batplane nearby, or that Alfred and Damian might be living at Wayne tower rather than at Wayne Manor.

There's also no attention given to the resurrected Batman's thought processes or motivations, which makes it difficult to invest in him as a villain. Individually, they're not particularly heinous omissions, but together they suggest that Morrison has put less thought than usual into this latest antagonist. Additionally, the explanation for why this resurrected Batman exists in the first place seems a little shaky, as the flashback scene in which the revelation is explained feels a little forced.

As with the previous issue, there are plenty of specific British references here for readers to enjoy--but again, recognising them isn't essential to understanding the story. Still, readers who are familiar with the traditional industry of Newcastle (and the associated "coals to Newcastle" idiom), the fact that "Broon" is regional slang for Newcastle Brown ale (as well as being the name of a Scottish comic strip), and the idiosyncrasies of the Geordie accent will get a little extra enjoyment out of the details of this story.

The issue's artwork isn't quite as good as that of the previous issue. I wonder whether this is due to the change in colourist. Tony Avina's colouring is occasionally just as strong as that of Alex Sinclair (particularly when it comes to the orange glow of the Lazarus pit), it but sometimes seems too murky and muddy--especially during the underground fight scenes in which it might have been nice to have a subtle difference in colouring to distinguish between the two otherwise identical Batmen.

In fact, the fight between Dick and the resurrected Batman is one of the few times when Cameron Stewart's art lets the story down with a cluttered layout that might help to create a sense of chaotic movement, but which doesn't read very clearly--especially when the characters' actions don't flow smoothly from panel to panel. Otherwise, however, Stewart's artwork serves the story well, particularly when it comes to creating a sense of darkness and impending doom in the final few pages.

Yes, whilst some of the plot developments of this issue are a little too straightforward to feel truly inspired, Morrison manages to save one of the more interesting wrinkles in the story for the cliffhanger, pitting the resurrected Batman against a wheelchair-bound Damian. Even if this denouement is slightly undermined by the plot holes I mentioned earlier, it's still a scene that I'll be very interested to see play out in the next issue. It's certainly far more interesting than the "death" of Batwoman. (Considering that she "died" right next to a Lazarus pit, I don't expect it to be a permanent condition.)

Even a middling issue of Batman and Robin is well worth a read, and I'd still call this an above-average comic. However, in the context of a run that has often provided far better issues than this, it doesn't feel like anything particularly special, and certainly isn't as dense or satisfyingly compressed as some of Morrison's issues have been.




Thom Young:

What Dave said!

Thank you and good day!


Dave has essentially written the review that I would have otherwise written--but with American spellings rather than British.

The revelation of the identity of the corpse that Superman hauled out of Darkseid's bunker in Final Crisis #6 is so obvious that I'm ashamed that I didn't figure it out when I first read Final Crisis #6 nearly 15 months ago. I've had almost 15 months to realize the obvious answer to a question that has been plaguing Batman (and Darkest Night) readers.

Clearly, without having it shown to me in a mirror, I have difficulty seeing the nose on my face due to its position between my eyes (and slightly downward).

The problems with internal logic that Dave mentioned are there, but really it's only a case of perhaps a dozen or more hours being compressed into eight pages in which only the highlights of those numerous hours are depicted. It feels a bit rushed--and thus a bit sloppy--as if eight additional pages might have helped pace this issue better.

The one part of the story that intrigued me the most is the idea that the resurrected Batman (the "Blackest Knight" of this arc's title) is the prophesied "Black Messiah" of the Crime Religion that Greg Rucka has been working on in his various stories since the weekly series 52 debuted nearly four years ago. I'm not very enthusiastic about this Crime Religion as a concept, but it's been more intriguing in its execution during Rucka's run on "Batwoman" in Detective Comics, and I'm interested to see if this issue's "Blackest Knight" truly is going to be used in Rucka's work as the "Black Messiah."

Time will tell.

As for the illustrations, I'm not as pleased with Cameron Stewart's work here as I was with his work on the two Seaguy series and Seven Soldiers: The Manhattan Guardian (all with Grant Morrison as well). However, it's a serviceable job that doesn't overly detract from the reading experience--and even though the new colorist didn't create any subtle differences in coloring to distinguish between Dick Grayson and the resurrected Batman, Stewart was consistent in depicting the differences between the belts and the gloves of the two Batman costumes.

The preview feature of DC's upcoming First Wave series that is printed in the back of this issue made me realize the one illustrator I would want working with Morrison when Frank Quitely isn't able to do so--my second favorite contemporary illustrator of superhero comics: Rags Morales. I suppose he's too busy with First Wave to squeeze in a three-issue arc on Batman and Robin, though.

Anyway, as Dave indicated in his review, Batman and Robin #8 is still a slightly above average comic book, and my bullet rating for this latest issue (the second in the current arc) is consistent with my ratings of the second issues in the previous two arcs--at least a half bullet lower than the first issue of each arc. Hopefully, next issue's third and final installment will follow suit as well of being at least a half bullet higher than the second issue of each arc.



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