Dr. Hurt/The Devil is still passing himself off as Thomas Wayne and he appears to execute Dick ďBatmanĒ Grayson just before we get a flashback that looks at how The Joker may or may not fit into all of this current Dr. Hurt/The Devil plot.
Batman R.I.P. was a failure to a good portion of readers who liked their Caped Crusader a little more straight-forward. If you found yourself on that side of the fence then, youíre bound to miss out on this grand scale epic in the making with Grant Morrisonís take on the Batman saga. For the duration of that much heralded and criticized run on R.I.P. , Morrison took things as far left as only he could, leaving a plethora of clues, hints, symbols and metaphors for Wayneís impending doom. Sure, reading Morrison has hardly been an easy task; perhaps things only got a little easier with this phenomenal first year run on a mainly action-infused Batman & Robin. Mesh both flavors of writing together and this issue is what you get: pure bliss.
As things come full circle weíre teased with the return of the Black Glove. Not to be confused with Jeremiah Arkhamís Black Mask, Simon Hurt poses as Thomas Wayne in a horrifying retelling of Batmanís origin. This instance only lasts a few pages before delving into the importance of Oberon Sexton. If you remember (considering itís been a while since the last issue of Batman & Robin), the Joker was revealed to be the gravedigger who tried to help Dick Grayson solve a ďdomino effectĒ string of international crimes and murders. Dickís highly-detailed explanation to Jim Gordon over Professor Pygís infernal Trojan virus and Jokerís ďplansĒ reveals a superior detective mind, seemingly on-par with Bruceís, and the silly notion from Jimís cops that Dick is the more likeable Batman. Little nuances like that are what make Morrison such an esteemed comic scripter.
Yet, if youíre reviewing this comic and not mentioning the art of Frazier Irving, thereís a problem to be had. The Dark Knight hasnít looked this cinematic since, well, that Christopher Nolan film. Irvingís panels are full of emotion, pointing out the most revolting signatures of the scene in a most contrasting way. You could just feel the agony through Jokerís permanent smirk and the brooding confidence of the new Batman. And is it just me, or does Damianís confrontation with the Clown Prince scream ďKick-AssĒ? Itís a very cool scene, nonetheless.
Funny that Frazier Irvingís panels are referenced as scenes, but thatís exactly how they feel. Much of the action goes over-the-top, even as Pygís virus reveals a 28 Days Later-esque riot in Gotham, despite thankfully never reaching too far into cheese territory. And while I wasnít the biggest fan of his evocative haunts during Wayneís Pilgrim portrayal (which may have to do more with an overly eclectic script) Irvingís cartoony brushes just seems like the right fit. His colors come off as glum and murky as all possible, conveying much of that ominous atmosphere Tony Daniel displayed throughout R.I.P.óthat something really bad is going to happen (if not already), even with the imminent return of Bruce Wayne.
I know just enough.
I wonít pretend to know everything thatís going on in Batman and Robin #13. Iím not sure Iíd believe anyone who said that they conclusively know everything laid out in these pages. However, I know enough to understand the basics of whatís going on--and I know enough to know that I want to know more.
Itís a rare commodity in a comic book these days to tell a story and leave your reader wanting more, but Grant Morrison has been doing that with Batman for years now.
If and when they repackage Morrisonís run on the various Bat-books as multiple Absolute collections, I can only hope they include a #0 volume containing Morrison and Dave McKeanís Arkham Asylum, because thatís where the story begins. Many people are probably confused by Morrisonís depiction of the Joker in Batman and Robin #13, but itís in keeping with the view of the character Morrison laid out in Arkham Asylum.
Morrison also continues to show that he understands the difference between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, and does so without being heavy-handed. At no point do we get an issue filled with ďthis is what Bruce was like, this is what Dick is like.Ē Morrison gives us their differences in smaller ways, like how Dick calls Commissioner Gordon by his title as opposed to ďJim,Ē or how Gordon tells him that members of Gotham PD like Dick better than Bruce. Both moments ring true to the characters, and indicate that the title of this series might not be a reference to Dick and Damian, but to Bruce and Dick.
Frazer Irving is a fantastic artist and well suited for a book of stark contrasts. His Joker harkens back to Bob Kaneís original depiction. Here, he looks like someone who could really exist; deformed, yes, but not exaggerated to the point of being absurd.
I donít want this series to ever end. I really enjoy reading about Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne. I love the dynamic that Morrison has set up. However, I also canít wait until Morrisonís run reaches its conclusion--just so I can re-read it all from beginning to end. I can only imagine all the wonderful new moments and fantastic revelations Iíll discover when I can read the story as a whole.
I can remember the last time I was ever so eager to re-read my back issues. Oh, wait, yes, I can: it was the last time a Morrison-written Batman title was released.
Though I donít think Frazier Irving is perfect for every assignment, in the right setting, Iím a big fan of his distinctive mix of the darkly gothic and the cartoonish. Batman and Robin seems to be one of those settings, as this issue continues the visual tradition in this series of a distinctive artist for each new story arc.
Irvingís Batman looks like Dick, not Bruce (which is important for this series), and his Joker is freaking creepy--but also quite human and vulnerable (Quitelyís cover of Robin bludgeoning him with a crowbar is far from symbolic this month).
We plunge immediately into a flashback/flash-forward sequence that is a bit difficult to follow. I think it implies that El Penitente, the mastermind behind most of the attacks and murders targeting Gotham in this series, is Thomas Wayne, back from the dead as Bruceís now nefarious father. Worse, he murdered Bruceís mom (and maybe Bruce himself), and his life represents the anathema of everything Bruce lived and fought for--giving the lie to Bruceís very originating motivation. Iím not sure whether itís an alternate timeline or an insane impersonation.
Other betrayals abound, more serious than Robinís coercive attempt recently to kill Batman himself (that was just another of Taliaís machinations); now that we know that Oberon Sexton was the Joker all along, we still donít know what exactly heís up to. Dick is trying to stay on top of it, with Commissioner Gordonís help, but Robin is just about fed up. Does the Joker goad him into attacking? Or is he truly as petrified of Damian as his frozen facial expressions indicate? Dick at least doesnít think the two are safe in proximity, and itís the Jokerís safety he fears for most.
Morrisonís handle on Dickís personality continues to be solid--even down to a self-deprecating line like, ďIím just keeping the suit warm.Ē Heís doing much more than that, but his head has been on straight (despite the misfire of resurrecting the bat-clone in the London story) throughout this series--giving him the edge on wisdom and experience on most of his foes, and making it clear that his own wild impetuous days are long passed.
Dick is every bit the experienced crime-fighter that Gotham and the Justice League currently need. As Gordon says, most of the cops prefer Dickís Batman to the previous version.
I remain mystified at the logic-defying antics of Thomas Wayne (aka Dr. Hurt?), and I donít really think the Bat legacy can survive such a paradigm change to the mythos. However, Morrison is all about tweaking that mythos to test what still works and what doesnít, and when it comes to the major properties like these stalwart characters, itís always good to run them through their paces to see if theyíre still fighting fit. Morrison is really performing a service on Batman, giving us new ways to appreciate him in his ostensible absence.
Batman and Robin #13 begins with the most intense and shocking six pages written for the series to date. No, this isnít the exchange between Batman, Robin, and the Joker featured in the preview pages that DC posted online. Rather, itís a stirring flash-forward prologue reserved by Grant Morrison for those who actually purchase the issue.
Those opening pages serve as a reminder that all of Morrisonís recent work on Batman has been a gigantic, years-spanning story for the character, and itís a peek at what may very well turn out to be the final moment of the Dick and Damian incarnation of the Dynamic Duo. While the present day scenes that comprise this comicís remainder donít catch up chronologically to the intro, you better believe theyíre pretty amazing too.
In them, the requisite character moments abound. A conversation shared between Dick and Commissioner Gordon demonstrates why the former is both the perfect successor to Bruce Wayne and a unique Dark Knight in his own right. Additionally, an encounter between Damian and the Joker offers a surprising answer on who the most fearsome character in the DCU might actually be.
In past installments, Morrison has showered readers with so many examples of this pitch-perfect characterization that it has become easy to forget about the many plot threads he has carefully left dangling. Not so this time around, with the convergence of prior events staring you right in the face as it brings everything to a head.
With references to some of the most brilliant Morrison creations from earlier on, Iím tempted to suggest a re-reading of Batman and Robin #1. However, letís be honest, is there anyone out there who owns that issue and hasnít pulled it out of the mylar sleeve six or seven times since its release? My copies of the series thus far have yet to make it into the long box, occupying a semi-permanent spot in a stack next to the chair from which I write these reviews.
After seeing his renditions of the costumed heroes in Return of Bruce Wayne #2, I had reservations about Frazer Irvingís stint on this title. However, those fears are now like the gruesome murder victims he so skillfully depicts this issue--dead and buried.
Irvingís neo-gothic visual style is right in step with the story Morrison is writing--serving as an indispensable asset in fleshing out the emotionally driven and psychologically disturbed characters being depicted. When this volume is complete, Irving will be able to proudly list his name alongside Frank Quitely and Cameron Stewart as one of the men who made this series so profoundly successful.
If my comments here sound like hyperbole, so be it; the scope and style of this series generally make it impossible to speak about in any other manner. Iíll accept the rational possibility that Batman and Robin isnít actually the best comic book in the world, but reading the latest issue sure does make it difficult to bring any other candidates to mind.
Aside from some British grammar spoken by Dick Grayson (American English and British English donít always use the same prepositions in certain grammatical constructions), Batman and Robin #13 is an exceptionally written issue. Yes, Morrison is guilty of obfuscation here, but the confusion is intentional rather than the result of a writer who doesnít know how to craft his stories (see DCís horrendous First Wave Doc Savage series by Paul Malmont for an example of the latter).
Iím eager to see how this plot plays out as we mix together The Joker, El Penitente, Professor Pyg, Dr. Hurt/The Devil, and the Return of Bruce Wayne and see what emerges. I was particularly pleased to see Morrison and Frazer Irving acknowledge that The Jokerís face is supposed to be pulled back in a permanent grin. Of course, it was supposed to be that way ever since he took his initial swim in the chemicals spewing forth from the Monarch Playing Card Company. Unfortunately, most artists over the years have not given Joker the permanent grin heís supposed to have; fortunately, Morrison has addressed this problem by stating that the facial surgery The Joker recently required has left his hideous grin as a permanent feature (at least until another writer and illustrator use the character and once again ignore the most disturbing aspect of the characterís facial deformity.
Finally, I was worried that Morrison wouldnít address the potential problem of how The Joker could be a noted novelist named Oberon Sexton if heís only been Sexton for a year or less. This potential problem was addressed with the revelation that The Joker murdered the real Sexton and took his place--covering his true identity behind Sextonís ďGravediggerĒ persona.
Overall, Morrison is showing why Batman was my favorite character in the 1970s, during the heyday of Denny OíNeil/Neal Adams (and Frank Robbins) as well as Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers.
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