I don't usually do comic book reviews. Hell, lately I don't usually post at all. Maybe you couldn't tell but I do actually read Batman comics. I try my best to buy bound editions after I have read enough reviews rather than risk getting stuck in a crummy story but I often have one or two serial titles that I'm following. Lately, it was Gotham After Midnight and RIP. RIP was well... was... despicable and Gotham After Midnight was ok but I really wish it had been more of a mystery. The story gimmick was to present an unknown character - a new villain who's secret identity was most obviously closely tied to Batman but who was unknown to all the story's characters and to the reader. But then instead of making it a mystery story with clues throughout the title, writer Steve Niles produced only one single character the villain could possibly be, left no clues at all and then had Batman deduce the entire thing in the final issue. It was kind of a disappointment.
Anyway, none of the new Batman titles on DC's lineup really interested me this year except Detective Comics which will be headlining Kate Kane. I have high hopes for this run. The promotional material is stunning.
And then there's Batman and Robin. Batman and Robin. Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison. Batman and Robin by the man who killed Batman (and I don't mean wrote the story in which Batman died) the last time he touched the character. Batman and Robin starring Damian Wayne as the new Boy Wonder.
Oh God. Just let me die now.
BUT drawn by Frank Quitely. ...
Oh man. Now I have a conflict. All Star Superman was so good. I even liked JLA: Earth 2. When Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely work together it's such magic. Now I know that some people don't like Frank Quitely's work. I've heard it said that it's distracting (whatever that means for a comic book) and also that it's just uninteresting but personally I'm a fan.
So I said to myself "I'll buy issue #1. Issue #1 only. If I'm not immediately won over that's it. No more chances, Mr. Morrison."
Conclusion: I have a new conflict: This title is so great that I must decide if I'm going to keep buying the monthly issues or wait until the run is done and buy the bound edition that is sure to follow?
So to actually review the issue:
BOOM BOOM. The tone is effectively set by the very first panel. Sound effects are written out BUT this isn't the POW SLAM BEEBOB sound effects of the campy Batman television series. In a very neat manner Quitely has magically incorporated them into the art. The BOOMs for explosions are formed by the explosion itself. The BWKSSSssssss of a rocket is in the rocket's exhaust. SPLASH is spelt out in the waves. This isn't new (Paul Pope's Batman: Year 100 immediately comes to mind) but it is the perfect fit for this crazy Batman title. Another reviewer summed it up as follows: "Silver age wackiness with modern sensibility." Sure we have a frogman as the villain but he's a drug dealer. Although, I think Batman should be as real world and gritty as possible, I do have a soft spot for things like this series or the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon.
The writing is just as perfect. The otherworldlyness of an upside-down dynamic duo is wonderful to read. Nothing is as it should be. Batman is encouraging and optimistic while Robin is curt, confident and arrogant. Although Quitely's visualization of Dick Grayson in Batman's costume does not vary significantly enough from Bruce's physique, Morrison's dialog is extremely differentiating. He never lets you forget that it is Dick under the cowl not Bruce. Even more so with Damien. In fact, it appears as if Morrison is on a crusade to redeem Damien in the eyes of readers. That's not to say that Damian isn't still a completely spoiled brat but with Bruce out of the picture it is apparent that Damien and Bruce possess very similar characters. Morrison even has Alfred comment on the similarity while he and Dick close down shop at Wayne manor and move operations to the Wayne Foundation.
A couple of details here. (1) Getting them out of the Batcave is a good idea. It distances this team from the original. (2) When they pass the Wayne family cemetery, is that an unmarked grave stone in the shape of the Batsymbol? (3) Have you ever googled Building Batman before? Try it. Notice the second site listed: An AT&T building that is often called the Batman Building. Now look again at Quitely's Wayne Foundation. Am I the only one seeing similarities here?
A couple of last things. Before the issue ends we are reintroduced to a new villain: a butcher in a pigs mask (It's ironic. Yes, I get it, Mr. Morrison). This closing scene is quite disturbing which hearkens back to the "modern sensibilities" comment. I really didn't expect a story as brightly colored as this to be able to capture the darkness of the Batman universe but this is one creepy villain.
We then get two sets of images from upcoming issues which tell us some important things:
(1) That funny black thing on Robin's cape is actually a hood.
(2) Arrogant Robin is going to get a humiliating moment of failure.
(3) Damien gets an "I quit" / "run away from home" style story.
(4) The daughter at the end of this issue becomes the Robin-esque equivalent for Red Hood.
(5) The Batman and Robin and Detective Comics stories eventually intersect.
(6) Wayne manor only has only two locks. One of which is a simple tumbler. The other is only a warded lock. (Oh and Dr. Hurt survived the helicopter crash).