Saturday, May 8, 2010

Review: Batman and Robin #12

I'm really struggling to find my voice with these reviews. I follow so many comics blog and they all review the same issues that come out every week and a lot of them have very insightful things to say. By the time I get around to writing my review, I kinda feel like I have nothing to add. I also realize that very few people ever read this blog. To be honest, I don't think the internet needs another comics blog right now. But that's not really why I'm doing this, is it? I'm just trying to record my personal reactions to the things I read. If I come up with some interesting observations along the way, it's like an added bonus. I just don't want to get too hung up on trying to say something insightful, and instead focus on trying to be sincere.

Written by Grant Morrison; pencils by Andy Clarke; inks/finishes by Scott Hanna; layouts by Dustin Nguyen

(Possible spoilers.)

I think I'm starting to understand what is so different about the way Grant Morrison writes comics, and it's got nothing to do with the meta-textual elements or his penchant for the weird and trippy. It's more about the pacing and how much story he packs into every issue. I've read a lot of comments about how comic books are "decompressed" these days, but Morrison seems to go against that trend. He comes up with crazy complicated stories and then doesn't waste any time getting from one plot point to the next. It takes a bit of getting used to, and I think that's why every issue of Batman and Robin that I read initially leaves me feeling a bit disoriented and confused. It's only after a second or third reading that I start to fully grasp everything that's happened, and only then can I appreciate how the subtle character moments and scenes that brought us from point A to B to C were carefully chosen by Morrison in order to tell that story.

A lot happens in this issue, and on my first read, I felt like the transitions were too abrupt and the overall structure a bit awkward. They go from the fight in the graveyard, to a brief stop in the cave, to a visit to Talia's HQ halfway across the globe, back to the Batcave, and finally to Oberon's hotel room, where his identity is finally revealed. It's a lot of jumping around, and it's presented as one continuous sequence of event, when it seems you would need several days to cram all that into a schedule. But who cares? The structure is less built around a realistic sense of time than it is designed to hit all the right story beats and character moments. Examined in that light, it works.

The confrontation between Damian and his mother is the emotional climax of the issue, and it's full of great lines and shocking revelations. One of my favourites is when Talia tells Damian: "Take off that ridiculous costume. It's not normal." Considering the insane childhood that Damian has had so far, it's hilarious that she's now all of a sudden concerned with normality. Damian tells her that being Robin is the best thing he's ever done. It's the life he chose, whether or not his father returns. Talia shows him the creepy foetus she's growing in a laboratory and tells him that he's made from the same augmented DNA combination as Damian. This is essentially her backup copy. Her experiment with Damian failed, and now she rejects him and is preparing to start over with Damian #2. Damian asks: "Can't you just love me for who I am? Not what you want me to be?" To which she says no, then expels him from the Al Ghul family. Damian replies that he hopes he can be a worthy enemy.

Over the course of Batman and Robin, we've seen Damian's character evolve and mature. We've seen how seriously he takes the job of being Robin, and how sincere he is in his decision to honour his father and fight crime. With this scene, Morrison firmly cements Damian's place in the Bat family, and proves that he does in fact deserve our sympathy. Whether this will actually help to silence all the annoying Damian haters who still can't see past the annoying little brat, I doubt it. But for the rest of us, this simply confirms what we already knew – that Damian is a great character full of potential.

The major revelation at the end of this issue is of course Oberon's true identity. I saw it coming, because it was one of two popular theories that were being thrown around on message boards a lot, although it wasn't one that I personally subscribed to. I still don't know how I feel about it. Since it ends on a cliffhanger, we don't know exactly how that fits into the bigger picture or how it's going to affect what happens next, including of course the return of Bruce Wayne. I'm going to hold off on commenting further until we know more.


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