Thursday, July 02, 2009

Batman and Robin #2: "Batman Reborn: Part 2: The Circus of the Strange"

Batman and Robin #2 is a lot like the first issue, in that much of the first half is spent on a fight scene seemingly designed to show off Quitely’s unparalleled storytelling abilities, and outrĂ© design sense, and then spends the second half picking apart the emotional impact of recent events in the characters’ lives. I like the way that Grant doesn’t do the story as a strictly continuous series of events, you get the sense that things happen off camera and inform the way the characters behave.

Most of the time when I talk about comics, I talk about the writer primarily, with the artist as kind of an afterthought. That’s because most writers don’t take full advantage of what the medium can do, and most artists aren’t doing anything particularly innovative. But, even working with the best writer in comics, it’s Quitely’s work that leaves the biggest impact here. I love the design sense of his Batman and Robin. The costumes are barely altered from traditional looks, but the gray pants on Damian’s outfit, and the green boots make all the difference in turning one of the lamest costumes in comics into one of the coolest. His Batman also looks great, making the classic grey suit look very fresh.

Quitely’s design sense got the most attention on New X-Men, with its emphasis on “pop sexy” characters, and his work there was great, but he always makes his superhero characters look so much cooler than anyone else. He makes their clothes look like something you’d actually want to walk around in, even more so than any of the movie Batman outfits. I still wish that someone would make a line of clothes based on his X-Men outfits, I’d love to wear those.

His storytelling is fantastic here, and the aesthetic he creates is what lingers after the issue. I think he’s just gotten better and better as time has gone on. Something like Flex Mentallo was beautifully rendered, but he’s gotten more and more formally inventive as time has gone on, and the experimental approach of We3 has given way to the almost three dimensional action feel of All Star Superman and this book. This book feels a bit grittier than the day-glo clean of Superman, fitting in light of its subject matter. The one misstep for me is the obese man in a tutu, who feels like a stock Quitely grotesque. But, everything else is great.

I don’t’ have too much to say about the fight scene, it’s fun, particularly the buildup with the roof meeting, but the real gem on a writing level is Alfred and Dick’s discussion in the cave. Here, we see the Dick/Damian relationship as a kind of adopted child thing. Dick can never live up to Bruce, who Damian now deifies, despite having little respect for him when they first met. So, Damian is rushed into both the role of Batman, and the role of adoptive parent of the world’s worst child.

Damian’s criticism only makes it even clearer to Richard what he sees from people like Gordon, he’s only impersonating Batman, it takes something deeper to be the real Batman. Alfred shortcuts that by suggesting that Richard take on the role of Batman, and channel his spirit as an actor would.

This series so far has seemed generally disconnected from the rest of the Morrison’s Batman run. The renumbering signals a clear break, but the approach is also very different. I loved the death metal heavy ambience of RIP, but I think it was smart do a break like this, to reflect the introduction of the new Batman. But, a scene like this one ties back into a lot of the key stuff from RIP. That storyline had a heavy emphasis on Alfred as an actor, raising the question of whether he was behind what the Black Glove was doing. Telling Dick to “play” Bruce calls back to the questions that were raised there.

In addition, it brings the series much closer to Morrison’s core thematic concepts than the first issue was. Much of Morrison’s experiments with magic and drugs in the 90s were about turning himself into the person he wanted to be, through the medium of the fantasy persona King Mob. He chose to abandon his previous incarnation, the low key guy we saw in Animal Man, and reinvent himself as a comics rock star. Did something just click and change in him one day? No, he chose to become the person he wanted to be, and that’s what Alfred is telling Richard here, to just play Bruce until it becomes real.

It ties in to a lot of stuff from previous Morrison comics, the characters in Division X for one, and Magneto’s performance as Xorn in particular. In that case, Magneto played the role so well, he created a character that people liked more than his actual personality. So, the inspirational message here is don’t worry about your “true self,” just be the person you want to be, and the world will catch up. It’s a magical act of transformation.

Things close out with Damian getting overwhelmed by the creepy doll henchmen from last issue. It’s a great visual moment, colored in neon day-glo shades. It also sets up a nice redemptive moment for Dick in the next issue. While those closing images are great, my favorite drawing in the book is Damian speeding along on the bike, a spectrum of color streaming out behind him.

So, I really liked this issue. I think it deepens the world we saw last time, and raises some deeper character stuff, keeping the arcs from the previous Batman stories in mind. It’s a totally enjoyable book, and I’m eager to see where Morrison goes with it next.

1 comment:

David said...

I want to have X-Men Costume and Ive been to several halloween stores and craft shops, and no one had any idea what I was looking for..