Thursday, August 27, 2009

Batman and Robin #3: "Batman Reborn: Part Three: Mommy Made of Nails"

The first Batman and Robin arc wrapped up with another great issue, that again spotlights Frank Quitely as the best visual storyteller in comics history. The overall Morrison Batman story makes some progress, and some great groundwork is laid for future storylines, but this whole arc feels kind of like Morrison and Quitely cutting loose after the very structured, for the ages perfection of All Star Superman and just jamming on various crazy Batman ideas.

As with the other issues in the arc, the majority of the issue is a fight scene, in this case the intercut Batman and Damian fights to open things, then a triumphant reunion of “Robin and Batman” to bring Pyg to justice and firmly establish themselves as the Batman and the Robin, no matter what else happened in the interim.

As with a lot of recent Morrison work, there’s decentralization of the narrative, and an emphasis on singular moments. The threat has already escalated when we get there, and we go right to Pyg ranting at the height of his insanity and Batman mid-interrogation. This style works with Morrison for a number of reasons. One is that it allows him to give you all the pleasures you’d want from a Batman story, but still allow for Quitely to do his astonishing work on the extended fight scenes. The entire issue seems written to allow Quitely to draw something amazing on every page.

But, it also works that way because Morrison has just gotten better and better at summing up a concept or emotion in a single page, or even a single panel. There’s not that much explicit character work done with Damian over the course of these three issues, but by the end here, we can tell that he’s changed. We’re never told that he’s changed, we can see it in what he says and the way he responds to things.

The most haunting moment in the issue is after Damian promises to save Sasha, when he decides to go after Pyg instead of saving her. It’s a choice that may make sense in the moment, and is certainly where Damian’s instincts would lead him. He’s been raised by assassins, trained to kill, and he’s not going to fail in his mission. But, as he jumps on to a roller coaster car in pursuit of Pyg, he sees Sasha left behind, terribly deformed by Pyg’s process, being consumed by the Dolls, yelling “Don’t leave me! You promised!” The most haunting panel here is Damian’s hand reaching back towards her, unable to reach her as the car rolls down the tracks. That visual tells you the emotion of the moment perfectly, we know how much Damian wants to save her, but he can’t. It’s only a three panel sequence, but it’s a pivotal moment in Damian’s arc.

Sasha has lost her father in the same kind of traumatic event that Bruce Wayne or Dick Grayson lost theirs, and in the issue’s final moments, we see that she has become the Robin to Red Hood, scourge of the underworld, who seems to be a more violent version of Batman, gunning down the cops who threaten Sasha. So, because Damian failed to save her, she’s gone to work with someone on the darker side of things, and when Red Hood and Sasha invariably come into conflict with Batman and Robin, Damian’s guilt about failing to save her will come to the surface. We only hear Damian mention Sasha once after he fails to save her, but you can still tell that it phases him.

As I mentioned earlier, Quitely’s work in the fight sequence is just astonishing. I think he sometimes goes too far in drawing grotesques, but the doll people work pretty well, and the choreography is just on another level from anyone else out there. Quitely also manages to make both the Batman and Robin costumes look like the coolest outfits out there, something you wouldn’t mind being caught wearing on the street. His Damian looks like an actual ten year old, and that adds a lot of weight to the action. I love the look of his hood at the end of the issue, and the “Bang!” sound effects written in blood at the end are the capper on the issue.

The entire viral drug thing feels kind of tacked on, but I don’t really mind. That’s not what the story is about, Morrison and Quitely chose to focus on the parts they found most interesting, and then you can piece the rest together with the exposition here. The sequence with Batman and Gordon isn’t really about resolving the Pyg story, it’s about establishing the new Batman and Robin’s relationship with Gotham PD, and confirming that no matter what the earlier suspicions were, these guys are Batman and Robin.

And, with this new fresh start wrapped up, we return at last to a loose end from Batman RIP. It’s been a while since I read those issues, but I’m assuming that between the approach to Bossu’s place and Batman and Robin’s entrance through the ceiling is where the iconic “Batman and Robin will never die!” splash takes place. Either way, it’s great to see that stuff come back, and to get a really badass moment with Dick and Damian enjoying their success.

This issue wraps up Quitely’s run on the title. His art is masterful as always, but this is definitely a more low key Morrison/Quitely collaboration than most of their previous work together. I’m really excited to see what they work on next, be it the wrap up to this Batman stuff or something else, to see them incorporate the more experimental freeform style here into a new project. I can’t say I’m thrilled to have Philip Tan coming on board. I didn’t think much of his art in X-Men, and his aesthetic doesn’t seem a great match for Quitely’s or Frazer Irving’s down the line. But, we’ll see. The series has established its new status quo, now it’s time to play around in that world.