Monday, June 08, 2009

Batman Reborn Part One: Domino Effect (DC)
Where: Batman and Robin #1 When: August 2009
Why: Grant Morrison How: Frank Quitely

Strength: Batman 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Batman 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Batman 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Batman 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Robin 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Batman 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Batman 4 (Arsenal)

Math: Batman & Robin
Ranking: Batman (#21)

It's times like these I really wish we were doing these reviews on time, because the visceral excitement of the long awaited released of Batman & Robin #1 is something I cannot recreate. That fact in itself is probably a commentary on the lasting impression of the issue (and series), but I wouldn't want to start on an overtly negative tone. Continue with those assumptions at your own risk.

You can now retroactively see that there was deliberate method to the madness of going back to Batman: Battle for the Cowl #3 in our previous Friday feature.
With the exception of a coy final page in the aforementioned issue, B&R #1 is the first official outing for Dick Grayson as Batman after he accepted the mantle whilst defeating Jason Todd's violent alternative [RE: Battle #3].

The details of Batman's death in Final Crisis remain unknown to readers and the fictional survivors, alike. It's fitting, then, that Grant Morrison, the man behind DC's last summer epic, is the one to spearhead the stylistic reinvention of Dick Grayson as successor to the Dark Knight's Batcave throne. Morrison isn't alone in the world of Gotham City and it's protectors, however, and that is a fact that has greatly enhanced the strength of new series like Batman and Robin.

Battle for the Cowl touched upon details key to a variety of the series, most significantly by defining the landscape of Gotham City to some extent. It gave us the decimation of Arkham Asylum, the apparent return-from-the-grave by Black Mask, his recruitment of some of Gotham's nastiest into his new syndicate, and his opposition to existing bosses, Two-Face and Penguin.

Judd Winick, the writer who oversaw much of Black Mask's previous reign as Gotham's kingpin of crime (before he was killed by Catwoman), returns to explore some of these developments, notably those involving the ire of Two-Face and Penguin. Paul Dini picks up Black Mask's other operations, as well as those of minions such as Firefly and Zsasz, over in the newly launched cop-friendly, Batman: Streets of Gotham. Dini's tour of the streets also continues in another new series, Gotham City Sirens, which delivers the continuation of his Detective plotlines concerning Catwoman and Hush, as well as Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, completing the trio he famously worked on with Batman: The Animated Series.

Winick's Batman will also explore Dick Grayson alongside B&R, while Red Robin takes the emotional response and solo independence found by Tim Drake, who was unceremoniously dumped in favour of a new Robin. His story also contains the earliest hints toward the eventual return of Bruce Wayne as he embarks on a journey across the globe to find evidence of his mentor's survival -- a tale that will bring him into conflict (or confluence) with Ra's Al Ghul.

The line-up has created a very thorough network of titles that offer many things to many types of readers. Those with allegiances to certain characters or ideas might need to adjust their plans, but there's plenty on offer for everyone.

Over the years, readers have come to resent heavily marketted stories that interfere in alternate publishing agendas. DC have been quite brilliant in taking the organic make-up of their Bat-launch to naturally produce a line of series that compliment the larger viewing picture without forcing deviation on readers.

With Batman & Robin, [Grant] Morrison and Frank Quitely take the reigns of what is effectively the flagship title of this particular era of Bat-books.
Here, Morrison gets a chance to essentially play in his own little box, free to define the key points of the relationship shared between the new dynamic duo and their operations, whilst also telling his own unique tale(s). As the man who killed Batman, you get a great sense of control and direction from the writer, who should arguably know the goals of this course of action the most, given DC's open references to the carte blanch the writer has earned.

Morrison isn't the only creative force given rope on the project, although, I don't doubt he and Quitely collaborated closely when designing the visuals of a bubbly new take on Gotham City, and slick, sci-fi Italian sports-car that the new flying Batmobile is. On visual flair alone, you know this is a Morrison/Quitely book, but what that means will be dependent on your own sensibilities. As is often the case, this work will be devisive, particularly for more stubborn Bat-fans.

Like many of the classic visual takes on Batman, there's a dance between the far future and the distant past in Batman & Robin. The flattened bendy lines of the new Batmobile share the road with deeply retro escape vehicles, and pedestrian 2000-era public buses, neither particularly out place in a world of pure fiction.

The red-tinged cockpit of the Batmobile gives Dick Grayson's distanced reactions to his arrogant new ward a tone reminiscent of Frank Miller's tank-driving Batman of The Dark Knight Returns. It's an oddly subdued atmosphere for the interior of a flying car, but is hardly the sole example of the subdued living in parallel to the totally unreal and fantastic.

This isn't Final Crisis or the pre-RIP Batman, but as is common of Morrison's work, you get a sense that it's informed by what's come before it. Details like the skyscraper underground base of Batman will recall an influence like The Dark Knight, and the new Batmobile feels like it might be channeling the sixties TV vehicle. I don't know of any appearances of Mr. Toad or Pyg before this series, but I'm reluctant to rule out the possibility that they might be spun-out from one of the wacky fifties issues that Morrison has shown great acceptance for.

Of course, observations like these aren't just the fodder of a friendly blog post trying to inform as much as it reviews. These details are what occupy most of the first issue of the new series, which spends most of it's time laying out the land of the Batman of this particular series, done so through the vivid stylings of Quitely and Morrison's unique art direction. They make no attempt to lure you in if you aren't ready to accept intergrated sound effects in the artwork, toady circus men, or geography not pulled from a gothic coffee table book.

While it could be said that Morrison's books often start slow like this, B&R feels very practical in it's pacing. It jumps head-long into the action with the first page and that speaks to the interim of Batman: Battle for the Cowl, which created a sense of expectation beyond even the mere change of Bruce Wayne for Dick Grayson. However tangential the Battle mini-series was, it's given a feedline of context that Morrison's book benefits from far better than Final Crisis did the clumsily retro-fitted end of Countdown, despite what I suspect was a similar course of creation.

Unfortunately, DC's efforts to market the book meant when I finally got it in my hands, the first handful of pages were so familiar, there was little wonder left in them. Seasoned readers will know exactly what to expect from the book, but the uncertain should probably investigate further before taking a chance.

In the pages we've seen so often, Batman and Robin pursue the villainous Mr. Toad, who is somehow connected to the first circus borne villain, Pyg.

A graphic missile disables Toad's getaway car, allowing the Batmobile to lift it airborne and evade potential casualties in favour of dispensing the car into the waters of Gotham Harbor. Mr. Toad, slippery fellow that he is, doesn't let this deter him from his goal, swimming to the docks in an effort to continue his getaway. Waiting there, however, are the new Batman and Robin, who Toad had previously referred to in the past-tense. There's nothing past about the double punch knock-out he suffers from the dynamic duo, however.

Grayson later tries out one of his mentor's tricks, interrogating a blindfolded Mr. Toad whilst dangling him from the flying Batmobile. Speaking to the humor of the series, Toad is actually no more than twelve inches off the ground, leaving him with little more than a burned ego after his fall.

Batman and Robin might not have immediately lived up to the immense hype of the Batman: Reborn key title, but it sets up what is sure to be an exciting ride. There's a danger it might be lost along with Flash: Rebirth as DC's major summer event, Blackest Night, takes over the DC Universe. Morrison won't have to worry about that fact any more than Johns' pre-Blackest Night Flash book will, but it is worth considering if you're worried about future availability of the series.

Perhaps the most significant thing this issue does is promise the quality and conviction of direction of the series. A series, I'm sure it will take back "Batman and Robin" for the comics, cleaning off those negative associations.

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 4.5
Winners: Batman & Robin

Batman & Robin is currently available monthly from DC comics!
It'll be a while before you see the series collected, but for those among you eager to get the first bite, you can pre-order the Hardcore Collection via Amazon. By using purchase links provided, you help sponsor future entries in the Infinite Wars, and you can find plenty more in the Online Gift Shoppe. There, editions featuring most issues reviewed in the Secret Archives are on offer, among others.

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