Friday, July 03, 2009


Batman Reborn Part Two: The Circus of Strange (DC)
Batman and Robin #2 When: September 2009 Why: Grant Morrison How: Frank Quitely

The Story So Far...
On a day when evil appeared to have won, it was Batman who stood between the evil New God, Darkseid, and his plans of total annihilation in the pursuit of the Fifth World. With humanity enslaved by the Anti-Life Equation and the heroes seemingly defeated, Batman broke his one rule, utilizing a cosmic gun of Darkseid's own design to undo the uber-villain in an ironic stalemate that saw the Batman fall to the villain's dying gambit -- the Omega Sanction!

Believed dead by his friends and allies; a displaced Batman's mantle as protector of Gotham City is reluctantly picked up by the eldest of his adopted sons, Dick Grayson. The former-sidekick quickly grows into his own brand of Dark Knight Detective as he fights to rescue the city from it's descent into a madness introduced by the vaccuum of power created during his mentor's absence.

A Circus of Strange has come to Gotham City to spread it's unique brand of crime, working in tandem with a brilliant killer whose deadly science will disfigure the innocent, and sway them to hisdo evil. Professor Pyg is on the loose, but before the Dynamic Duo can stop this killer and uncover a grander mystery, they must first stop the jailbreak of slimey Mr. Toad, launched by the infernal Phosphorous Rex and his friends in the Circus of Strange!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Big Top 4 (Enhanced)
Intelligence: Batman 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Robin 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Batman 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Robin 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Robin 5 (Martial Arts)
Energy: Batman 4 (Arsenal)

- A talented circus performer, Dick Grayson was witness to his parent's murder when their Flying Graysons trapeze act was sabotaged, leaving his mother and father to plummet to their doom. The crime involves Batman in Grayson's life, as the Dark Knight pursues the killers and takes an interest in the young orphan's life. With youthful vigor, Grayson accepts training from the Dark Knight that adapts his own flair for acrobatics into a formiddable fighting base.

Inspired by his circus performances, Grayson becomes the contrasting light to the shadow of the bat as Robin, the boy wonder. With years of experience; Grayson is as skilled a fighter and detective as his mentor. Upon Batman's apparent death, it is ultimately he who inherits the legacy of his adoptive father, leaving behind his Nightwing identity to become a new Batman.

Grayson is joined by his mentor's illegitimate son, Damian, who in turn is given the Boy Wonder identity of Robin that Dick Grayson originated. With extensive training under his mother, Talia al Ghul, and the fabled League of Assassins, the genetically tweaked junior is bred and trained to be every bit the crime-fighter his father was. Though brash and arrogant; Damian possesses all the skills to back his attitude up, with talents that rival even his seasoned mentor, Dick.

- The Circus of Strange are: Big Top, Siam, & Phosphorus Rex.

Little is known of the mysterious Circus of Strange, suffice to say that they are a mob of misfits possessing unique abilities. Numbered among them: an amphibius human, Mr. Toad; a morbidly obese man, Big Top; a flaming human allotrope, Phosphorus Rex; and a militant trio of conjoined triplets, Siam.

Collectively they are destined to bedevil the Batman far into the future, and have formed an association in the present with the murderous madman known as Professor Pyg, himself working with the Russian mob.

Math: Batman & Robin (Avg) Circus of Strange (Ttl) Ranking: Batman (#16)

What Went Down...
With the horror of his flaming visage providing Phosphorus Rex unchallenged and unsuspecting entry into the Gotham City Police Department; the assault on the precinct by the Circus of Strange begins!
Burning all he touches -- Rex clears a path for his fellows in the macabre cadre, whose mission, it would seem, is to rescue Mr. Toad. For extra measure, Big Top fires a hallucinogenic gas to render any further police opposition incapacitated.

Adequately prepared for the gaseous attack; Batman and Robin enter the fray with mask filters on, ready for a fight! With their entrance spotted by Siam, Robin vaults into action, throwing a diving kick that is aptly countered by the conjoined triplets who use their opposing legs to shift their foundation and toss Robin into the wall with devestating force! The twin on top powers his legs, following with an immediate flurry of kicks, but Robin is able to deflect the blows and clear the way for his Dark Knight mentor.

The leaping silhouette of Batman's cape forces the hero to contend with gunfire from a hallucinating cop, but Robin is ready to disarm the threat, while Batman tags in to battle Siam.
He leads with a flourish of his cape, disarming Siam enough to give him a hard-style advantage with a straight kick and forearm hits. A jumping roundhouse kick overcomes the tripod of legs and topples the circus fighter.

Meanwhile; Big Top makes his way into the bowels of the station where Mr. Toad is stowed in lock-up. The plus-sized performer couldn't have anticipated the stealthy disobedience of Damian Wayne, whose disregard for the order to stay close to Batman leads him into a confrontation seemingly above his weight class.

Strategically placed batarangs bury themselves in the rolling fat of Big Top's arm, staking deep enough to render a paralyzing blow. Even as dead weight, each arm deals a devestating blow as Big Top throws his weight into the path of an oncoming Boy Wonder. The blow sends Robin hurtling into the sturdy external wall of the prison cells, and leaves him stunned while the bearded giant draws a concealed blade from his cane.

Elsewhere, Dick Grayson's Batman is discovering his sidekick's disobedience when the absconded Boy Wonder fails to answer his call.

The Dark Knight tosses aside Phosphorus Rex, while Siam brings up the rear with a taunting jibe directed at the breakdown of teammwork. It has little effect as Batman snatches a fire extinguisher and in one fluid motion uses the cannister to swat the face of Siam, and disperse it's contents on Rex, whose advances are again repelled with a well placed kick to the gut.

Robin turns the tables on Big Top as he jabs at him with his cane, leaning in to the wall with his lunge, instead. Robin springs from his parry to disarm Big Top by prying his fingers open, clutching at his rist to gain the leverage to throw a kick to the face. With thumb and pinky still in his clutches, Robin twists himself around, taking the big man's hand with him. Bones snap and poke through layers of fat like nobbly knees dancing beneath the bed covers. Hand ruined.

Upstairs; Commissioner Gordon arrives on the scence with a gas filter to protect his state of mind, while Batman wraps Siam up in rope, and recalls a childhood spent with the circus as he converses in argot slang. The triplets make seemingly idle threats, referring to Tober Omi on the loose, "road man" in coded lexicon.

Gordon arrives downstairs with Batman and another cop in tow, only to find Robin applying forceful interrogation techniques on a hapless Big Top. With a bucket over the Circus man's head, he continues to hit him with a broken mop handle, still demanding further elaboration on obtuse clues despite orders to stop.

Batman forces his ward to stop, despite the lad's attempts to justify his actions with the revelation that the Circus' boss, Professor Pyg, is planning an attack on the entire city. It is a crime forecast with few clues, "wooden cloppers" all that was volunteered by a now concussed Big Top.

Though the Circus were foiled in their presumed attempts to rescue Mr. Toad, it is a shocking twist that awaits Commissioner Gordon and the Dynamic Duo behind the locked door of Toad's cell. With a domino in his limp hand, Mr. Toad sits slumped against the windowless subterranean wall -- dead...

The Hammer...
Despite emerging none the wiser from their encounter, Batman and Robin are undoubtedly victors in the combative stakes!

It's taken me an awful long time to finally get this feature written up, and in part that's due to mixed feelings I've had about these opening issues. I'm not quite sure what it was I expected, but there's a sombre tone about the series that hasn't provided the thrillride I thought we might've been in for with this new series.

Much like other Grant Morrison projects; I find it very nice that these issues can be enjoyed on multiple levels. Here we are, talking about the series on a Comic Book Fight Club blog, all the while the issue presents the traditionally cerebral affair of a locked room mystery. It's that type of indulgence in the fiction that I so very much respect and love in Morrison's work, where new and innovative ideas run in conjunction with tried and true popcorn, and retro conventionalism.

The colourful energy of Frank Quitely's artwork (and Alex Sinclair's colours) gave the impression that this was to be a dynamic and improvisational reinvention of the Batman/Robin dynamic. In hindsight, that was probably a silly assumption on my part, and as I reflect on Morrison's previous Batman run that I generally went out of my way to avoid, I suspect there's some consistency in the tone.

Quitely immediately evokes a sort of bubblegum approach that is quite a contrast to the nasty pencils and motley dark colour applied to Tony Daniel's work in RIP. I really didn't expect any consistency between the two phases, and yet, here we are, witnessing the retroactively unsurprising overlap of Morrison's last run via the appearance of villains forecast in his Batman #666 future.

Interrupted by Final Crisis and the apparent death of Batman; Batman RIP went on to be one of the most misunderstood storylines of, perhaps, all-time! Without reading it myself, I can't really attempt to judge whether mass confusion was at all justified, but if Final Crisis and other Morrison-written comics are anything to go by, it probably wasn't. Still, to give disgruntled readers the benefit of the doubt, I'm beginning to wonder if Batman and Robin might not produce some of the fruits of RIP, better elaborating on a tale that certainly seems to have felt abrupt in it's conclusion, and connected to this run, if by no other detail than the inevitable return of Bruce Wayne from his post-Final Crisis 'Omega Sanctioned' exile. Then again, maybe it's just a fun bit of fluff introducing villains from a possible-future in a present context. Something for future writers to wax over.

It's nice to get a little bit deeper into the Dick Grayson/Batman persona, but I think the real character insights this issue came from Damian, even if they only reinforced what we already know. B&R might feel like it's the lynchpin of the new direction, but it looks like other writers, like Judd Winick, are getting the chance to look more specifically beneath the skin of the new Batman, rather than a pensive passing glance, which feels a little bit like the tail wagging the dog, but fair enough. If there's a positive quality to come from the line-wide revamp of the Batman books, it's that they each serve a distinct purpose that differentiates one from another.

With it's situation in the middle of the issue, sandwiched between Dick Grayson's sense of failure, as part of a recounted flashback, the locked room mystery of Mr. Toad's death could be easily forgotten. Damian's issue-closing disobedience that brings him into the clutches of Professor Pyg and the Circus of Strange has me chomping at the bit for the first fully realised glimpse of this new Bat-villain!

The long fight scene left this issue feeling a little bit on the shallow side, saving the big time fun for the next-issue tease of the final scene (which includes Robin's capture at the condemned circus hideout of Pyg), but there's a little bit more going on here than immediately meets the eye. Hopefully the next issue can live up to the simmering imagination that hasn't quite exploded onto the page the way I had hoped.

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 5

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