Oh, man, this part of the run is going to be bloody amazing. The bright cover of the first trade paperback should have given it away, but it looks like these adventures are going to be over the top crazy, and a lot of fun. Not that everything that’s lead up to this point hasn’t been fun per se – it’s just been a lot darker exploration of Batman, both in the colour palette and in the choice of villains, which have really just been the Joker and Black Glove. In fact, I’d say the last time we saw anything as easy on the eyes when it comes to colour and downright silly was back in Batman and Son, in that one issue where Batman fought Talia’s man-bats with the comic’s sound effects being replaced by all the pop art in the background.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the subject matter here is still pretty nasty stuff – the main villain of this first story arc is Professor Pyg, who we saw back in Batman and Son too, during Damian’s little “What if?” scenario, and he’s a pretty sick dude. As I recall, Andy Kubert drew more doll-like versions of the guy’s Dollotrons but Quietly makes them look less like mannequin figurines, and more like they really have had faces plastered onto their own, which is pretty darn horrible stuff. The guy’s a straight up psychopath, at one point even dancing in front of Damian, a spotlight shining on him and all, and I realised that he puts me in mind of Sander Cohen of Bioshock, a character also obsessed with creating a masterpiece. That or Doctor Steinman from the same game, who is a surgeon obsessed with creating symmetry in the human face. But though this guy is as nasty as villains get, the other baddies that make an appearance are…a bit more unusual, shall we say.
Also coming from the same Batman and Son story, for example, is Phosphorus Rex, who is sadly not a flammable dinosaur but just a man, and for some reason has fiery hands and a face, yet an unflammable body. Weird. Oh, but Mr. Toad opens the first issue. It is as it sounds, yes. Sadly that one kicks the bucket, or croaks as one of Gordon’s officers puts it. There’s also Big Top, a huge bearded lady in a ballerina costume that closely resembles one of the fatties from the Judge Dredd universe. Don’t forget the Siamese triplets who make for an interesting fight scene. Note that those last two are circus-based characters, even using the lingo, something Dick picks up on from his own background. Anyway, going by the title of the sixth issue in this part of the run, we’ll shortly be seeing the Flamingo too, another character that made an appearance in Bethlehem, so god only knows how wacky he’ll be. In a way, I suppose they’re all no more crazy in appearance than some of the traditional enemies, but I think there’s a reason that Morrison has created them instead of taking his pick from the usual roster, you know?
Though one familiar face does make an appearance at the end of the first story arc and would appear to be the main focus of the next – Red Hood, I presume Jason Todd. This will be particularly interesting. Everyone probably knows but I’ll explain anyway: Jason Todd was the Robin after Dick Grayson, making him the second, but he was murdered by the Joker in A Death in the Family, a quite famous story of Batman. Though I’ve never read the comic that did this, my understanding is that Ra’s al Ghul used one of his Lazarus Pits to bring Jason back from the grave, and I believe these Pits have an effect on the mind of the person being revived, driving some of them mad, which was the case of Jason, who became Red Hood – ironically, who the Joker first was – and nearly killed the Joker. Why his inclusion to the story should be interesting is because he seemingly recruits one of Pyg’s victims at the end of the story, a young girl called Sasha that Damian failed to save. Thus they will be a mirror to our new Batman and Robin, though hopefully just as interesting – one thing that could be interesting to see, perhaps if three issues is enough time, is that they do a better job together than our very own Dynamic Duo.
But probably not. Though things certainly do get off to a shaky start for our two heroes, they seem to pull it together by the end, with the last scene between the two being the same one we saw at the end of Batman R.I.P., that being their surprise attack on Le Bossu who believes them dead. But, then again, one of the story arcs in the next trade paperback is called Batman V.S. Robin and the front cover depicts Damian on the verge of swinging a sword at Dick. But, then again, again, I have my theory that Damian is a weapon of Talia’s since we saw him being hooked up to suspicious looking medical equipment in Batman and Son after the submarine explosion – it would honestly not surprise if she has some way of controlling him if she can also “repair” him. That’s something we’ll just have to wait to find out, though. In the meantime, we can have fun with Damian being Robin. One thing I did notice was that, in nearly every full page shot of he and Dick, it’s Robin up front and centre instead of Batman. Of course, Damian does say to Dick that, “It’s Robin and Batman from now on”, to more or less spell this out for you, but I think the point was as I said in my last post: that the roles are practically reversed, with Robin being the threatening one and Batman the friendly crime fighter. Well, he does at one point take Phosphorus Rex for a less-than-fun ride through town, but he does appear to give up pretending to be Bruce, Alfred having advised him to be Batman “as a performance […] and play it to suit your strengths”. Which is why, of course, we see him pulling off all his acrobatic moves instead of trying to mimic Bruce’s fighting skills.
But, though he no longer seems concerned about his own portrayal of Batman, he does note that Gordon and the other officers realise he isn’t the same Batman that they’ve always known, nor the Robin. This seems less worrying by the end of the story, Gordon finally thanking Dick and telling him that he doesn’t want to know what’s been going on for the past several months since the real Batman’s death, but I did notice in the second issue that he recognised Damian from the end of Batman R.I.P. and I’m very curious to see if that’s a little thing that comes back at some point in the future, and to see how Gordon will react when he knows Robin’s identity. Where I see this being possible is in Batman Incorporated. The cover of that suggests that Batman goes global, but at what cost? Corporations need their CEO’s so does Bruce reveal his identity? Guess we’ll just have to wait it out to see.
Well now, to finish things off, I suppose we should talk about Frank Quietly who I believe makes his only appearance in the run here sadly. Though his artwork isn’t as amazing as his All Star Superman stuff, he is still very much incredible here and Morrison takes the opportunity to make him bring to life some brilliant scenes, the fights of which are the best in the run thus far, flowing from action to action as they do. Take the scene in which Damian fights Pyg and some of his Dolls. Notice how the chair is falling backwards as he takes care of two Dolls at once, how he then pushes it in the opposite direction against Pyg’s hands as he takes out another, so that it’s back in place, firmly on the ground, as he takes a flying kick at Pyg himself. Simply amazing, and it makes me want to buy the Absolute edition of this part of the run for it alone. But, since I can’t find that particular example online, here’s Pyg’s dance routine in all its glory. It makes me so sad that we won’t be seeing Quietly in the remainder of this run. Seriously, as you read this book, look carefully at every little detail you can – you’ll find that only do the character’s expressions speak a lot for themselves, but the tiniest of details, like how, following the above fight scene, Damian tracks Pyg with his head in the background of one panel as he makes his attempted escape, pursuing him in the next. In other words: I love you, Frank Quietly, you beautiful bastard, you.
Alas, our next artist, a chap called Philip Tan whom I’m unfamiliar with, isn’t quite as amazing, but then again, not many people are when it comes to Quietly, so that’s no slight against him at all. My review of the second story arc might be up a little later this very same day if I write fast enough, and I most certainly see myself blasting through these Batman and Robin books. They could very well be the best part of the run yet as a matter of fact. See you next time.