Saturday, August 29, 2009

Geeking Out On "Batman and Robin"

My friend S., a fellow comic book geek, refuses to buy Grant Morrison's sublime "Batman and Robin" because, well, he's still smarting from "Final Crisis." I think S. has reached the end of his tolerance for the author's ambitious brand of storytelling, which sometimes comes across as the result of marathon Sharpie-huffing. I admit that there are entire issues of "Final Crisis" that made no sense to me, even after repeat readings.

But "Batman and Robin" is a completely different animal, and it's great stuff. It's only three issues old, but next to "Secret Six," it's become the book I look forward to most each month — even ahead of (gasp) "Wonder Woman." The combination of Morrison's writing and Frank Quitely's art has been just about perfect, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried about what happens when Philip Tan steps into the artist's role in issue No. 4. But so far, this book has hit its marks every time. S., are you listening? We'll talk.

This should be obvious to anyone with a passing knowledge of Morrison's work, but "Batman & Robin" is not for the children. My 9-year-old son desperately wants to read it, but the just-concluded Professor Pyg storyline — in which a pig-masked nutcase tries to unleash disease-carrying "Dollotrons" throughout Gotham City — is the stuff of effed-up nightmares. Pyg isn't just villanous; he's sick. (Spoiler alert!) There's a series of panels involving an briefly abducted Damian Wayne (Robin), who becomes an audience of one for the professor's creepy cabaret dance. Seriously, at one point, old boy is dropping it like it's hot and ripping off his shirt ("I want to be sick in public!"), which is one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen in a mainstream comic book. But Damian — having been raised by assassins and all — is pretty unflappable, and once he gets free and starts kicking everyone's ass, it's clear that the boy can handle himself in extreme situations.

I'm very curious to see how Damian's relationship with Batman/Dick Grayson (swoon!) gels over the months, because their dynamic is different from any previous Batman-and-Robin pairing. There are moments of playfulness (Damian suggests they go by "Robin and Batman"), but there is nothing happy-go-lucky about Bruce Wayne's son. Remember; this is the kid who beheaded a criminal in "Batman and Son" and tried to kill Robin III, Tim Drake. He's a handful for Dick and Alfred, and I suspect Morrison has some big plans for this character's development.

Mr. Tan, good luck to you.

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