So it seems I may have slacked off a bit on the New 52 reviews recently, mostly because the few that I’ve picked up in the last month (namely Green Arrow and Red Lanterns) have either been outright disappointing or not engrossing enough for me to sit and read solidly for an hour or two. That is, except for Batman and Robin.
Now I’m sure by now you’re all sick of seeing me review Batman, no doubt asking yourselves questions like, “Is it in fact possible for him to check out a series/character he ISN’T entirely in love with every second of the day?” or “Is this a review site, or some kind of freaky Batman-shrine for a friend-deprived twenty-something Aussie dude?”
In all seriousness, most of the Bat-titles have already been released. There’s really only Batgirl (no thank you), Nightwing (grabbing in October) and Batwing (currently sitting on my side-table and begging for a reading). Oh, and I suppose there’s Batman: The Dark Knight in October, but since David Finch – the artist – is also the one writing it…well, I’ve already covered why that’s a bad idea.
In actuality, Born to Kill is actually markedly different to any of the other new Bat-books I’ve read recently. While the original Batman and Robin arc dealt with Dick Grayson wearing the cowl and putting up with Bruce Wayne’s snotbag son Damian as Robin, the current iteration features a kind of father-son-bonding thing with Bruce and his demonic spawn doing a family tag-team thing against up-and-coming villain NoBody. A League of Shadows alumni and former associate of Bruce back in his ninja days, NoBody comes to Gotham to stir shit up and, while he’s there, turn Robin back to the dark side.
That’s just the B-plot.
The real strength of the story – what writer Peter J. Tomasi defines as “the emotional spine” in the post-story notes – is the relationship between Bruce and Damian. This is a Batman story, and there is plenty of fisticuffs to go around, but the best moments that shine throughout involve the continued character development of Bruce and Damian as a strange kind of off-kilter family. From the narrative’s beginnings, with quips and paper boats on Crime Alley, to the legitimately surprising ending and subsequent aftermath, the main draw card the book uses is showing these two dysfunctional family members trying to come to terms with each other and attempting to reach a grudging level of respect between them. It’s a really fascinating parent-child journey that’s introspective, heartwarming, tragic and engrossing all at once.
That said, NoBody really drops the ball as a villain throughout; while he’s not the focus, he’s also not very effectual. Granted, he does almost succeed in turning Damian to the dark side (and, in fact, some might argue that he actually did) but all he really does is talk gruff, make a barrel explode and dunk people in acid. Ripping off the Joker does not make you an effectual villain, no matter what Daredevil‘s Jester might tell you.
Despite his ineffectual villain status, however, the father-son narrative is easily the best part of the book. It particularly feels like a mirror image of Morrison’s Batman and Son, with Damian actually aspiring to be someone his father can be proud of rather than going around acting tough and stabbing up Robin. I’d be really fascinated to see where this journey goes in later books because it feels really unique to me; yes, there are team-ups between peeps like Superman and Superboy or Green and Red Arrow, but this feels like a much more intimate, far less superpowered foray into superhero parenting. It’s the kind of introspective comic I’d wonder if Oprah would read.
The artwork brings along everything Patrick Gleason did on Green Lantern Corps for better or worse; while it’s definitely pleasing to look at its feels a little rough and broad, like using a house paintbrush rather than an artist’s brush on a Warhammer figurine. There’s also one really distracting element for me and that’s the teeth – seriously, nobody in this story has proper teeth. They either have a row of white in their mouths or a couple of small lines of definition that are maybe meant to be teeth but more look like segmented toothpaste. On the whole, though, pretty ok stuff.
The dialogue works well with the narrative flow, and everyone’s characterised the way they should be (besides aforementioned gruff pontificator NoBody). I actually feel like Batman’s written in a slightly softer way in this story, not just with the introspection regarding his parents’ death at the start, but through his overall treatment of Damian and his staunch defence of his child. His words really give the sense that he’s looking out for the son he had unwillingly thrust upon him years ago, and that he’s at least come to terms with the fact that he’s a biological parent as well as an adoptive one. Damian’s words, too, show him as mellowing a little towards his father and society in general – though that does take a hit when he helps out NoBody during the second act, but y’know, nobody’s perfect.
So on the whole, I can definitely recommend Born to Kill. It feels like a much more psychological story rather than the action and conspiracy narratives that have dominated the Bat-books recently, and as I said it feels to me like a really unique concept. If there’s one thing I love in comics it’s the ability to be relevant through reinvention, and Batman and Robin has certainly achieved that.
Yep, I love reinvention. Unless it’s Iron Man’s recent reinvention. That makes me want to cry.
BEST QUOTE: “I’d prefer you boys go back to fishing in the pond than tear apart my impeccable stitching and open your wounds.” – Alfred Pennyworth