Peter Tomasi began his fascinating look at Batman’s stages of grief last month with an issue featuring Frankenstein and Red Robin. The Denial story saw Batman attempt to raise Damian from the dead, only to be stopped by Tim Drake. This month, Bruce has moved on to rage (as the cover so subtly points out).
This is the first and only issue where we get to see Bruce and Jason interact between the dramatic start of James Tynion’s run on Red Hood and the Outlaws and their reconciliation at the end of Scott Lobdell’s. Tomasi writes a strongly recognizable version of Jason Todd, though he gains a lot of slack due to the recent changes in his relationship with Bruce.
Bruce on the other hand, is nothing like himself. Any heroic image you have of Batman will be fairly irrelevant here; the grief he feels is entirely transformative. Your opinion of how well this is handled will likely depend on your opinion of Batman in general. Those who sympathize with Bruce might find it to be a tragic character portrait, while others might feel that Tomasi has gone too far. Others, likely a portion of those fans here for Jason, will see this as business as usual for a deeply disturbed man. Regardless of your feelings of how much this is normal or justifiable for Batman, I think you’ll find the form, if not the content, of the writing to be adequate but nothing spectacular. Batman’s anger has power behind it, but, unfortunately it reads generic and occasionally cheesy (Batman has trained to be the best at everything, this is not Batman-worthy pun). It’s also a somewhat wordy issue, with Bruce expositing a bit more than might be necessary.
The best writing in the issue are the lines where Tomasi hides his meaning behind the words, and there are many. Jason’s old respect for Bruce comes through loud and clear despite his limited dialogue. The relationship between the two is strong and only grows stronger throughout the issue.
It’s always interesting to see a known relationship turned on its head. While Jason is certainly no pacifist, his return to the fold has mellowed him just as Bruce is growing more and more violent.
Jason isn’t the only co-star in this book, though. As I’ve said before, Damian may have had the billing, but Batman and Robin has always been a showcase for Alfred. This month he has a truly wonderful scene with Carrie Kelly, Damian’s (understandably controversial) drama tutor.
While the choice of character bugs me to some extent (apparently less than many), I think Tomasi is doing something very interesting with Ms. Kelly’s character here. Though Damian is gone from this world, Tomasi continues to deepen his character, while simultaneously introducing a new supporting character for this book. What’s most amazing about this choice is probably how rarely I’ve seen it, because it’s really quite ingenious. Though its refusal to obey storytelling convention irked me at first, the potential and realism of it brought me around in no time.
I think best of all is the unspoken implication of Bruce’s antagonism. Every brusque comment screams out “what else don’t I know about my son?”
In short: well done Mr. Tomasi. Now, if I can ask a favor of you, can Carrie and Alfred become actor buddies? Please?
Patrick Gleason is joined on pencils by Cliff Richards. I don’t recognize Richard’s name, but I like what I see (Apparently he’s done some work for DC and on the Buffy comics). Some of Richards’ compositions run a little too far on the generic side but when he shines he shines. Richards is clearly capable of drawing crisp and readable battle scenes as well as dramatic panels of dialogue (occasionally a little too dramatic). Still, the best work is on Bruce and Jason’s faces. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for him in the future.
Though Mr. Richards’ contributions are very nice, Patrick Gleason is still clearly the primary artist on this issue. Gleason’s style has the same ups and downs as ever. Bruce still looks a little heavy and Alfred still looks like Don Corleone, but that also means that there are some panels that do exquisite things with darkness.
Like Richards, Gleason draws a handsome Jason Todd, and an expressive one at that. His take on Carrie Kelly is strong too, but, for some reason, it seems that women slip into the uncanny valley more often than men and Carrie falls victim to this mysterious affliction here and there. If there’s a real criticism to be made of Gleason’s work other than the ‘his people look kinda funny’ that I rehash every time I review his work, it’s the clear signs of harried penciling. The guest artist filling in scattered pages would be enough on its own, though I will say that the issue handles that about as well as one could, but the real problem is the lack of backgrounds. I was unaware that Wayne Manor had a large empty cherry colored room. It’s no easy job to do what Gleason is asked every month, but this time the signs of fatigue are showing. It’s no easy job, but it’s his job. I hope he’ll be back on track by next month.
Batman and the Red Hood together again, hurtling towards a conclusion that aims right for the heart. Tomasi weaves a tragic story of a father and son, each touched by death and rage. Damian’s death, Jason’s rebirth, and Bruce’s madness lead them inexorably to their fate. It’s a must read story for any fan of Jason Todd or Batman and Robin. If only the art and the dialogue could keep up with the plot.
From here on out we’re in spoiler territory, if you don’t have the stomach for it you should turn back now.
Whew, this is not a comic for the spoiler free.
While I enjoyed the scene with Carrie and thought that the fight with the mercenaries was perfectly nice, I, probably like many of you, felt like this would be a rather mellow issue if something didn’t change at that point. Am I glad it did.
I think some of the best writing (and art for that matter) in this issue is the dark page where Jason realizes what’s going on. On a first read it’s a slightly wordy moment of pause, a scene to build tension that isn’t quite clear, but once you know what’s coming, the whole thing is rather horrifying. I love Jason’s eyes as he realizes what’s happening.
After watching Batman dissect a sentient being and hold him indefinitely against his will last month, you wouldn’t think that the man could escalate, but he does. There’s a very sacred bond between Batman and the Robins. Part of what makes Batman such a powerful character is that he makes absolutes happen. We don’t get a lot of absolutes in our lives, death is perhaps the only one, but if absolutes seem impossible, Batman makes them possible. It’s practically his superpower.
Batman absolutely doesn’t kill.
Batman absolutely doesn’t use guns.
Batman has an absolute will.
Batman is the absolute peak of human prowess, equaled only by the strength of Superman and the compassion of Wonder Woman.
These are the sacred rules of Batman and they are only broken in the most dire of circumstances. Stories that dare to take these lightly are reviled and mocked. But what happens when the bond with one Robin clashes with another? It’s that rare moment when the rules truly allow Batman to do wrong.
So while the events of last issue are (to use the most correct word imaginable) horrific, even they pale in comparison to what Bruce does to Jason. We’ve seen Bruce lash out at Tim in dark moments, even seen him hit Dick in the wake of Jason’s death, but Tomasi does an excellent job of showing us how deep a wound Bruce is opening by bringing Jason back. And worst of all, he makes Batman betray Jason and casts doubt on the entirely of their reconciliation.
The argument is brilliant in its own way. Never before have I seen such compelling evidence to support Jason’s characterization of Bruce as a raving unstable narcissist, but, though it’s subtler, you can tell that Bruce can’t understand why Jason won’t think of someone other than himself. For Bruce, this isn’t about him (or, at least, he can’t admit that it is), it’s about Damian and what he deserves, and at the heart of it, that’s the cruelest cut of all. It’s the affirmation that Jason’s been wating for. He loves Damian best, and he’d throw Jason under the bus to get him back.
It’s a scene that redefines the Bruce/Jason relationship, returning it to a variant of the status quo, while deepening the rift and making it feel natural in the New 52 context, a brilliant soft reboot, even if some of Jason’s comebacks are really terrible.
Last month I was confused by the events of Red Hood and the Outlaws #19, but this issue puts them into sharp focus. It is a shame that this issue couldn’t be released before that one, but it wouldn’t have been worth a month of filler.
DC tried to show us the fallout from Death of the Family and failed, however, they are very much succeeding here in Batman and ___. The last page of the issue gives up much to look forward to, informing us that next month we’ll be reading Batman and Batgirl (Do I have any readers who can remember when that was the standard?). Not only that but it seems that Tomasi will be handling the introduction of one of Batman’s greatest foes into the New 52 (no, the backups don’t count).
I wasn’t a fan of Tomasi’s handling of Two-Face during his run on Nightwing, but this issue presents a compelling argument to come back next month, not to mention a beautiful, moody Two-Face Page.
Though the writing is stilted at times, and Gleason’s style continues to bug me, the Jason Todd fan in me adored this issue. What did you think?
- Is It Good? Batman and Red Hood #20 Review (Adventures in Poor Taste)