Batman and Robin 15 DotF

It’s a good time to be a Batman fan. ‘It’s always a good time to be a Batman fan’ I hear the cynical among you say, but it’s true (can you tell I just read two consecutive Joker issues?). While Batman has led something of a blessed life, at least from a publication point of view, it’s hard not to think that Bruce made out well in the New 52, even for him. And of course there’s no finer example of this than the work of Scott Snyder.

I love Snyder’s take on Gotham and Death of the Family is another great set-up for a big Batman story, good enough to help me overlook his few but serious missteps anyway. But all this is neither here nor there just now because we’re not reviewing a Snyder comic. Right now we’re looking at Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s addition to the Death of the Family story.

There’s not a lot of plot here. I don’t feel like I’m spoiling too much to say that the story is as follows: Damian is arrogant and frustrated and rushes into a situation that he’s not entirely ready for. I feel I can say that because: A). It’s the plot of every Damian story that doesn’t substitute ‘a situation he’s laughably over-prepared for’, and B). He makes this abundantly clear in the first two pages. Looking

So how is it? Well, not great. Though Tomasi’s done some great work on this title, this issue falls flat for me. I can’t say as much as I’d like in the spoiler-free section, but the book is far too talky and Tomasi’s version of the Joker is just not strong enough to carry it. As he always does, Tomasi wrings every drop of pathos out of Damian’s moments of vulnerability but it’s not enough to make this a must-read book. I will say that there is one particularly delightful moment between ‘Batman’ and ‘Robin’ as interpreted by the clown prince of crime, but it’s a shame that I have just one moment to point to.

One other warning is that this is kind of a gross book. It’s not bad relative to much that’s out there in the world of comics but it’s worth a mention. back, I suppose that Tomasi and Gleason have had something of an interest in the disgusting throughout their run but it’s definitely on a more sickening level than anything in their first twelve issues. The best warning I can give is to remind everyone that any tie-in to Death of the Family will, by its nature, involve a man whose face is attached with a belt, and say that this issue does far more to turn a stomach (at least on a physical level) than anything Snyder and Capullo have turned out thus far.

The art is a mixed bag. Gleason’s rendering of the Joker does little to help Tomasi’s hit and miss characterization (there is at least one panel where he looks like Lord Voldemort) and the major set piece feels like it hurts more than helps. Even familiar scenes like Damian and Titus in the Bat-Cave feel spotty and not at all up to Gleason’s usual level. That said there are a trio of truly gorgeous pages near the start of the book and the detail work is generally good throughout.

Overall, it’s a misfire in my opinion. There are a number of good qualities, some of which I’ll give a little time after the spoiler-break, but there should be more story and more of those stand-out moments given the choice to crawl along like this. It’s still the same Batman and Robin you may have been reading these past five seasons, but as with, and to a greater extent than, their Night of the Owls tie-in, Tomasi and Gleason swing the crowbar and miss.

 

 

 

From here on out we’re in spoiler territory, if you don’t have the stomach for it you should turn back now.

 

 

Alright?

 

 

Alright.

 

 

Now for those of you willing to hear a couple of spoilers about this issue we can do a lot more. This issue was hard to review without them because about thirteen of its twenty pages constitute one lengthy conversation between Damian and the Joker. Despite the insistence of everyone at DC that the ‘Snyder method’ of event planning doesn’t force anything on anyone, you can’t help but wonder how much the limitations of the crossover affected the writing of this issue. Most significantly, this issue absolutely crawls to its twist ending which seems to spoil next month’s issue of Batman.

Tomasi has some fun with Robin’s name, but in the end it feels more like a series of puns than a meaningful critique of his role in Bruce’s life. He also feels a little stiff and literal. While I loved the symbolism of bats and birds in The Court of Owls storyline and Tomasi is hardly alone in this, the Robin puns do fail to recognize that the greater part of Robin’s identity is in homage to Robin Hood – and with a hooded Robin, no less! Worse still he comes dangerously close to both of the sins that, to me, mark Hush Returns as one of the worst Bat-comics in my library: an unfunny Joker and being too literal with and too attached to The Killing Joke.

Tomasi’s Joker tries and fails to capture the magic of Snyder’s interpretation, meandering from thought to thought in an attempt to express the chaos of the Joker’s mind. Now, I can hardly judge, I’ve written characters that feel similar and may not be much better and it’s hard not to feel bad for him, having to write the same Joker as Snyder when the Ace of Knaves is a character so suited to the subtlety of interpretation. All the same  it doesn’t help Tomasi’s Joker read any better to think how things could have been. There’s a lot of words in them there bubbles and there’s pages of dialogue that could probably be cut. From references to his last meeting with Damian, to contrived ways of tying in the last few issues, to rehashings of things that have already been said in Batman, it feels like we’re treading water.

Worse still, and you’ll pardon my nerd rant, it seems that Tomasi briefly but severely misunderstands the Joker, having him dismiss the “misconception” that he’s a clown. Just as the Scarecrow gains something from being scary without fear gas (perhaps I’ll have to review Absolute Terror from Detective Comics 835 & 836 sometime), the Joker is often at his best when you’re uncomfortable laughing but doing it all the same. Even worse is that the Joker has been clearly established as thinking of himself as the ‘court jester’ of Batman’s Gotham in this very event. This is not a bad line in itself, in fact with another character or another interpretation or even another reader it might hit its mark but not for me, not now, not this Joker. And unfortunately it doesn’t end there.

From there the Joker immediately goes on to reminisce about the ambiguous ending to Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, leading Damian to snap at him about what he did to Barbara Gordon. Sure, most people, myself included, didn’t realize that Moore and Bolland intended it to be unclear what Batman was doing in the final panels and honestly it doesn’t kill the point of the book like Hush Returns did (Poor Hush Returns…doomed to be my whipping boy for the success of its sequel), but particularly after the controversies surrounding Gail Simone’s Batgirl over the past fifteen months, I think the market is saturated with Killing Joke references. Good as it is, it’s an uncomfortable instance of fridging, and another example of DC clinging to Alan Moore’s work when plenty of other great Joker stories exist.

Nerd rants over…as much as they’re ever over on a comic review site.

Anyway, for all the problems with Tomasi’s Joker, I’m still happy that he’s on this book because he’s one of the writers that can make me really enjoy reading a Damian Wayne story. Tomasi clearly gets Damian, at least his post-reboot version of Damian. It’s kind of a shame we don’t get to hear more of him since his voice is so well captured. But in a way we do. One thing I loved about this issue was the relationship between Damian and the Joker.

Though it was nearly crushed under the sheer number of unnecessary sentences, the peculiarities of their relationship is clearly at the front of Tomasi’s mind. To be frank, it seems at times that Damian could almost be the Joker’s Robin, that his urge to kill, his need for Batman’s love, give him more in common with Joker than his own father. Damian was designed to be a very different Robin for a different Batman and being the badass of the dynamic duo has led him to have a combination of the traditional Batman and the traditional Robin traits, which makes for an interesting connection with the Joker. In this issue we see a Joker who has time to enjoy that unique relationship but part of the tragedy is just how little of the issue makes use of the bond these two characters have, and perhaps that’s part of why I’m so hard on it.

I sincerely hope that Tomasi sees the greatest potential for Damian  in this crossover, or at least what I see as the greatest. After all, the Joker is back to prove that he knows and loves the Batman best, and what could be scarier to Batman’s son than that?

An issue that seems strangled by editorial and far short of its potential, but not beyond saving. Let’s hope Tomasi and Gleason do just that next month.

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