The first issue of DC's new "
Batman and Robin
" series is one of the most pleasant surprises the medium has provided Comics Guy in a long time.
When it was first announced, there was no title Comics Guy was looking less forward to.
Why? Start with the fact that DC has managed to mess up or underwhelm with virtually all its high-profile events and major launches the past 3 years.
It is a trend that seemed sure to continue when it was announced that Grant Morrison was writing the book. Though a fan-favorite and capable of brilliant stuff, Morrison was responsible for a run on "Batman" the past three years that became increasingly incoherent as time went on, culminating with the convoluted "Batman: R.I.P." arc. He followed that with Bruce Wayne's apparent demise in last year's "Final Crisis." The death's impact was lessened not only because everyone knows he is going to "get better," but because it took place in a story that Morrison made so impossible to follow that he had to go on fan sites and explain what went on.
Toss in the fact the "new" Batman - Dick Grayson - has filled in for his mentor before; that the "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" event that was supposed to determine who replaced Bruce Wayne was mediocre at best and exemplified too many similar DC projects recently - it had gratuitous violence, death without impact and a poor payoff - and that the "new Robin" is Bruce Wayne's son Damian, who Morrison has consistently portrayed as a two-dimensional, unrelatable, hotheaded murderer.
Comics Guy and many fans wondered why longtime sellers like "Nightwing," "Robin" and "Birds of Prey" were axed to make room for new Bat-books like "Batman and Robin." Especially considering DC's last attempt to produce a series with top talent starring the Dynamic Duo was a disaster every way imaginable.
But now that the book is on the shelves, all Comics Guy can say is . . . Wow! This is one awesome book! This is Morrison at his magical best, telling stories bursting with imagination instead of incoherence; craziness that borders on kookiness but doesn't cross the line, and that are filled with a wonderful weirdness.
Morrison lets readers know from the first page that "Batman and Robin" will be a thrilling, fresh and exciting ride.
First, we are introduced to a new, very visual villain named Toad, with his gang and fleeing from the police in his car, who boasts that no one can catch him unless they had wings or were Batman - "and Batman's as dead as the sky is black."
Just then, readers are treated to a two-page spread shot featuring a flying Batmobile piloted by the new Dynamic Duo.
This is just one example of how Frank Quitely's breathtaking art on the book is not only a perfect complement to Morrison's imaginative writing but nearly flawless.
Whether it's with lively banter or scenes where they are socking a foe in unison, both Grayson and Damian are portrayed as worthy heirs to their legacies.
It is a responsibility that weighs heavily on Grayson, who must not only live up to the legend of Batman, but must also mentor his adoptive father's actual son. In short, he is trying to keep Bruce Wayne alive in every way possible - while acting in ways Wayne would be proud of.
There is a lot of deep stuff here, a lot of dramatic possibilities. But there are lighter moments as well, that also help illustrate that someone different is wearing the cowl. For example, one common scene that started to border on cliche would be Wayne's butler Alfred trying to get Wayne to eat, being told he was too busy to do so and Alfred leaving with a quip about his master's obsession.
In contrast, Grayson takes a break from his work to rave about Alfred's cooking, saying he could eat one of his dishes "by the ton." A startled Alfred still manages a wisecrack, "I'll try to arrange a forklift for the next delivery, Master Richard."
The most interesting character may be Damian. Though difficult, it is clear through all the defensive bluster he has inherited his father's courage, determination and desire to do what is right. He's also brilliant, having played a huge role in making the Flying Batmobile a reality. Grayson's biggest challenge may be getting the best out of him.
He quickly learns that to do so he cannot dwell upon the loss of his mentor, which Damian sees as weakness. It is a unique twist on the idea of Robin keeping Batman from becoming too dark with his childlike joy and enthusiasm. This Robin doesn't want Batman to wallow in grief - not out of concern, but because they have a job to do. Damian not only has total confidence in his abilities to be Robin, but feels his training and background already have him ready to be Batman.
Grayson acknowledges that day may in fact come, "but not today."
Today the new Dynamic Duo have to make a triumphant first response to the Bat-Signal and - thanks to Morrison - deal with a brand-new, colorful, truly horrific new villain named Pyg, who is involved in a chilling cliffhanger at issue's end. It is much more scary to see Pyg in action because you have no idea who he is, what his motivations are and what he will do, than when you see the Joker for the umpteenth time.
Likewise, after 70 years of Robin basically idolizing Batman it is refreshing to see the dynamic of the Dynamic Duo relationship change to the point where, before their first official mission, Robin states that Batman can have his respect, he just has to earn it!
Morrison, Quitely and everyone else involved have earned ours with this magnificent book. *