This is how comics should be, DC launched 52 titles in September of 2011, thus far Batman and Robin is the predominant work coming out of the relaunch. Peter Tomasi a veteran writer of DC usually writing on the B and C list titles finally given the shot to helm a premier book conceived for all intents and purposes by Grant Morrison through his “Batman & Son” story line Tomasi has excelled and written up to the level of Morrison. Is Tomasi are great writer in hiding or has Morrison set up a story that almost anyone can write? I think a bit of both. Tomasi has talent, you don’t write a book like this without it, but Morrison has also weaved a tale that many writers can step into and succeed because the story has so much potential for direction he has made it almost too easy for new writers.
If there was any complaint with Batman and Robin it could only be the artwork. Not because the artwork is bad, but it is just not at the quality of the writing, and that is only if you are really trying to make a stretch and identify some negative, even though it is more of a poor grade based only on a very strong bell curve.
Where other Bat-titles focus on the villain in town and the crime Batman and company are trying to thwart, Batman and Robin delves into the interpersonal dynamics of the father and son relationship of Bruce and Damian. Weighing the ideals of a crime fighter and how far he will go to teach and protect his student, but also fight the demons that haunt his son’s past.
Prior to “Batman & Son” being launched in the #650’s I questioned the idea of Bruce Wayne having a child, making a major change like that to a classic is risky, it not only changes the way future writers need to direct the story but it also places fans on the fence. You are taking a person who has little if any meaningful social contact in his “Average Joe” from outside of a select few and placing him in a position he now has to show caring and love. If the chemistry would have been disasterful taking Damian out of the story would have possibly been difficult without ruining the character of Bruce Wayne. But the story was strong and the creation of such a powerful child warrior prodigy was a great read. Damian’s character was deep and dark, far more sinister than Batman’s image and he was only 9 or 10 in the story timeline. As the issues went forward Damian challenged and persisted to be in his father’s work whether it be rogue or with Batman. Batman chose to teach him as it was probably better than the potential threat of a 10-year old super villain destroying Gotham’s underworld. When Batman was “out-of-town” and Nightwing was wearing the cowl the balance of Batman and Robin was reversed with Batman (Grayson) the caring and humorous partner and Robin (Damian) the brutal and cold part of the duo.
When Bruce returned I did not think a Bruce and Damian team up would work as it appeared that the balance would now shift Batman and Robin to similar traits of dark and calculating assailants with the traditional light and moralistic Robin gone from the story. That is not what happened, Bruce Wayne has begun to change. Slowly but the pair works, maybe even the best yet. Alfred is more vocal as the moralistic voice of reason and proverbial conscience of Batman. But at the same time pushing Bruce to be the father he never learned to be as an orphaned child. Damian struggles with the nature of his upbringing in the League of Shadows. Learning restraint even in the absence of compassion.
What would Damian be without Bruce and Alfred’s intervention? An assassin or worse, Joker. As the stories progress you see that Damian wants to change, but the need to prove he is beyond his years and as much a warrior as his father it leads to the traditional Robin defiance, although on a whole new level than seen in years past with Dick, Jason or Tim. His skills grow and his temperament fluctuate Always leaving you with the feeling he could snap and murder or cry for comfort at any moment. Always looking to prove he is the best Robin he rarely lets in a friend beyond Alfred, as not to be seen as compassionate or weak.
Where Detective Comics failed with the use of D-List enemies, B&R succeeds. Call it a double standard, but Detective lives on the story of the confrontation of good and evil, making the villain in question as vital to the story as the words on the page. With Batman and Robin you have a story that focuses on a father and son relationship and how they grow and mature, making the villain only necessary as the device in which they reflect their reason to wear costumes and fight crime. The Batman and Robin story line would work outside of the comic realm and has in several movies and books.
Though with Detective, they chose to go with the classic disposable villain of some mutant development with a token name, Gas Man & Hypnosis. Tomasi’s disposable character, created only to fail and never be heard from again was more than just a bad guy creating a crime. Morgan Ducard as Nobody son of Henri Ducard, had a multi story arc that most fans will connect to Liam Neeson and associate with Ra’s Al Ghul from Batman Begins was created out of Bruce Wayne’s past. Tomasi gave him a reason to hate Wayne and a desire for vengeance. He used the already struggling relationship with Bruce and Damian as the focus for Ducard’s revenge.
Does Tomasi’s have the ability to create a story with the villain or again is it the dynamics of the relationship that would make even a common street thug work in this situation. Again, a little of both. Even with the final two issues of the arc the Terminus character was sort of that token, run-of-the-mill character you see for one story and they never work in again. But writing the crime behind the story of four Robins, former and present in conflict and teammates made the use of a villain we don’t care almost necessary. Tomasi is putting the focus characters first and developing the crime around their story, rather that as it seems others tend to develop a crime and write the superheros into the situation.
At some point Tomasi or who ever is writing will have to move the story forward, Bruce and Damian need either evolve as a family or crumble. If DC were to keep this family in conflict for years it would grow mundane and repetitive. Where do you take this boy? How does he change and does it still work or does he just become another Robin in the background?
Batman and Robin is more than just the best book in the New DC 52, it is a classic that we have the pleasure of reading right now and will be in the company of “Year One” and “The Death of Superman” as some of the greatest stories of DC lore.