Friday, June 27, 2014

Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi issue #23

"I'll never forgive myself for letting you leave the cave that night" ~Alfred Pennyworth on Damian Wayne

I officially have a complicated relationship with Peter J. Tomasi. He was, after all, the writer responsible for my most favorite New 52 Batman and Robin first volume collection, Born To Kill which was comprised of eight issues exploring the relationship between father and son, Bruce and Damian Wayne. It is unarguably for me the BEST thing I've ever read from DC's new continuity (perhaps matched only by Snyder's current run of Zero Year issues in his own Batman title). But ever since that smashing success, the quality of the next B&R issues became questionable. The three-arc forgettable storyline concerning the most mediocre bullshit villain in comics ever, Terminus (srsly, fuck that guy) and an out-of-place two-issued zombies storyline were enough to make me almost give up on Tomasi's B&R.

But I didn't. I held on and was rewarded with the three-issued crossover tie-in pertaining to the Death of the Family, otherwise more popularly known as the Joker's return in New 52. Things seem to look up again but then Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated killed Damian Wayne and every Bat-title has never been the same and they all released a REQUIEM issue in honor of the life and times of this fallen and short-lived Robin. Tomasi's own requiem issue is THE BEST OF THEM ALL, relying only on illustrations (the entire issue was wordless which heightened the emotional reading experience of the piece). Following shortly after that is the five-issued series dealing with Bruce Wayne's stages of grief, while other members of the bat-family make their appearances to supposedly help Batman deal with the loss of his son and partner in crime-fighting.

The DENIAL issue was a great opening but the next two that came after, ANGER and BARGAINING with Red Hood and Batgirl respectively lacked the emotional components that Tomasi can usually deliver in B&R. Then Villains Months rolled around and he bequeathed a very stunning Two-Face issue, A Tale of Two Faces and all is forgiven again (his Catwoman issue that tackles DESPAIR was also unexpectedly sweet in its own way). Now we arrive at the last stage of grief which features Nightwing, the very first Robin Dick Grayson. Now the title is once again a misnomer because Nightwing didn't have that much to do with this issue. I think it was yet another missed opportunity that we didn't get to talk about that fact that Dick loved Damian the most of all the other bat-siblings, and they bonded like brothers when Dick became Batman in The Black Mirror arc in the old continuity of Detective Comics. It was also notable that Dick took a huge blow upon Damian's death. He was practically having a mental breakdown as he was sitting just yards away from Damian's corpse.

But then again, I also stated that Dick would have worked better in the ANGER stage, and that Jason Todd should have been in the final stage instead. I still maintain that switch-up to this day because it would both grant Dick and Jason some closure with Damian's death and Bruce's mistake respectively. However, the true shining moment of this issue is Alfred Pennyworth, the loyal and often neglected butler in the background. The focus was on Bruce/Batman's struggle to come to terms with his son's death that he and even the readers have completely forgotten about Alfred. BECAUSE HE IS QUIETLY SUFFERING THROUGH IT ALL. In this issue, Bruce kept doing some sort of a matrix simulation test where he would try to rescue Damian from death that was imminent and he failed every single time. Nightwing even joins him and they were only able to save Damian by crossing lines, something that they both stood for as heroes. But the acceptance part did not come from this realization. It came from Bruce witnessing what he turned a blind eye to all along; and that was Alfred's role in all of this.

Just look at this heartbreaking page. Now I don't care who you are but if you didn't get misty eyed with this one, then you're dead inside. I surprisingly started bawling my eyes out, honestly.

When Alfred donned that simulation test for himself, we got a glimpse of a caring servant who had treated Damian as his own child as well, and had to watch Bruce, the boy he had raised to adulthood, completely fall apart upon the death of his son. It's easy to forget that it's always Alfred who has to put the pieces back together every time Bruce reaches his breaking point. It's so, so easy to overlook the fact that he also had his own inner demons of guilt to battle with YET HE CHOSE TO PUT THEM ASIDE TO HELP BRUCE FIGHT HIS OWN. That is UNCONDITIONAL LOVE RIGHT THERE! Bruce may have lost his parents tragically, and then his son murdered by orders of the boy's own mother--but what Bruce will always have in spite of these immense losses is Alfred Pennyworth who had shouldered every unpleasant thing for him when he was an orphaned boy and right to this very day.

I think it's really cleansing that Tomasi chose to help Bruce finally accept Damian's death by showing him how much Alfred equally blames himself for it as well. If Bruce cannot go on for himself, he may as well do it for the one man in the entire world who will always carry on for his sake. It was so goddamn poetic. I cried and cried for several minutes even as I put down this issue. Even issue #18 Requiem didn't reduce me into such a hot, gooey mess of nerdy tears the way this had!

It may not have been a perfect story or a perfect five-part mini-series about the stages of grief overall, but Tomasi still managed to end with a very optimistic and uplifting message because he shone the spotlight on Alfred, Bruce's longest and most devoted companion ever, his second father who will always remain his strongest ally. It was just as cathartic for me. I can now say goodbye to Damian Wayne for good. As for my relationship with this writer, I will never stop looking forward to what he's going to be writing next here in Batman and Robin especially since the next issues are about Two-Face. I sure hope he can deliver something refreshing and complex again as he had with A Tale of Two Faces.


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