Thursday, June 12, 2014

[New 52] Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi issue #18

" will be hard for me to say these words face to face, but I want you to know that Mother may have given me life, but you taught me how to live." ~Damian Wayne, a letter to his father

When Bob Kane and Bill Finger decided on having a teenage sidekick fighting alongside Batman seventy-five years ago, they never could have guessed how much impact the character of Robin will have in the ages to come, and how strong his presence will prevail in the hearts of Batman's loyal fanbase and eager readers. There have been others who took the mantle after the first Robin, Dick Grayson, and all of them have left us with great stories and adventures, accentuating the best qualities of the dynamic duo by deeply contrasting the Robin from Batman.

The longest and arguably most loved Robin will always be Dick Grayson (whether in comic book pages, Burt Ward's version in the sixties television show, or in animation) and his relationship with Batman has grown over the years, even when he eventually becomes Nightwing.

Other Robins that followed, Jason Todd and Tim Drake, have also added something special to the yellow cape. Jason Todd was hot-headed, passionate and a little misguided and losing him was a monumental event in the Death in the Family as well as a riveting story when he did come back in Under the Red Hood and forced Batman to look at the morality of his choices with a more critical stance. Tim Drake, on the other hand, reluctantly donned the costume since he never wanted that much responsibility but he ultimately embraced the crime-fighting life with a steadier grip than he never expected himself to be capable of. All these Robins have such an overreaching influence and legacy within their fans; none of them will be replaceable even though they all came to their own as self-made heroes, and not just forever stuck in the role of Robin.

Batman will always need a Robin--there's just something organic to that arrangement. Grant Morrison, one of the best Batman writers out there, decided to come up with a new Boy Wonder to take the center stage; and this time it was Bruce Wayne's own son Damian who was the product of his brief dalliance with Talia Al Ghul, daughter to the demon, Ra's Al Ghul, a formidable nemesis of Batman for years. Right from the get-go, this is a compelling premise, to have a Robin who is also of Bruce's flesh and blood. However, it took a while for readers to accept and enjoy Damian Wayne. Some accused him of being a weaker version of Jason Todd; others scorned his pompous and spoiled attitude. They were right to do so because Damian has yet to prove himself a worthy Robin.

When DC rebooted their universe and came up with New 52 fantastic titles, they assigned Peter J. Tomasi with Batman and Robin and his submitted proposal for the series has been exemplary because he aimed to focus on the character development and relationship between Bruce and Damian primarily as father and son. Superhero comic books are not exactly known for small-scale personal stories like this, so it seemed rather odd for Tomasi to choose to focus on that aspect first and the action plots second. But the first eight issues collected together as the first volume Born to Kill was a smashing success and for a good reason. In Tomasi's hands, Damian Wayne truly shone and won many fans' hearts, even those who do not consider him a favorite were pleased with how he had evolved throughout the B&R run.

I have personally reviewed all seventeen issues before this, including issue 0, and I can honestly say with a resounding conviction that Damian Wayne is MY Robin and certainly one that had moved me and made me feel a more special connection with Batman than I already have. With Damian's participation, I get to see Bruce Wayne have a family again in away that he (and readers) thought may not be possible anymore, given his trauma and way of life. We get to see him make basic parenting mistakes and improve on them. Damian challenges him to be a better man by becoming a more compassionate and understanding father. He enabled Bruce to feel like he never has to be alone ever again, and that Damian will stay with him forever because he's not just Robin anymore; he's also his son and heir.

But Grant Morrison had other plans. In Batman Incorporated issue #8, Damian has once again made a decision to protect his father by risking his own safety--and this time he didn't endure. With a gruesome stab through the heart, Damian falls to his death. We get another murdered Robin beaten and bleeding out in Batman's arms but it hurt us ten times more because Bruce has lost his own family all over again and was not there to stop it. That scene of him holding Damian with a helpless look on his face is something that should have never been published because it was so atrocious (and if it wasn't for the marketing ad that actually hinted this tragedy, the blow could have been worse for the readers).

And so all other Batman titles had to come up with their own tribute to Damian Wayne. I read Synder's Requiem issue and reviewed it HERE and even then my heart was already breaking. And then we get this one by Tomasi and it resonated in every crevice of my soul. The most beautiful and heartfelt thing about this issue is that it is WORDLESS. There are no dialogues but there is a story, a painful one illustrated splendidly by Pat Gleason and Mick Gray where we see Bruce go through the motions of losing his son. Aside from the letter I quoted in the heading of this review, there really are no dialogue boxes in the panels but it only made this issue more dreadful to read because it was a complete tear-jerker. Readers are able to fill in the blanks in silent reflection while they gaze through every page and examine the devastation that Bruce was left with.

It's a daring feat to publish a comic book issue where you only have to rely on the illustrations for effect and message but Tomasi has done it, and it was amazing because Gleason and Gray themselves have done it justice and service. I will not lie because by now y'all know how much I love Damian and how often I would hold back in my other reviews for this inevitable revelation, but I was a complete mess reading this. I was tearing up the entire time because I actually put off reading this right after Damian's actual death last year. I've heard things about its wordless content, and I thought that was enough to prepare me for it. But it wasn't. I was still heartbroken and bloody after I finished this. ESPECIALLY WITH THAT LETTER! I wanted to punch things too like Bruce did.

And then the very last panel is this:

FUCK IT, GUYS. I might not be able to recover for a while, but I will heal myself by reading the B&R 2013/2014 annuals, and the rest of Batman: Zero Year. But I'm telling y'all right here, right now: I AM IN PAIN AND IT'S NOT GOING AWAY!!


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