I've been alternating reading and reviewing Scott Snyder's Batman series and Peter J. Tomasi's Batman and Robin since I started my strict Batman comics-only diet on late April and it's been a fantastic adventure so far. There have been bumps along the way for Tomasi's B&R, however (that very forgettable fucking Terminus storyline that wasted three issues of everyone's valuable time, for example) but right after the game-changing events in Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated (if you don't know by now what it is then why are you reading this? Last year, DAMIAN WAYNE DIED), Tomasi has a very hard decision to make: how to fill the missing "Robin" part from his Batman and Robin issues from here on.
With issue #18 Requiem, a most moving issue dealing with Batman's grief over losing not only his partner in crime-fighting but also his son, we see him imagine Damian by his side as he goes around Gotham for his usual crime patrol. Across those precious pages, we see Bruce Wayne wrestle with the grim reality that he had lost his family all over again; and that he just stood by and watched like before. Isn't that just goddamn gloomy and unfair? Even as I wiped my tears and put down that issue, I knew the next B&R issues will never be the same since it must delve further into this world of pain which I'm not sure I was even ready for but it was a way for Tomasi to prove that he had more emotionally resonant stories to tell even if Damian won't be the channel to unleash them.
In the following issues (#19 to #23), Tomasi will allow readers to embark on Bruce/Batman's FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF, making the death of Damian Wayne a platform to examine our caped crusader's deepest issues with loss and guilt. As I have never gotten tired stating over and over again, I want Tomasi's Batman and Robin to stand out in this way and I'm so happy that Tomasi (as well as artists Gleason and Gray) continues to deliver (fuck that Terminus slip-up. The next issues have more than made up for it).
First off, this issue is now entitled BATMAN AND RED ROBIN which really hurts me but it was an inevitable title change--and also a misnomer. Anyone who has read Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns knows about Carrie Kelly being the Robin there, so her appearance in this issue was quite odd especially since New 52 seems to have re-written her as Damian's 'acting coach' (she was the C.K in Damian's notebook from issue #18 who recommended him a series of movies to watch). The tension and suspicion between her and Bruce is immediately apparent. She has no idea that Damian has passed away but she is certainly determined to get the truth out of Bruce who was so callously evasive that I understand the way Carrie seems to antagonize him in every interaction. Red Robin (Tim Drake) does appear in this issue but only as a shoehorn character at the end. Once again, Tim continues to be the neglected member of the bat-family. I wish they could utilize his character and interactions with Batman better next time.
In any case, what I love most about this issue is that it starts the stages that we have to go through alongside Bruce/Batman: DENIAL. And holy shit, there is plenty of that bitter pill to go around! A cameo appearance of Frankenstein (a DC character that is what the label borrows from, that's all you need to know) was greatly handled. He was not painted as the villain here; in fact, he tries to appease Batman who is actually the one who is in the antagonistic side of things. But is it really a crime for a father to try and resurrect his son? It was just so pitiful to watch him fight for something that might undo everything he stands for as a hero. This Batman has been driven to such pain that he was willing to cross the line where some super-villains have done themselves; all because he was desperate to have a chance to see his beloved son grow up. It was selfish but heartbreaking nevertheless. Batman can't cope well. He just couldn't move forward knowing that resurrection is possible in the world he lives in. Both he and Superman died way back and they were brought back to life. So why not a ten-year-old boy who has plenty to live for?
I quoted Frankenstein at the beginning of this review because that line was something I think summarizes the story of Bruce Wayne's life. He had lived in the dark for so long that his pursuit for light can often blind him. This was a terribly difficult issue to read because I know it's only the beginning of Batman spiraling down further. Red Robin luckily put a stop to his plan to try and revive some cadavers but the damage has already been worsening from the day Batman decided that he can't let Damian go. He just won't. I can't either for the first three months or so, and that's why this is a very personal journey for me as much as it is to Batman. And it's so hard to watch unfold..
Pulling back from this emotional wreckage, I'd like to point out that Gleason and Gray as illustrator and inker produced some of the best and detailed panels for their line-up yet. These panels had a daring sense of dynamic and terror to their colors that certainly enhanced the moral struggle Batman is currently going through. Tomasi's depiction of an angry and wounded Batman was also scary because you know that this a man who stops at nothing; only this time he's doing something wrong and it's going to take a lot to make him turn away from the darkness that he's treading so close to.
* The storyline about the five stages of grief for this issue and the next four is rife with so many creative potentials.