Thursday, June 19, 2014

[New 52] Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi issue 20

"You may like wallowing in your tragedies, Bruce, but I'm done looking back!" ~Jason Todd, Red Hood

Well, okay. This could have been better. And here's how. The second installment to Bruce Wayne/Batman's five stages of grief had given us only a few worthy punches which somehow diluted an otherwise dramatic manifestation of Batman's anger. I just felt like it was missing some amount of brutality that this issue needed most, especially with a title like RAGE. It would seem that for each stage, a member of the bat-family has to handle Batman and it seemed a rather appropriate choice to have Jason Todd (Red Hood) for this issue. However, it didn't work out in the best way as one would hope. And here's why.

It's easy to read between the lines when it comes to Bruce and Jason's relationship, and that there's pent-up aggression on Jason's side that would surface every once in a while but it's also something he keeps under control. I don't really see Jason lashing out at Bruce anymore over the issue of him allowing the Joker to kill Jason in the past (decades ago in the old continuity, Death in the Family). After the Joker's return in this continuity, everyone in the bat-family has pulled away from Batman in their own way, but Jason at least acknowledges that Batman has grown (thanks to Damian, perhaps) and tried to protect his surrogate children from the clown madman. Batman accepts this, stating that family always needs to look out for each other. This conversation was perfectly fine but eventually felt out of context when they started to beat each other later in the last pages. Let's talk about what happened.

Basically, Batman invited Red Hood to track down those assassins who tried to kill Damian (after his mother Talia al Ghul placed an expensive bounty on her own son's head). I had no problem with that. I understand Batman choosing Red Hood to do that because if anyone understands the need to settle some score, it's Jason. Batman is a lot more brutal than he needs to be with these assassins which, once again, is still in line with the 'rage' theme of the issue. However, I suppose my problem lies on their choice of Robin to deliver that thematic punch. I think Nightwing (Dick Grayson) would have worked better in the story. In the Denial stage, Red Robin (Tim Drake) was horrified to witness the lengths Batman would dare go to in order to resurrect his son. As much as it felt like he was shoehorned it, I think Tim's reaction was acceptable (although I iterate that Tomasi could have nuanced the interaction between this least noticeable Robin and Batman).

With Jason for this issue, the effect was less than satisfying. Trying to match and even one-up Bruce in his anger made Jason seemed like he hasn't moved on from the tragedy of his past at all. It was quite a pitiful turn of events then when they started punching each other to let out some steam. It just felt like a disservice to Jason's growth as a character and self-made hero. It would have been more heartfelt and poignant if he was the Robin Tomasi chose for the Acceptance stage. Just think about it. In the anger stage of grief, this emotion is supposed to be swift but brief as well, and no other Robin can diffuse that better than the first son Dick Grayson. I don't want to be one of those comic book readers who try to dictate the direction of what the story should have taken but for this issue, I'll make an exception because I need to write it down here.

This is how I would have preferred this story to go: Batman still goes to Red Hood to ask him for assistance in tracking down and punishing the assassins. Red Hood refuses, however, so Batman goes alone. Red Hood informs Nightwing about it and Nightwing follows Batman and tries to stop him from going full-on blinded rage. He could do so by talking about Bruce's parents. Nightwing has every right to talk about that because he too watched his parents die in front of him back when he was working in the circus as an acrobat. Nightwing would plead to Bruce by reminding him how it was Bruce himself who appeased him and taught him how to channel his rage by rising above his anger and conquering it. He held young Dick together back then and it's now his turn to do the same. How amazing would that have been? And once Bruce simmers down, it will effectively and smoothly transition to the Bargaining stage which will feature Batgirl in the next issue.

Also, the readers will get a cameo appearance of Red Hood as a teaser for this issue, and then once we come back to him to the final stage, it's when Bruce is finally beginning to face the inescapable loss of his son, and so Jason himself would be the one to take him to Ethiopia where he was killed by the Joker. That would have been a better set-up for some very poignant heart-to-heart talk with this Robin who had accepted his fate long ago which puts him in a great position to help Bruce come to terms with his own. This could be done through Jason telling Bruce that he's forgiven him for everything, and so would Damian, wherever he may be. That absolution would heal Bruce and help him get back on his feet at last. It will also repair the relationship between Bruce and Jason and we may even get more crossover moments with him in the future.

But we didn't get that. That was my own version of events and what I felt would have been something more inspired. I digress, though. This issue was serviceable for its action sequences but the narrative aspect really needed work because there are a few moments that Jason felt out of character.

I'm not even going to talk about the way Carrie Kelly was characterized for this issue. I did not like her attitude. She seems too entitled to know things especially since she knows absolutely nothing about what is going on in the Wayne household so her getting angry at Bruce and judging him left and right was just...infuriating. I don't like this Carrie Kelly so far. I hope that changes.


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