Wednesday, June 11, 2014

[New 52] Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi issue #17

At the end of the day, all I want from Peter J. Tomasi's Batman and Robin series is for it to be a standout feel-good title. Because why the fuck not? It soared into new creative heights upon release of its first volume, Born to Kill after all, and hence showcased to the comic book-reading community that Batman stories can be intimate without them being done too overboard or coming off as cheesy. Let Synder or Layman have the big-event action stories in their respective titles. I've seen something really special in Tomasi's writing whenever he approaches Batman and Robin with a personal depth and emotional resonance like I have never encountered before in a superhero comic book.

However, lest I keep kissing this title's ass every goddamn review you read from me, I more often than not do take a step back and become very critical of the issues that came after Born to Kill which have been disappointments and with a few redeeming qualities along the way. I think Tomasi and co. seems to struggle with how to balance their narrative structure and content with nuanced emotional stories and the action sequences at the same time; and yet fail, especially when villains like Terminus and Saturn Club came off as caricatures to serve some mediocre plot story that seemed to be written out of convenience or perhaps just a general carelessness. I don't like this at all. I've been very vocal about that in every B&R review but I do acknowledge Tomasi again when he writes something stellar (like issue #15). Gleason's art has been improving too and sometimes his visuals are the only things that kept me from completely putting an issue down due to terrible storytelling.

But I digress once again. The point I'm trying to get across, if I haven't been too repetitive enough, is that Tomasi knows how to write Damian Wayne with a more humane edge and riveting dynamics than Morrison ever did in the early years. I would go as far as to say that his Damian is more relatable and easier to root for unlike when Morisson writes him in Batman Incorporated. Is that a blasphemous thing to write here? Perhaps. But it's one of the reasons why I hope against hope that Tomaisi's B&R will get better again. And it had starting from issue #15 (issue #16 is bland but serviceable) and now right here in this issue, Life is but a dream. This should be read right after Batman #17, although the tonality between that and this issue is problematic. You will have to check them out yourself in case you don't want too much spoilers.

Once again, Tomasi pulled back from the run-of-the-mill B-class villain stories which he had been doing in the previous issues, and focused more on the relationships at play among Bruce, Damian and Alfred. What I enjoy about this issue are the dream sequences because I'm also a sucker or a great visual layout pertaining to symbolic dreams and issue #17 has it. And the atmospheric themes are uncanny as well! They alternated among spooky, sweet, heartbreaking, exciting and grim tones all throughout. It's nice to get a closer look of these characters' psyches and how much they reflect their innermost desires and fears. Damian had three different dreams, the first two quite horrific and ominous while the last one was something that truly captured that this is still a ten-year old boy who wants to spend quality time with his father.

Alfred's own nightmare is one that is complex; a way for his mind to cope with the trauma he suffered in the hands of the Joker. The wish fulfillment is apparent and it's both stressful and cathartic for Alfred to dream himself murdering the Joker to avoid further bloodshed among his adopted family. On the other hand, Bruce's dreams reveal once more that the young boy who lost his parents have survived and may still be wounded badly. Haunted by his parents, Bruce was Batman in his dream, struggling to save his parents from a tidal wave inside a canals (it's a dream sequence so it's not supposed to be grounded in reality). Bruce will always remain fragmented, torn between dealing with his childhood loss in a healthy way and overcoming it by becoming a vigilante who is responsible for a whole city. And yet there is hope now because he has his Robin, his son Damian, who makes the burden a little more bearable than when he carries it alone.

This is one of those issues I describe as being 'emotionally resonant' and it really is. The tragic thing about it is that it will follow the devastating issue, Requiem. I'm afraid to read it. I know it's going to make me bleed again.


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