Thursday, October 16, 2014

Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison issue #5

"Batman is dead. And I'm taking his mission to the next level...Gotham doesn't need crime fighters. It needs crime killers."

This was simply breathtakingly MARVELOUS. The second installment for Revenge of the Red Hood entitled Scarlet had no dull moments AT ALL. There are only a few comic books out there that make me excitedly turn page after page because of sustainable interest and thrill and Morrison's three-part story arc has easily become one of them. There was no dread or hesitation on my part as I read this (I would often feel such things even if a comic book story is not necessarily badly written; sometimes I just don't want to turn the next page due to this distinct gloomy feeling that I know is coming and would only break my heart. For example, many of Jamie Delano's Hellblazer issues that I read last month). But all I got from this series so far is utter relief and unmistakable pleasure, so this only showed how my enjoyment for this story arc was purely visceral that all I had to do was to go along with it.

Morrison has worked with a different artist for this story arc which I failed to mention in the previous issue. Artist Philip Tan and his illustrations are most provocative here, especially since a great amount of Scarlet was action-packed and he clearly knows how to visually depict said scenes in all their purposeful glory. The confrontational scenes with Dick and Damian against the Red Hood and Scarlet particularly (who had first-person narrative boxes during the issue so we finally learned that her real name was Sasha) were stupendously readable and fast-paced in a measure that you won't even notice because you were so hooked in everything that was going on. I think this issue worked so well because it managed to build up the suspense and revelations up to the very end without so much as a breather in between. It was almost as if Morrison is suffocating me while I willingly allowed him to shove my head under the water because I actually didn't mind holding my breath as I read on.

But it wasn't just the action sequences that made this issue shine. There were also great character moments here that make you care about these people even if you don't necessarily agree with what they are doing. Such is the case with Jason Todd and Sasha. Crime has claimed their lives in a rotten way and they're so caught up in their rage issues that they blindingly believe that their intentions are unquestionably good, never mind how hideous the results are as long as they can fill the void inside them. Still, they are driven by different stimulus and purpose with goals that only parallel each other. I was right to say that Jason Todd is grieving the loss of Bruce Wayne and felt so entitled to carry on the legacy of his former mentor, but then desires to take it to the next level since he perceives Batman's code of honor as a mere flaw in the mechanism. Jason's resentment toward Dick stems from the insecurity and envy that made him believe that Bruce has always seen him as a second-rated version of the first Robin, one he can never live up to. So it makes such painful sense that he loathed Dick taking over Batman's cowl. It was yet another disgraceful validation that he will never be good enough to become Batman himself.

It was...disheartening to read Jason think that even though it isn't necessarily untrue either. He may not be a favorite character of mine but his character arc has always been something I always eagerly read whenever the opportunity presents itself because it's so complex and angst-y. Sasha is another character that I believe echoes Jason's struggles with his identity and purpose. She has become her mask Scarlet because she's afraid that there is no one tangible underneath that. In a way, they're both lost children who found an ally in each other because they feel as though they need to lash out to the world, to Gotham and its scum, for taking away their chance at a normal life. As much as I can justify their actions, I also can condemn them. The world is a tough place all over. "It rains on the just and the unjust alike" as they say and we need to be stronger than our suffering. And that's what Batman stands for. Dick Grayson embraces this while Jason Todd cannot. And therein lies their difference.

You would think that with such a fast-paced narrative that Morrison won't find time to focus on character conflict and make it this meaningful but he did and that's why I devoured this issue a lot because there are symbolic messages here in general that subtly tackle the dangers of living a double life and clinging onto self-righteous fury to serve your need for vengeance. In a way, this story arc is more about Red Hood and Scarlet than Batman and Robin which works because I think Dick and Damian themselves are more concerned with fixing the mess Jason has got himself in than worry about the status of their partnership. I would say that Damian's characterization here is coming off too smug and impulsive, a truly darkest contrast to the version of what Peter J. Tomasi in the New 52 B&R has evolved to.

I need to end this review now because I think I've said enough and the last installment issue coming after this is quite the conclusion to such a short-lived yet memorable story.


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