Sunday, October 19, 2014

[Best of Batman] Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison vol. 1

In Grant Morrison's re-imagining of Batman and Robin, Batman Reborn features Nightwing Dick Grayson and former first Robin as the new Batman, taking up the mantle from Bruce Wayne after the events that followed Final Crisis, Batman RIP and Battle for the Cowl. This first volume collects six issues comprising of two story arcs that are sure to tantalize and excite readers, both long-time Bat-fans and novices alike. Morrison, collaborating with artists Frank Quitely and Philip Tan, has offered a varied scope of narrative and visual style in said arcs. I have never enjoyed a Batman and Robin volume as much as I did with this one and it could even rival my undying love for Peter J. Tomasi's own first B&R volume for New 52, Born To Kill.

It's hardly surprising that both volumes feature Damian Wayne as the Boy Wonder (MY Robin now and forever) though I would ascertain at this point that Tomasi's characterization of Damian was more nuanced, sympathetic and relatable than that of original creator Morrison's. Still, Damian's headstrong and arrogant personality is perfectly befitting for the stories Morrison has told for this volume, particularly on the budding partnership between him and new Batman Dick Grayson. But this relationship is not exactly the major drive or dramatic focal point of the series as of yet, at least for the first two story arcs in this volume. I originally intended to read only this first volume but seeing as I'm intrigued and now heavily invested on the promising series as a whole, I plan to continue and finish at least the sixteen issues written by Morrison before the year ends.

The first arc Batman Reborn ran for three issues with a story that was simple yet entertaining enough, and features one of the most messed-up villains to ever grace comic book pages: Professor Pyg, a thoroughly enthusiastic fetishist of body parts who created his army of Dollotrons not for any grand evil scheme to take over Gotham (though he did have enough egomania and wits to attempt said kind of takeover) but mostly because he considers people as imperfect mechanisms that need to be tweaked and fixed to serve a higher, twisted purpose of his own making. I loathed him but he had enough cartoonish villainy to keep me engrossed whenever he's on the page. I always enjoy a Bat-villain when he's not always so broody or gritty. It helps to be reminded the campier aspects of being an antagonist in a Batman story and Morrison has readily established that with Pyg. Being a Damian fan firstly, I was always gripped whenever a conflict involves him, and this arc offered us a glimpse of Dick's struggle to make Damian follow commands and actually work with him as a partner. Though he begrudgingly accepts Dick as the new Batman, Damian still believes he is better off working alone--which was something Morrison was quick enough to nip on the bud, giving Damian a rather humbling moment when he realized that there's a reason why it's Batman and Robin against crime to begin with. Still, Damian has a long way to go and develop and I am hoping that the traits that I adored most about him in Tomasi's own run will at least surface here in this title.

It is the second arc Revenge of the Red Hood that defined this volume, however. It was another three-issued story that explored the dangers of living behind a mask which was epitomized with Jason Todd (second Robin) as Red Hood and his freshly recruit sidekick Scarlet (a victim who survived Professor Pyg from the earlier issues). It's notable that Red Hood and Scarlet are also the darker reflections of Batman and Robin themselves if they crossed the line and extinguished crime by any violent means necessary. I had so much blissful fun reading this story because the pacing and plot together was definitely one of the most well-balanced combinations I have ever seen in a while. I maintain that there was no dull moment in place; each scene felt meaningful and necessary while the action sequences are brisk, dynamic and immensely gripping. There are also great character moments for Jason Todd and secondary character Scarlet herself who unexpectedly took over the pages with her heartfelt struggle to overcome her victimization by finally claiming back her face in a literal and symbolic display of courage and tenacity. As for Jason Todd, he is clearly more damaged about Bruce Wayne's demise than he himself realized. He just absolutely loses his shit and starts killing off criminals in a pitiful attempt to show Dick Grayson that it should have been him who took the Bat-cowl, while also blaming Dick for imagined failures such as not being good enough as the second Robin. I've always been conflicted about Jason Todd as a character. I don't consider him a favorite but he is definitely interesting to read especially his fractured relationship with Bruce and the consequential identity crisis that came from it. I've heard comparisons between Jason and Damian before and it was only in this story arc that I began to see them. I hope that Jason/Red Hood comes back in the next issues for this run because I definitely want to see him interact/fight Dick and Damian. I love my Bat-boys that much.

Everything about Grant Morrison's Batman Reborn was full of energy and vibrancy with a few touches of poignancy and character insight to keep its story dimensional and afloat. It's been a while since I've been excited about a Batman series besides my favorite Snyder and Tomasi ones, and I very much look forward to continuing the next issues soon! Now be a good Bat-fan and pick up this volume and experience the magic yourself!


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