Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Batman and Robin 14, originally released November 14th, 2012. This issue is part of the Death of the Family crossover event. Click here for complete DotF coverage.
Patrick: A few summers ago, Drew and I went to a screening of Rise of the Dead at the Winnetka theatre in the suburbs of Chicago. The event was hosted by Dan Tefler — a comedian who had stumbled upon the movie earlier that year with his wife. Tefler invited the film’s director, Will Wedig, and the AV Club’s Keith Phipps to talk about the extreme disappointment that Tefler experienced on his first viewing. Rise of the Dead sounds like it’s going to be a zombie movie, right? It’s advertised that way, and it has all the trappings thereof. But it’s really about the ghost of an aborted baby possessing bitches. When pressed, Wedig simply offered that he hadn’t set out to make a zombie movie, and Tefler very graciously owned his disappointment. Last month, Batman and Robin started to show us a sorta-zombie story, and I’m going to place the onus of my disappointment in the hands of the books creators.
Damian lets himself be dragged to the hideout of the Saturn Club (cool name, guys) by a zombie(ish) horde. While Robin’s playing possum, Batman gets a sample of zombie blood and tests it for… stuff… Back at the hideout, the Saturn Club is just about to rip into their feast of human sacrifice when Robin springs to life and rescues all the kidnapees. Robin leads them out with an assist from Batman, who found a trace of some rare concrete mix in the blood sample he’d taken, and was therefore able to pinpoint Damian’s location.
Safely back in the Batcave, Bruce lays in to Damian for ignoring him. This is a common refrain for these two, and for father/son pairs everywhere. They dance around their old argument for a little bit and then Bruce pulls out the big guns:
Heartbroken, Damian shows Bruce (and the readers) what he’s been doing in the sewers: he’s collecting Martha Wayne’s pearls. They hug and make up. Let’s start our discussion here. Bruce’s assertion that Damian might only care about himself is simultaneously ULTRAVALID, but also… sorta obvious. For all of his physical prowess and seemingly limitless knowledge base, Damian is 10 years old. What’s more is that he’s never had an emotional role model that’s worth a damn. Never mind that a normal 10-year old basically only cares about himself, this is a child that has been at the heart of an international war between assassins and Batmen. Imagine the emotional maturity that would be required of Damian not to consider himself the center of the universe. It’s unfair of Bruce to expect so much of Damian.
But the fact that Damian has an emotional ace-in-the-hole is interesting. There are two ways to read this development, and I’m not suggesting that they’re mutually exclusive. Either (a) Damian wanted to do something nice for his father or (b) Damian wanted to be able to “prove” that he’s a compassionate person. I want to believe the former, but evidence for the later is overwhelming. While we’ve seen Damian as occasionally vulnerable or lonely, we’ve never known Damian to be a sweetheart — which is exactly what he’s being here. Unless it’s an act, and the traits we’re seeing are cleverness, foresight and manipulation. He’s learned from the best. So while that tender hug is brilliantly rendered by Patrick Gleason, I can’t help but feel like the little shit is manipulating all of us.
Just as in the previous issue, the art is split evenly between series regular Gleason and Tomas Giorello. I find it a little strange that Giorello’s name is left off the opening credits page (which… I’m pretty sure he penciled…), but if this decision reflects editorial’s opinion of the man’s work, I’m tempted to agree. I may be unsatisfied because he’s tasked with the thankless job of depicting gore-less semi-zombie action sequences. What fun are zombies if you can’t run them over with a lawnmower or tape a chainsaw to a baseball bat? But I also find a number of Giorello’s choices perplexing. He puts this upsetting grimace on Damian’s face the whole time that conveys none of the competent rage artists like Chris Burnham or Gleason imbue the character with. There’s also a weird drawing of Batman light only by the red glow of the console in Batmobile that’s muddy to the point of being incoherent. And then, when tasked with illustrating one of the prisoners of the Saturn Club being cleansed, he draws this:
But it’s also not like Peter Tomasi is giving him a lot to work with. This zombie story seems to have come out of nowhere, and while Damian was able to rescue a lot of people (and Batman was able to tie it all back to Joker), it sure feels like the resolution on this was TOO QUICK. Like, we still don’t have any idea why these people are acting this way. I’ll believe that there’s a crazy cult that wants to eat people — I’ll meet you half-way on that Tomasi. But why are there deranged people all over the city crying out “Eat to live” over and over again? Also, is that still going on? Seems like Damian encountered a ton of them last time and Batman fought off a whole room full of them in this issue. Was that it? You can’t just introduce zombies and then forget that zombies are out there.
Hey, here’s a petty complaint — why are there so many “Eat to live” speech bubbles? What purpose is it supposed to serve? The effect is that it’s difficult to read. After the second or third time, your mind learns to ignore the Eat To Lives but there are occasions where there’s a speech bubble with some pertinent information in it right next to a swam of Eat To Lives. It’s just obnoxious — I get it: they’re trying to eat. To live.
What’d you think, Drew? I know you likes a good zombie tale — did this deliver on that front for you? How about the artist switch? It felt like a breath of fresh air for me when I saw the return of Gleason’s childlike Damian-face.
Drew: Honestly, it was hard for me to get my hopes up about there being zombies in a Batman book. Remember last month, when Bruce shot that idea down cold, in spite of all the empty graves and people walking around acting like zombies? He was convinced there was some kind of boring, scientific explanation, and I tend to trust in Batman. Moreover, I doubt any story could feature zombies without becoming about the fact that there are zombies everywhere. I didn’t want that for Batman and Robin, so I was actually quite happy that this didn’t turn into World War Z (Now With Batman!), even if I would read the holy living shit out of that.
I also suspect that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the Saturn Club. There are way too many dangling threads, what with all of the naked, desiccated corpses, for this to be the last we see of them. I’m not sure how this is supposed to tie in with the Joker, but I’m sure we’re not done here (even if we don’t return until Death of the Family is over). That makes it difficult to assess this story-line, but I think the fact that we’re so frustrated by the unanswered questions is actually a good sign.
The part of the issue I do feel equipped to assess is that final scene with the pearl. Let me tell you Patrick, that scene worked like a charm on me. Consciously, I know that Damian might be manipulating Bruce, but emotionally, I know that AWWWWWW. My complaint about that scene doesn’t come from Damian — it actually comes from Bruce. Bruce says he worries that Damian doesn’t care about anyone but himself, but Damian just risked his life for a bunch of strangers. A more logical concern to have in this situation is that Damian doesn’t have enough regard for himself or his safety (hence the reference to Jason’s costume), but that conflict couldn’t have been resolved by the pearl. It’s strange that that moment feels so unearned when Tomasi was laying the groundwork for it since issue 9 (and really, since issue 1), but the short-term set-up just doesn’t make sense. It’s still a nice moment between father and son, but I don’t see how it resolves the actual issue at hand (or what should be the issue at hand). It works, but not in the way that it’s supposed to.
I really liked the beat about Jason’s costume. Obviously, Bruce doesn’t keep it around to honor Jason’s memory — the dude tried to kill him. I suppose you could make the case that Bruce wanted to preserve the memory of who Jason was before he became a murdering psychopath, but there’s always been a clear self-flaggelation element to Bruce keeping the costume around. In this context, it’s about not letting his wards take undue risk, but holding grudges and being stuck in perpetual mourning are hobbies of Bruce’s, so it doesn’t seem like a stretch to imagine that he keeps it around just to make him feel bad. I also can’t help but note that he has no such shrine set up for his parents — perhaps because he has no such memorabilia. Damian returning the pearl allows Bruce to shift his mourning from Jason back to his parents, where it always belonged. Like I said, that moment works, even if it doesn’t have the specific effect Tomasi intended.
It’s a strange issue. There are some great ideas here, but you can almost feel the gears shifting as Tomasi winds this arc down in order to start the crossover proper. My guess is that those will be Damian-centric issues, which will put a lot of the relationship building on hold. Like Rise of the Dead, it won’t be exactly what we signed up for, but hopefully it will be a little more rewarding than that terrible, terrible movie.
Also, just because it’s hilarious, check out this fun smash-cut from the opening of the issue:
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?