Today, Drew and Shelby are discussing Batman and Robin 12, originally released October 10th 2012.
Drew: Peter Tomasi has a pretty thankless job. Titles like Batman and Robin and Green Lantern Corps often take a back seat to their flagship counterparts — both in popularity, and narrative. Those kind of supporting titles are often bound to crossover events, requiring their writers to absorb, implement, and embrace plot developments they didn’t come up with themselves, and which may be disruptive to their own plans. In the collaborative, editor-driven world of comics, following such dicta is par for the course, but Tomasi has found himself particularly bound by crossovers, as Death of the Family kicks off the third he’s been involved in since the relaunch. It’s a testament to Tomasi’s skill, then, that he’s able to incorporate details of Death of the Family so elegantly into this issue, while still finding the emotional through-line that has made is work on Batman and Robin so enjoyable.
The plot couldn’t be simpler: a group of cultists have used an eclipse as occasion to unleash what may-or-may-not be zombies on Gotham city. But these machinations are painted over a tense backdrop of facts established in other bat-titles, subtly influencing Bruce and Damian’s interactions. When Bruce wakes Damian at the start of the issue, Damian jolts awake with a “What — is the Joker — ” a clever way to introduce the crossover without actually featuring any Joker action. It sets up a sense of tension across the whole issue — one that may already be underway as Damian absentmindedly notices that Alfred is missing — as we wait for the other shoe to drop.
Also adding to the atmosphere is the $500 million bounty Talia has put on Damian’s head, an idea carried over from Batman Incorporated. Bruce doesn’t want Damian making a target of himself, but Damian ignores his wishes to stay at the manor. Of course, Damian is attacked — by a giant frog of all things — but isn’t really in any danger until the zombies show up, at which point an act of heroism traps Damian in their clutches.
Tomasi has smartly adopted elements from both Snyder and Morrison, but the most intriguing parts of the issue are still his. Zombies, of course, but the thing that really got me is the sequence where Damian seeks — and finds — something in the sewers.
Pretty much everything about this is weird. Tomasi makes it clear that Damian has been doing this enough to gain some familiarity with specific rats, but he gives us no clue what “this” is. What does he mean by “I’ll start growing”? We saw him doing this back in issue 9, but I had assumed it was just there to add color — a random task that the real action could interrupt. Apparently, this is something Damian does on a regular basis, and is something he keeps secret from Bruce. I have no idea what Tomasi is playing at here, but with five whole issues between the first and second mention of it, he seems to be setting up a very long game.
But as I mentioned: THERE ARE ZOMBIES IN THIS ISSUE! Bruce assures us whatever is going on has a scientific, human explanation, but we also see some eerie cultists and what look a lot like zombies. I suspect Tomasi does have a scientific explanation for what’s going on, but I’m way more interested in zombie action than any exposition. Unfortunately, the zombies only show up at the very end, doing little other than delivering a fun little cliffhanger.
Tomas Giorello’s fantasy-infused art makes for some great horror, but it’s a very jarring transition from Patrick Gleason’s assured line-work that populates the rest of the issue. Gleason’s pencils have become such an integral part of the tone of this series, it’s hard to adjust to any changes. It also reminded me what a great job Gleason has been doing keeping Damian young — his slender arms and round face sell just how competent Damian is in spite of his age.
Ultimately, all of the threads don’t quite cohere to a logical whole, but I liked each vignette enough to enjoy the issue. Shelby, I know you aren’t exactly the biggest Damian fan, so I wonder if moments like the quiet conversation he and Bruce shared about Talia was even a little interesting. Did this pull together for you at all?
Shelby: I don’t really like Damian, it’s true, but I recognize that he is a very interesting character. More importantly, I like the story-telling potential his presence creates, and I really like his relationship with Bruce. The conversation between the two of them about Talia is nice, it demonstrates a softening in Damian; he’s just asking something any kid would ask an estranged parent. My favorite Damian moments are when he behaves like a 10-year-old, and that behavior is juxtaposed with the almost unbelievable reality of his situation. A perfect example is the opening spread: he’s fallen asleep with his dog while doing homework.
Just don’t forget that his homework is studying the complete criminal history of a psychopathic madman, who is currently gunning for his family. It’s Gleason’s pencils that really sell this moment for me. Every little detail is exactly what it needs to be: the snoring dog, the police evidence photo of Joker’s face, even the half-eaten slice of cake and Damian’s socks perfectly sell this scene. While the conversation with Batman was also a nice reminder that deep down, Damian is just a kid who’s parents are separated and he’s trying to make it work, I was a little distracted by the fact that they were in a rocket ship. I know Bruce is made of money and is the Bat, but to speak casually of hopping in the spaceship to repair a satellite because of the solar eclipse is stretching it a little bit.
I love the ambient Joker tension you mentioned, Drew. It’s a smart author that can naturally fold elements of a crossover into the universe he’s created. With more talk of omens, plus the actual omen of the dead rising from their graves, I can’t help but wonder how big the Bat-team is going with this Joker event. We’ve got the dead rising, a two-headed beast, and a river reversing its course so far; that is some Biblical-level evil we’ve got going on. This issue was fine, a good read. We had a nice father/son moment, a mystery in the sewer, and zombies. Through all that, though, Tomasi reminds us that there are way scarier things on the horizon, and in this book we’re going to see those scary things through the eyes of a child. Also, did you notice that when Damian was idly wondering what kind of dumb tea Alfred was buying, Titus was chewing on what looks like a femur?
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