Today, Shelby and Michael are discussing Batman and Robin 15, originally released December 12th, 2012. This issue is part of the Death of the Family crossover event. Click here for complete DotF coverage.
Shelby: I have some friends who have a young daughter who has just reached the age of willfully not listening. The other day she wanted to use some scissors, which she never has before. Her mom told her not to, but she just didn’t listen. It’s ok, she didn’t get hurt at all; the point of the story is that her mom was looking out for her, trying to keep her safe, and despite that she wouldn’t listen to her. Even when it’s for their own good, once kids think they know better than their folks, there is no telling them otherwise; they only way they’ll learn is by being wrong. A lot of times, being wrong means getting hurt, and Damian is definitely about to learn a lesson about being wrong.
Damian is sulking at being told to say behind again. With Alfred missing, he’s left to monitor things in the cave while Bruce is out a-huntin’. Naturally, Damian ignores that and starts hunting around the manor for clues to Alfred’s location. With Titus’ help, he finds some hyena urine, which leads him to the zoo. He finds the hyenas, and gets bit by one of them. Naturally, Joker toxin is involved, and he passes out, falling into the aviary. He comes to and has to break his way out of the giant egg the Joker put him in (I mean that literally), and has a little chat with Mr. J. himself. It’s mostly the same stuff we got in Batman 14 last month: Batman is the one, the rest of the Bat Family weighs him down, the Joker won’t have any of that nonsense, etc., etc. The Joker dumps a bunch of worms and bugs and things into the cage with Damian (robin food, get it?) and then out of the buggy muck rises a hulking, Jokerfied “Batman,” leaving Damian with the option of killing the man he believes to be his father, or be killed by him.
Of all the things to say about this issue, the one that strikes me the most is how TOTALLY GROSS it is. Patrick Gleason does not shy away from Joker close-ups, and that shit ain’t pretty.
I don’t know what’s worse, the eyes in the mouth or the teeth in the eye holes. I think the answer to that one just might be “yes.” This title is littered with shots of the Joker manipulating his face and getting uncomfortably close to the camera. The really interesting thing Gleason has done, though, is in the POV shots. That is, the Joker’s POV. As in, we are looking out through the Joker’s eyes, seeing the edges of skin like looking through a pair of badly fitting sunglasses. It’s not some sort of empathy lesson, teaching us to walk a mile in the Joker’s shoes, we’re literally seeing the world as he sees it. That’s a damned discomforting thought, and it just ramps up the horror in this issue. Gleason isn’t all just decay and offal, though. He really shines in the little moments he gives us with Damian; Gleason gets this kid. My favorite panel is right on the second page; Damian is in the Bat cave, talking to his horse of a dog, looking super tough in his tactical gear. And yet, his feet don’t reach the floor in the chair he’s in and one of his combat boots is untied.
Gleason perfectly manages to paint Damian as both a ruthless potential killing machine and a 10-year-old. It impresses me every damn time.
Plot-wise, there’s not a lot to say about this issue. Peter Tomasi is mostly just giving us atmosphere; we don’t know anything new about Alfred, Damian, or the Joker and his plans. If anything, the Joker’s wildly ambitious scheme to put Damian in an egg stretches my ability to suspend disbelief to it’s very limits. He literally puts him in an egg after just knowing that Damian would find the hyena piss in the yard and follow him to the zoo. The one really valuable bit we get out of Tomasi in this issue is the Joker’s opinion of Damian. The Joker sows chaos, and we know that Damian is meant to be an instrument of his mother’s chaos. I think the Joker recognizes that in Damian and likes him for it. I also think that the Joker liking you just might be worse than him not liking you (See Batman 15). What about you, Mike? Was the fucking creepy atmosphere Tomasi and Gleason established enough to make up for not getting much of anything new out of this issue?
Michael: That question popped in my head periodically as I read this issue. The first beat you mentioned, Damian brooding over bring told to stay home, had me worried the issue be would be a needlessly frenetic tangent, which is how these escaped wiz-kids stores tend to go. In general, I’ve found this series to be chaotic and dense in terms on layout, perspective shifts, and vestiges of continuity from other 52s, so it’s almost a zen-like respite to have the focused insanity of the Joker dominate so much of the issue. I know I should feel for Damian, but I’d gladly sacrifice his freedom for a detritus puppet show. Shelby, I believe that also answers your question about whether the creepy atmosphere can save a slow issue.
The Joker really has nothing new to say to Damian. Nothing dramatic or important or revealing. Just lengthy preamble – stalling, really – to the evil-Batman reveal. He describes Damian as a worthless body eclipsing the brilliance of Batman. Plot momentum be damned, I love this sequence. First and foremost because I agree with the Joker – Robin is a terrible showman who ruins the Batman/Joker dynamic with his pluckiness. Damian’s status in Batman’s life also makes the context of this scene interesting as the Joker plays it like a vengeful step-mom. Although Damian knows not to listen to the Joker’s games, it must hurt to be reminded of his new and uncertain status in his father’s life. Or not. That kid seems tough.
A strong series has it’s own balance of the close and the expansive, the kinetic and the tranquil, etc. Up until this issue, I thought B&R was leaning to heavily toward the closely kinetic. I was getting lost in what started to seem like frivolous action. For my own taste, nothing gives a nudge in the right direction like the Joker stopping the show, tying up the disobedient kid, giving a grotesque lecture, and all-too-handily furnishing an oedipal fight to the death.
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