Today, Drew and Shelby are discussing Batman and Robin Annual 1, originally released January 30th 2013.
Drew: At its best, Batman and Robin is a very straightforward father and son story. Sure, the father is Batman, and the son has homicidal tendencies, but the sense of love and obligation is universal. The strictures of crossover events often force writer Peter Tomasi to contort the story in odd ways to stay true to this theme (which miraculously happens more often than not), but when those distractions fall away, this series can be a moving study of Bruce and Damian’s relationship. Tomasi smartly seizes upon the annual to return Batman and Robin to it’s resting position, delivering a clever, subtly moving story about both Bruce and Damian.
Apropos of nothing, Damian surprises Bruce with an international scavenger hunt for significant Wayne family artifacts. Damian conveys his clues by video feed, claiming he’s one step ahead of Bruce, but he’s actually back in Gotham trying his darndest to fill Bruce’s shoes. Both of Damian’s plans work out fine — Damian cracks a big case, and Bruce is moved by the very personal artifacts Damian has led him to. Of course, Bruce lets on that he knew what Damian was up to, but admits that maybe he should be more trusting of Damian moving forward.
It’s a touching issue for many reasons, but the obvious one is the extravagance of Damian’s gesture. I’m often willing to excuse Damian’s lack of empathy as part of being a kid, but I really don’t know how to interpret the amount of care and consideration he puts into this gift. When I was Damian’s age, I didn’t ever think of anyone like that — I pretty much only made whatever Mother’s day gift I was giving that year because it was a school assignment. Even though this was partially a ploy to get Bruce out of Gotham, the gesture represents an incredible amount of thoughtfulness on Damian’s part, which I think demonstrates some real progress for him.
But of course, this was a ploy to get Bruce out of Gotham. I’m not entirely sure if that was the reason for Damian’s gift, or just a result of it, but it does muddy the selflessness of the gesture a bit. Of course, I’m willing to excuse it because Damian is mostly just living out a pretty relatable childhood fantasy: he’s the goddamn Batman!
Aside from being adorable (and look how adorable it is), Damian is clearly enjoying the heck out of this. The idea of Damian doing things behind Bruce’s back makes us nervous — it should make us nervous — but he’s honestly not up to anything sinister here. Bruce himself admits that Dick would pull the same kind of stuff when Bruce would go out of town, and nobody gets nervous about that (of course, in the new timeline, Dick would have been about 20 at the time, but whatever).
Damian is just living out the fantasies all kids do. The fact that his way of enacting that fantasy involves actually solving crimes and fighting bad guys — as opposed to, you know, dressing up and making your little brother be robin — just speaks to the world he lives in. The point is, this is just an elaborate game of dress-up for him.
Maybe Damian hates kids, but maybe he’s just saying the exaggerated thing he thinks Batman would say. I mean, look at how exaggerated that grimace is!
That reminds me: this issue features art from the team of Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes, who have most recently been seen on Batgirl. I was generally happy with the art on that title, but I’m absolutely bowled over by their work here. The action is dynamic and the acting is expressive, but I’m particularly impressed with their layouts. My favorite moment has to be the way they highlight the parallels as Damian apprehends the father of a child Bruce captured earlier in the issue.
It really drives home the idea that Damian is just trying to be Bruce here. The specificity takes this a step beyond a kid just trying to be Batman to a kid trying to be his dad, but both are totally relatable, and downright sweet.
Anyway, the one-two punch of Damian’s extremely kind gesture and his unabashed joy in being Batman reveal a sincerity that we never really get from this character. Shelby, I know you haven’t always been the biggest Damian fan, but I’m willing to bet that this newfound sincerity has endeared him to you a bit. Were you as willing to forgive his deceit as I was, or does he have some explaining to do?
Shelby: It’s true, Damian hasn’t always been my favorite, but he’s been growing on me ever since the pearl incident. Damian is an interesting character; he’s a child defined by extremes, both in the positive and in the negative. Most ten-year-olds have to be reminded to keep their rooms clean. Damian has to be reminded to not murder people. If the average 4th-grader wants to do something nice for his dad, he might draw him a picture for his office. Damian coordinates elaborate, international scavenger hunts. His childhood was larger-than-life, and so his actions are appropriately super-sized.
I think this issue is a lot less about Damian dressing up as Batman as it is Damian dressing up as Bruce. He’s not just donning a spare cape and cowl, he’s putting on his dad’s work clothes. Even during the day when he’s waiting to go on patrol, did you notice? He’s wearing Bruce’s robe.
Sure, he wants to do a good job as Batman, but not because being Batman is cool; he wants to impress his dad. I think the scavenger hunt is a pretty good indicator of Damian’s desire to be like his dad, not like Batman. If he just wanted to get Bruce out of town so he could play Batman for a while, he could have just left Bruce dicking around Europe chasing ghosts. It would have been easier to just make up some nonsense Wayne family history with just enough truth to it to keep Bruce busy. Honestly, that’s what I was expecting from him. Instead, Damian expended a lot of time and energy into delivering a really thoughtful gift to his father. I mean, really, really thoughtful. Like, no one gives better gifts than Damian. He approaches gift-giving like he approaches anything else; he is going to do it perfectly, because that’s how he does everything.
The whole creative team has done a superb job in capturing Damian the Bat and Damian the Kid. This is something that consistently impresses me with this title. The image Drew posted of Damian in the Batcave is perfect. On the one hand, he’s doing science in the Batcave. On the other hand, when the sun goes down he’s like a kid on Christmas morning. The juxtaposition of these two sides of Damian make him such a compelling character, and in turn make Damian and Bruce’s ever-developing relationship that much more compelling as well. I feel like this might be blasphemy, but I very much prefer Damian and his relationship with his dad as depicted here in Batman & Robin than in Batman, Incorporated. Just don’t anyone tell Grant Morrison I said so.
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