Mikyzptlk: The death of a loved one is something that is incredible hard to face. It’s also got to be something incredibly hard to write about, especially when you have to do so in a superhero comic where action and adventure is normally the name of the game. With the recent death of Robin The Boy Wonder, the Bat-writers have been tasked to deal with his death in their own way. Scott Snyder manages not only to continue the story of his new character Harper Row, but seamlessly and organically ties her story into the death of young Damian Wayne.
The issue begins with Harper Row and her brother Cullen visiting their father at Blackgate Penitentiary. We learn a few things, but mostly that Mr. Row…is a complete scumbag. We also learn that Batman is responsible for Blackgate’s newest resident and Mr. Row’s none too happy about it. Back in the Narrows, Harper prepares for another night of tracking Batman. It turns out that no matter how stealthy Batman is, Harper can see his electrical footprints a mile away so long as he taps into Gotham’s power grid. As Harper starts swinging from rooftops she begins thinking about how odd Batman’s been behaving lately. Apparently, Batman’s been fighting Gotham’s scum at night and during the day. Harper realizes this behavior is due to some kind of loss he’s suffered, but what she finds more worrisome is that all of this non-stop fighting has made Batman less sharp and she fears him getting severely hurt or worse. When Batman squares off against a man with Venom-powered dogs, Harper steps in for a much needed assist. Harper does help with the baddies take-down, but Batman isn’t happy at all that she’s still on his tail nor that she’s been “training.” He knocks Harper on her ass and tells her that it’s over. The next day Harper visits Bruce Wayne at Wayne Tower and shows him plans that she thinks will help Batman. To her surprise, Bruce agrees. That night, Batman tracks Harper and apologizes to her. She tells him she may not know the details, but she knows he’s going through a lot of pain. She also reminds Batman what he means to the city with a touching and personal story. The issue concludes with Harper’s message to Batman broadcast on Wayne Tower. It’s one simple word taught to Harper by her mother before her death. “RESOLVE.” Which just so happens to begin the the letter “R.”
Robin is dead. Long live Robin! Too soon? Yeah, too soon. But Harper Row sure is beginning to make quite the case for herself for the next potential Robin. Even though I’m still reeling from the death of Damian and getting emotionally gut-punched by comics such as Batman & Robin 18, I still couldn’t help but have a ton of fun with Harper Row in this issue. Scott Snyder beautifully fleshes out the character of Harper in this issue and seamlessly pays his respects to Damian as well. Snyder has successfully created a brand new character for the Batman mythos that he clearly intends to have stick around for awhile. The character is so rich and interesting, and regardless of whether or not she becomes Robin I can’t wait to see more of her. She’s smart, tech savvy and resourceful and while she may not be trained, she is brave and willing to put her life on the line. Most importantly, she cares about Batman and knows that he needs help. She’s — OH MY GOD — she’s the new Tim Drake. Again, no one knows what Snyder will decide to do with Harper Row, but if you’ve read Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying please let me know in the comments if you see the same similarities between Tim and Harper that I do.
While this issue was mainly about exploring Harper Row and her family, Snyder managed to tie her story to the death of Damian in an organic and poignant way. She reveals to Batman that after her mother’s murder (a newly revealed plot point that I’m sure we’ll learn more about later), she became understandably depressed to the point that she was dragging her brother down with her. Fortunately, she recalled an important lesson taught to her by her mother that helped her survive.
This is absolutely brilliant. Not only do we get let in on a potential murder mystery, but we also learn something personal and endearing to Harper that just so happens to not only tie into the death of Damian but helps Batman in his time of utter despair. This helps fans to connect with Harper even more which is important if Snyder wants to keep her around and it helps Batman to connect with her too in ways that I’m not so sure Harper is even aware of. The fact that she unwittingly turns Wayne Tower into a gigantic memorial to Robin is priceless and is touching to Bruce on multiple levels. Again, I’m not saying that this solidifies Harper as the next Robin, but there is no doubt in my mind that Batman wants to take her under his (bat)wing in at least some capacity.
On to the art. Man, the Batman titles are absolutely lousy with great artists right now. While we didn’t get to see Greg Capullo’s beautiful pencils this time around, we weren’t left high and dry. Andy Kubert delivered an absolutely ferocious Batman and gave us scenes brimming with energy in “Chapter 1,” while Alex Maleev (known for his amazing run on Bendis’ Daredevil, amongst other things) nailed the quieter scenes in “Chapter 2.” While their styles are certainly different, I found them both to be fitting to the parts of the story each artist was portraying. I certainly won’t be complaining the next time I see either artist on a Bat-book again, which hopefully will be very soon! I’ve already shown you some examples of Maleev’s work on this issue, so now I’d like to give you a taste of Kubert’s contribution if only for the unadulterated badassery of it.
Well Scott, what’s your reaction to all of this? Are you as hooked on the character of Harper Row as I am? Did you enjoy getting to learn more about the character in this issue or did you want to see more of a direct response from Batman or his supporting characters to Damian’s death? Lastly, how much do you think it sucks that Bruce has to work in the same building where his own son died? Poor Bruce really can’t catch a break.
Scott: For a normal person, working in that building would be absolute hell, but Bruce has never been one to shy away from the places where his loved ones were killed. This is the guy who moved into a brownstone on the block where he watched his parents die, after all. Not to say Damian’s death hasn’t been awful for him, but he’s not going to try to forget what happened, and knowing it went down in his own company’s headquarters will only strengthen his resolve to rid Gotham of crime.
What a bold way for Snyder to respond to Damian’s death — by not even mentioning it. Of course, it was hanging over the entire issue like a giant raincloud, but presenting the story from the perspective of a character who doesn’t even know about the death was unexpected. What’s even more shocking is that it works. And it’s all because of how awesome Harper is as a character. The fact that the first issue of Batman following of Robin’s death makes a strong case for a new character to become Robin almost seems disrespectful to Damian’s memory. But Harper has just the right combination of endearing traits to make it seem like she’s exactly what Bruce needs. She’s tough, independent, caring, observant, fearless, incredibly smart, quick witted, dedicated, and totally punk rock. And on top of that, she really isn’t trying to be Robin. She isn’t trying to be anything. She just believes in what Batman stands for and wants him to succeed. Being a girl also helps her, as she does feel like such as an obvious replacement for Damian, as would, say, a young, dark haired, male trapeze prodigy, or something like that.
Here’s the moment Bruce’s opinion of Harper changes:
He pretty much has to like her after that. And not just because of what she’s telling him, or because of the message she has for Batman. Bruce knows he broke her nose, but she doesn’t know he did. And here she is, standing in front of the most powerful man in Gotham with her face all banged up like it’s no big deal. Bruce doesn’t even ask her what happened to her face. Maybe she just thinks he doesn’t notice or care. Or, when coupled with his readiness to help her send Batman a message, maybe it seems peculiar. Batman isn’t revealing himself to Harper, but she’s smart enough that she’ll start piecing things together if he’s not careful.
I’ll leave you with this stray observation: Harper’s insistence that she is not interested in knowing Batman’s identity reminded me of Joker in Batman 17. Many parallels can be drawn between Harper and past Robins, but she has some villain potential, too. Like Joker, she’s obsessed with Batman, but only as a figure, not as a man. At this point, it’s for the right reasons, but if Batman keeps her at arm’s length, maybe she goes down a different path. She does have the blood of a criminal. How crushing would it be if Harper gets in with Batman while he’s in this vulnerable emotional state, only to betray him? I don’t want this to happen, and I really don’t think it will. I like Harper — there’s just something about her obsession with Batman that seems unhealthy, and it gives me pause.
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