Today, Mikyzptlk and Shelby are discussing Batman and Red Robin 19, originally released April 10th, 2013.
Mikyzptlk: Some of the things we enjoy discussing here on Retcon Punch are the various themes that come up in the comics that we read. Sometimes those themes are buried deep within the surface of the story while other times they are a bit more telegraphed. With the latest issue of Batman and Rob –sorry– Batman and Red Robin, Peter Tomasi has chosen the latter option as he’s begun to take Bruce Wayne on a journey through the 5 stages of grief due to the loss of his son. There is no doubt that this issue is all about denial to the extent that it’s the actual title of the issue, but if Bruce is going through denial Tomasi is going to make sure he doesn’t do it alone. The obvious guest-star of this issue is Red Robin, but Tomasi has another surprise for you up his sleeve.
So, we know that Red Robin and Carrie Kelley are guest-starring in this issue. However, I’d like to begin my summary with a guest-star I definitely didn’t see coming: Frankenstein! The Agent of S.H.A.D.E. guests in this issue and it’s not exactly under the best circumstances as he’s captured by Batman. Don’t worry though, it’s only because Batman wants to take Frank apart in order to reverse-engineer the process that brought our lovable monster back to life in order to resurrect Damian. Oh, did I say not to worry? YES, WORRY. Frank tries to convince Batman that he should let Damian rest in peace, but to no avail. Only Red Robin is able to put a stop to Batman’s plans by blowing up the lab that Bruce had put in place for his cringe-inducing experiments. Batman is very displeased with Red Robin, but leaves him with Frank (who kindly asks for a hand…and the rest of his parts).
As stated before, this issue also gives us the mainstream DCU introduction of Carrie Kelley. We meet her on her drive towards Wayne Manor where she drops off some DVD’s of vintage TV shows (by Rod Serling!). No one answers the door, but Bruce wants to know how this woman is connected to his late son. He tracks Ms. Kelley down to return the DVD’s, but is quickly bombarded by questions about Damian’s whereabouts. Bruce beats a hasty retreat and Carrie is left without answers. Later, we discover that Carrie has been teaching Damian about acting. She still has questions about Mr. Wayne and his son, but is satisfied for now as Bruce has “settled up” with a very hefty check.
Super-fun trivia side note: The check number is 1986, which is also the year that The Dark Knight Returns debuted!
Okay, so let’s get started. This issue has everything, multiple Robin’s, monsters by Frankenstein, and an understandably grieving Bruce Wayne. What I like about this grief is that Tomasi starts at a very real and subtle place with Bruce by having him refer to Damian as if he’s still alive, but quickly escalates it to comic book level craziness as Batman tries to figure out how to resurrect his son. Any time I get to read Frank, it’s an absolute treat and this issue was no different. Frank is able to relate to Bruce in deep and meaningful ways because of everything that he’s gone through with his own family.
This was not the issue I was expecting at all, nor was Frank a guest-star I was expecting either. However, Tomasi managed to use elements from Frank’s series in very surprising ways. The lesson that Frank tried to teach Batman may not have sunk in yet, but that’s only because Bruce hasn’t gotten to that stage of grief. Peter Tomasi has set up the next few issues in a way that has thoroughly surprised me. Not only are we going to be treated to a slew of guest-stars, but if this issue is any indication, each star will help Batman through the painful stages of grief we see him begin here. I can’t wait for more.
I’ve also got to mention how much I love how Carrie is introduced in this issue. Tomasi has cleverly connected the character with Damian which connects all of us to her as well. Additionally, this connection allows us to learn things about Damian that we didn’t even was there. Who knew the kid was interested in acting? This is such a non-I-was-trained-from-birth-to-be-an-assassin kind of thing that it shows just how much Damian was growing into his own person. I had to read this a few times to put everything together, but thinking about Carrie teaching Damian about acting through classic movies and old Rod Serling TV shows made his death even more tragic than I’ve previously thought, to the point that I actually got a bit teary eyed. I think this is a realization that Bruce also shares which helped me to connect to Bruce in a way that I don’t normally do. I’m not a super-fit guy, I’m not a ninja, and I’m certainly not the night, but I have lost loved ones which is something that we can all, unfortunately, relate to. So, not only does Tomasi connect us to Carrie, who is essentially a brand new character, he connects us to Batman, the main character of the book, while further developing the beloved character Damian posthumously.
Oh right, Red Robin. If I had one complaint about this issue it would be that Red Robin wasn’t really much more than the guy who screwed up Bruce’s plans. I mean, for a guy whose name is on the book, I was figuring that he’d play a more important role. Fortunately, what we got instead was fantastic, so I can’t ding the book too much for it. Well Shelby, how about you? Were you as impressed with Mr. Tomasi as I was in this issue? What do you make of Carrie Kelley? Do you think she could be our newest Robin candidate? Does that even matter or has Tomasi done a good enough job to interest you in the character for her own merits? Lastly, are you on board for the emotional rollercoaster that Tomasi has set Batman on?
Shelby: I understand that Grant Morrison created Damian Wayne as we know him. I understand that Damian’s death was a part of Morrison’s vision for Batman, Inc. That being said, I’m so happy to see Bruce really dealing with his son’s death here between the pages of Batman and Robin. In the brief time I spent with the characters here, I grew to love the relationship developing between Bruce and Damian, and it’s why I think it’s appropriate for Tomasi to continue that story in this book as he takes Bruce through the grieving process. Honestly, this is about Bruce right now; I don’t even want to consider new Robins, not yet. Carrie Kelley, Harper Row, Dick Grayson come ’round for round two, it doesn’t matter: Bruce isn’t ready to deal with it, and I’m not either.
So, what about Bruce? Thanks to Scott Snyder’s beautiful take-down of the Bat-Family Support System in Death of the Family, Bruce isn’t totally wrong in striking out on his own. Of course, none of the Bats or Robins or butlers would abandon him in a time like this. At the same time, that trust is gone, and Bruce knows it. But more than that, I think Bruce is going rogue because deep, deep, DEEP down he knows this is wrong. Dissambling Frank for any reason is wrong, but doing so to resurrect the dead is extra wrong. Bruce is in denial of Damian’s death because he believes very firmly that he can bring him back, and he’s in denial of just how awful his actions are.
Tomasi has started Bruce on what promises to be a very gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, human path. As much as I love Snyder’s work on this character, his Batman has always seemed…very fictional. Complex, strong, deep, absolutely, but ultimately still very much a fictional character. But even though the scene is outrageous (Frankenstein’s castle and all that), Tomasi’s Bruce feels so much more real to me. My heart broke when Alfred pointed out he was talking about Damian in the present tense. It broke again when Bruce told Frank he wasn’t going to fail his son, that he needed him back. People grieve, and underneath the cape and cowl, Batman is a person; these next five issues are going to be Bruce’s personal journey through the stages of grief, and Tomasi is going to make us feel each stage like a punch in the gut. In the end, hopefully, Bruce will come out a stronger man, and a stronger Batman. Then I’ll be ready to talk about Carrie Kelly.
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?