Today, Drew and guest writer Michael D. are discussing Batman and Red Hood 20, originally released May 8th, 2013.
Drew: Bruce Wayne has never been particularly good at processing grief. He’s still driven by the death of his parents — actively and daily. In the wake of Damian’s death, Peter Tomasi has set out to follow Bruce through the five stages of grief, but has Bruce ever gone through all five stages? This month’s stage — anger — reveals a very familiar Batman, suggesting that he may have stalled out there 20+ years ago. Of course, both this issue (like last month’s) finds Bruce bargaining something fierce, so perhaps there’s hope he can progress, after all.
The issue opens with Bruce being pestered by Carrie Kelley, who is suspicious of Damian’s sudden disappearance. Bruce offers the most limp, disinterested cover story — he sent Damian off to a farm somewhere or something — but Alfred offers her something else: a job taking care of Titus in Damian’s absence. It looks like Carrie might be a player in this series going forward. Keeping someone around who is so interested in and suspicious of Damian’s absence is an obvious recipe for disaster, but Bruce is too preoccupied to notice — he wants to bring the hurt to the hitmen who first came looking to claim the bounty Talia put on Damian’s head. He tracks them to Ethiopia, and asks Jason for a hand in taking them down. Jason agrees, and the two deliver some brutal justice — with Bruce even condoning Jason’s use of a gun:
Of course, Bruce has an ulterior motive for bringing Jason to Ethiopia: he wants to rehash the events of Jason’s death and resurrection in hopes that they might hold the secret to Damian’s resurrection. This is understandably a sensitive subject for Jason, so he bails.
Bruce has been making some questionable decisions recently, but bringing Jason to the site of his worst memory seems like only a bad choice. Bruce claims he hopes it would jog Jason’s memory, but it still seems like he could have asked first. “Hey Jason, do you remember anything about how you came back to life? No? Do you think the surprise of taking you back to where you died would make that easier or harder?” I get that Bruce is desperate here, but this is so obviously a stupid, counterproductive move, it’s hard to really relate.
This issue also brings up some weirdness around Jason in the New 52. We know the broad strokes are largely as they were before: A Death in the Family still happened, as did parts of Under the Hood, and at least the gist of Morrison’s Batman Epic. What’s not clear is whether Jason tried to kill Damian, as he did in Morrison’s Batman and Robin run. If that’s the case, then it seems like Bruce should be every bit as mad at Jason as he is at the assassins he’s permanently crippling in this issue — they all tried, but failed, to kill Damian. At least the hitmen were doing it for money, Jason was just doing it because he wanted to (also, he actually hurt Damian, something that can’t be said of any of the hired guns Talia sicked on him). I get that Jason has been forgiven in the New 52, but without a stronger sense of what of his actions are still canon, it’s difficult to say what he’s been forgiven for.
That ill-defined history is by no means Tomasi’s fault, but it really hamstrings the emotional weight of this issue. How tenuous is their partnership here? Does Jason still blame Bruce for not avenging his death? This relationship is by rights the most complicated in the wake of Damian’s death, but without a firm sense of what happened after Jason died, the interactions here come off as bland and unspecific. We get the anger, but nothing else.
That’s particularly unfortunate, given how nuanced Tomasi’s approach has been otherwise. Last issue featured a great deal of denial, but there were hints of anger and bargaining there, too. This issue features plenty of anger, but again, Bruce is bargaining to keep Damian alive. Jason was a brilliant choice for anger, and I can’t wait to see how Barbara’s pragmatism plays against Bruce’s bargaining next issue. Still, this issue felt strangely hollow, which maybe ties back to the concern that Bruce has always been stuck in the anger stage — it’s hard to show anger when the character is perpetually angry. Tomasi’s left to lay it on a little too thick, which the relationships just don’t have the structure to support.
Missteps aside, I’m still glad this creative team will be guiding Bruce through his grief. Tomasi has such a confident handle on Bruce (and his relationship with Damian), and Patrick Gleason continues to crank out breathtaking pages. This issue let me wanting, but I know it’s a bit of an aberration. With that, I’d like to turn things over to Michael D, who you might remember from our All-New X-Men 9 writeup. Michael, were you as underwhelmed with this issue as I was, or were you able to find more to latch on to? Also, what do you make of that final page Two-Face cameo?
Michael: Like you said Drew, this issue was a little disappointing compared to what we’ve seen in Batman and Robin so far. I remember reading the solicits for this issue a few months back (before we even knew Damian was going to die) and I was merely excited to see some Bruce/Jason interaction under the direction of Pete Tomasi. So yeah, it was a letdown that this was what Tomasi and Gleason churned out. Part of me wants to say that the usually brilliant Batman and Robin team knew this issue was going to be a bit of a clunker, so they threw in Cliff Richards to give some ho-hum fill-in pencil work as well.
We’ve all been curious about Carrie Kelley’s role ever since we discovered that she was going to be a part of Batman and Robin in some fashion…and our curiosity continues. I really hope that she doesn’t become the new Robin (or Harper Row for that matter); not because both are females but rather because I think it would really undercut the importance of Damian Wayne as Robin and as Bruce Wayne’s son. I’m all for there being a new Robin someday, but not just yet. Another reason I’m against Harper or Carrie taking over as Robin in the near future is that their origin would most likely mirror Tim Drake’s pre-New 52 origin: a smart young person uncovering Batman’s identity and helping him overcome his loss of a Robin. Either way it looks like Ms. Kelley will be dropping in at Wayne Manor every now and then, so she’s bound to uncover Bruce’s secret identity, Damian’s death, or both. I would love to see Carrie in an Oracle role or even a crime fighting role; just not Robin, not yet.
Batman continuity in The New 52 is nothing if not muddled, and Drew you are most definitely right about Jason’s own history falling under that blanket statement. Jason Todd is a great character in theory, but I have yet to see a writer truly bring out his potential or give him a coherent and straightforward origin, including new Red Hood and the Outlaws writer James Tynion IV. Batman and Robin is the book that is most dealing with Batman’s grief over Damian, but since that death occurred in Batman Incorporated, Tomasi and Gleason are a little limited in what they can and cannot do with their story. Batman and Red Hood #20 exists in a curious bubble in time where Jason has been recuperating at Wayne Manor after being attacked by The Joker in the “Death of the Family” epilogue, despite the fact that he was (and still is) held hostage as Wingman by “The School of Night” in Batman Incorporated…needless to say: it’s messy. So yes, I think that Bats would be a little perturbed at Jason for attempting to kill Damian during Battle for the Cowl etc. but A) that was while Bruce was lost in time and B) I kind of prefer the idea of Jason being brought back into the fold, even if it is just at a distance.
I agree with you Drew, Batman’s little stunt of taking Jason to the place where he died to “jog his memory” about his resurrection was reeeeeeeaalllly silly. I think that the inclusion of Red Hood and his history as the first member of the “Dead Robin’s Club” was unfortunately underutilized for essentially a throwaway story. To be honest, I think the first couple pages of Justice League #19 did a better job at tackling the subject of Jason, Bruce and Alfred in relation to Damian’s death.
Drew, I’ve gotta say that the Two-Face tease at the end was probably my favorite part of this issue. While we may have seen bits of bargaining in each issue of Batman and Robin since issue #17, it seems that Tomasi and Gleason are intent on doing one stage of grief per issue. This would mean that Batman and Batgirl #21 would be the “official” bargaining issue of the series, making Two-Face the perfect inclusion, as he makes a personal bargain with every flip of his coin. Two-Face also makes sense for Batman and Batgirl #21, which has a very “law-inspired” cover, with Batgirl as “Lady Justice.” Here’s hoping that next month will be a return to the quality storytelling and art we expect from Tomasi and Gleason!
Michael D. is a Film School dropout with a penchant for TV, Comic Books and Ties. Batman was his gateway drug into the comic-verse and he now has Brainiac levels of knowledge about superheroes, multiverses and Bat-Mites. Follow Michael on Twitter @CormacMichael and his blog Mike’s Masterpieces in the Making.
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