Today, Patrick and (guest writer) Mark are discussing Batman and Robin 34, originally released August 20th, 2014.
Patrick: When The Death of the Family was heading into its final issue, Scott Snyder appeared in a ton of interviews claiming that this conclusion was going to have a lasting effect on Batman and the Batfamily. But after that story line wrapped up, Snyder took his own series into Batman’s past, conveniently avoiding working through much of this fallout. Similarly, Grant Morrison killed Damian in Batman Incorporated, but wrapped up his series only a few issues later. The emotional heavy lifting as fallen to Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, who have dutifully presented the most erratic, emotional and frustrating Batman possible. Everything that Batman is — the selfless knight of justice, the patriarch of the Batfamily, the infallible detective — has been undermined in the wake of these twin tragedies. Understandably, that pushes Batman away from his readers, and his alienation from the world started to reflect the audiences’ alienation from the character. In issue 34, Tomasi and Gleason have Bruce offer a naked apology to his protégés, but they’re also inviting us to trust Batman again. Fuck yes: I’m ready to forgive.
We spend most of the issue in the Batcave, which is a delightful change of pace from a series that has demonstrated a remarkable knack for compressed storytelling. There’s no satisfying way to compress an apology, it turns out. It’s a touching and heartfelt scene, made all the more impressive by the fact that such sincerity is accompanied by the refrigerated half-corpse of one of those Apokolipsian foot soldiers.
In the name of total honesty, Batman reveals that he actually knows a great deal about Apokolips, and has this creature’s Boom Tube remote stashed away in the cave. This is another piece of messy New 52 history that Tomasi seamlessly appropriates for this series — Batman’s got one of these guys left over from the first arc of Justice League. It looks like Tomasi’s in a mood to pay-off a number of our storytelling frustrations all in this one issue.
I love the parallel between these kinds of answers and Batman making peace with Batgirl, Red Robin and Red Hood (oh and Dick too, I guess). Withholding resolution is something comic book writers are always forced to do — gotta sell that next issue somehow! — but it almost always feels like something of a cheat. The most immediately rewarding thing a writer can do is to deliver satisfying answers to long-outstanding questions. While we’re not seeing any literal “answers” in this issue, there are a lot of consequent phrases to antecedents that have been dangling for way too long. As comic book fans, we know that “Batman alienates the Batfamily” must be followed eventually by “Batman reconciles with the Batfamily” – and here it is. It’s comforting and warm, if in a very standoffish, I’m-Batman-so-I-can’t-give-you-a-real-hug kind of way.
And god forbid he touch Jason at all.
I had predicted last month that we were going to see Batman in the Hellbat suit by the end of this issue, and that’s just another way Tomasi delivers on my expectations, but it’s also interesting to consider the opposite approach Batman takes when dealing with the Justice League. Rather than take the path of honesty, he goes for straight-up deception, projecting holographic threats into the world to distract them so he can slink off with Hellbat without being noticed. Batman’s role in the New 52’s Justice League hasn’t been totally firmed up this point — Geoff Johns is too enamored with how funny it is to make Batman imperfect to restore him to his role of unquestioned leader. Among the capes and hoods in Gotham, Bats is clearly the top dog, and expressing vulnerability is both endearing and useful. But he’s still got to be a sneaky sonofabitch when it comes to the heavy hitters.
Plus, he’s got to come to an uneasy truce with Lex Luthor. Again (and I can’t believe we’re finding another connection here), Tomasi is quick to incorporate relationships and power dynamics from Forever Evil and current issues of Justice League. Lex’s whole deal lately has been in casting himself as the hero, and the art team is quick to tap into that dynamic. This is my favorite panel from the Wayne / Luthor encounter:
Everyone makes choices here that should make us sympathetic to Luthor. Artist Pat Gleason stages Batman behind Luthor, and draws attention to their size-disparity – even in his suit, Lex is a hole head shorter than Hellbat. Lex is the underdog in this encounter. Inker Mick Gray adds to Batman’s imposing presence by letting the inky blackness of the suit dominate the panel. It’s even sorta hard to tell where the suit ends and space begins, implying an even bigger presence that his physical size suggests. Colorist John Kalisz also fucking kills it with the effect of the red light emanating from the visor and chest emblem – notice how the light reflects off Luthor’s scalp (and his metal neck). That’s all very powerful, and very imposing, casting Batman as something of a bully. The topper is Carols M. Mangual’s choice for lettering Batman-in-the-Hellbat-Suit. Italicized red text in a black speech balloon, with a jagged tail back to the character’s mouth? Yeah, that’s intimidating.
Mark, my friend, we’ve been chanting Hellbat for a couple weeks now, were you satisfied to finally see the thing up an walking around? We have to wait a little bit to see it in action, but this is a good start. Also, do you think we’re just supposed to assume that Wonder Woman smacks Shazam in the face after their last panel together? That’s what I’m going to assume.
Mark: Like you mentioned, Patrick, withholding resolution is part and parcel of comic book writing. So despite your confidence Hellbat would play a role this month, I was surprised to see it back so soon. I assumed such a cool piece of tech was introduced early on by Tomasi to act as Chekhov’s Hellbat, and that we wouldn’t see it again until much later. That way when reading any exposition-heavy issues that may lie ahead, the bright promise of Hellbat punching things would pull us through. But one issue later and here we are!
Further subverting my expectations, when the Batfamily gathered last month I was all set for an Ocean’s 11-style heist to procure the Hellbat from the Justice League’s satellite headquarters. Instead (again, like you predicted) Batman takes the opportunity to reconcile with the Batkids. Yeah, it’s not pure altruism, as Bruce needs them out protecting Gotham in his absence. And sure, Dick’s enjoying his own popular title, so when he pops up here we know he won’t be taking up the cowl again anytime soon. Still it’s no less affecting when he promises Bruce there will always be a Batman in Gotham.
Dick Grayson is just the best, but Lex Luthor is my secret MVP of this issue. I’m really enjoying Luthor’s presence on the Justice League post-Forever Evil, and when he confronts Batman in the Hellbat suit, he lays down some serious real talk: they’re the same. Just “two incredibly rich mere mortal boys playing dress up in the end.” Bruce doesn’t even bother denying it, and that commonality is part of the reason I’ve always thought of Luthor as a more compelling foil to Batman than he is a Superman villain.
And while we know it’s only a matter of time before Luthor goes back to being evil, let’s take a moment to appreciate that he’s able to offer some enhancements to a suit that was literally forged by Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, and Cyborg. Dude’s ridiculous.
So was I satisfied by seeing Hellbat up and about? I mean, my needs are base. I’m most jazzed at the prospect of seeing Hellbat be badass in Apokolips. But I’m really enjoying this arc, so I’m happy to wait as long as Tomasi wants for us to get there. I’m more bummed to have everything interrupted by a Futures End tie-in next month.
And yes, Wonder Woman unquestionably socks Shazam.
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?