Mark: One of the complaints leveled at comic books is that nothing ever sticks. A character dies, only to be brought back at the next best opportunity. Damian was dead, but now he’s back. Reborn Damian has super powers, but it’s probably only a matter of time before he’s de-powered. Does the inevitability detract from what’s happening now? As a reader, that’s not something that’s ever bothered me. My only expectation/hope when reading a series is that individual arcs will be satisfying. Comic books are mini-rebooting between arcs all the time. If a good arc is followed by a bad arc, it doesn’t diminish what came before.
Batman has had a lot of surrogate children over the years (it seems like recently we’re having a Robin graduation every year or so), but there’s obviously something unique about his relationship with Damian. It’s been a long journey to Damian’s resurrection, and finally seeing the Dynamic Duo back in action is a lot of fun. Still in the end, as much as this is sold as a new beginning, this issue is more of a concluding chapter to the Robin Rises saga.
Batman and Robin 38 picks up some time after the events of Robin Rises: Alpha. We open with Bruce and the newly superpowered Damian back in the routine of patrolling Gotham at night. I’m not entirely convinced by the idea of Super Robin long-term, but the creative team is definitely having a lot of fun for now, starting with the cover’s riff on Superman.
It’s also fun to see Damian’s powers in action. They’re not super well defined at this point (so far we know that he’s overall crazy powerful, can fly, and can withstand incredible amounts of pressure under the ocean), but my favorite is his ability to just deflect bullets. Is Damian one of the most powerful superheroes in the DC universe now?
I honestly would have been satisfied if the issue consisted entirely of Batman and Robin out on patrol and bantering again, but I’m a little torn on Tomasi’s decision to skip over the immediate fallout of Robin Rises: Alpha. It’s not that I’m really itching for another origin story, but it does feel like we’re missing out on something by glossing over everyone’s reactions to Damian’s new-found superpowers. No one seems to be treating this like a seismic shift, but it seems pretty significant to me. Even ignoring the superpowers, what were those first few days like? Your son is just brought back from the dead. How do you get back into a normal routine?
Things take a more dramatic turn when Bruce and Damian return to Wayne Manor. Damian has a nightmare involving his dead mother and grandfather, and the art team of Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, and John Kalisz really shines here. The shifting visages of Talia and Ra’s al Ghul are genuinely frightening and a neat approximation of the changing realities of dream logic.
Spurred on by his nightmare and the complicated feelings he has for his mother, Damian takes off. We get to see Batman be a father in the most Batman way possible. Is he tracking Damian without Damian knowing? Uh yeah, absolutely. G.P.S. dye in his morning orange juice does the trick. But Bruce’s father figure, Alfred, has some experience with an adolescent recovering from a traumatic incident and advises Bruce to give Damian some space.
The back half of the issue acts as a strong and affecting bookend to the resurrection storyline. Damian returns to the place of his birth and destroys the mechanisms that gave him life. He then dives into the ocean and visits Aquaman to recover his brothers. In a final act of catharsis, Damian releases them from their stasis and offers them a peaceful life. Honestly this feels like what Robin Rises: Alpha should have been rather than the mostly-retread that ended up being.
It seems like for three issues now we’ve been talking about a “conclusion” to this story, but the nature of comics is that nothing ever really ends. For now this seems as good an ending point as any, and moving forward we can really deal with the implications of Damian’s new life.
What’d you think, Michael? Are you looking forward to this new, super-powered Damian? Were you disappointed that Damian was resurrected in the first place?
Michael: Mark, you hit the nail on the head with how the “never-changing” nature of comic books. When Bruce Wayne “died,” he was out of the cape and cowl for two years. Comparatively, Damian was dead for about a year and a half. There’s a lot of factors in this: DC’s (mostly ill-conceived) marketing plans, Damian’s popularity among fans and Tomasi’s long term story plans. Following Damian’s death, Tomasi’s clear goal for Batman was A) to go through the stages of grief and B) to return Damian’s body/resurrect him. And we all know Batman is a determined son of a bitch, so it’s no surprise that the boy wonder is back.
I think that everything that happened in Batman and Robin 38 was necessary in the scheme of things but I question the order in which it was presented to us. Mark you are right in saying that the conclusion of the issue with the Damian clones feels like a bookend to Robin Rises more than the start of a new arc. I think when we see the return of a long-gone character what we want more than anything is a return to “business-as-usual.” We want to be reminded of what we were missing with that character gone. Essentially, I think what a lot of us wanted to see was Batman and Robin 1 redone with a super-powered Damian. As the man said “You can’t always get what you want.”
I think that what we were presented with in Batman and Robin 38 was less of a the surrounding world’s reaction to Damian’s new powers than it was a story of a boy coming to terms with his resurrection. This has always been Damian’s book, so it may be jarring to see the narrative shift from Batman or the Bat-family’s reactions back to Damian’s reactions. Being Robin is the best thing that has ever happened to Damian, so it is no surprise that he is ready and raring to get back into his cape and boots; not to mention that he is excited to test out his new powers.
Tomasi and Gleason have a penchant for dream sequences in Batman and Robin, and the nightmare Damian experiences is a good shift for what comes next in the issue. Damian’s dealing with a lot right now: being brought back from the dead, gaining superpowers and most importantly, being killed on his mother’s orders. Superheroes die and come back all of the time: they live in the realm of gods and aliens, but to Damian none of that particularly matters. He became an enemy of his mother and her criminal empire, but did he ever truly expect her to kill him? The psychological effect of that question will definitely weigh heavy on the boy. Damian died a hero, but his mother died a villain. With that in mind, Damian took it upon himself to right her wrongs and freed his brothers.
As much as this is Damian’s issue, I think that Batman and Robin 38 shows how much Bruce has grown as a father. He didn’t fight as hard as he did to bring Damian back from the dead just to nag him and ground him. Sure, he restrains Damian after a show of excessive force and tracks Damian’s movements, but that’s just standard Batman. He’s cautious of Damian’s new abilities, but he’s happy to have him back, and he knows (from experience, possibly) that Damian is going to have to go through some reflection upon returning from the dead. He takes Alfred’s advice (for once) and gives Damian “a gift of trust.”
You can tell that Pat Gleason is relishing in the fact that he gets to draw Damian in action again; super-powered action no less. The title page where Damian swoops in and stops the bullets is Damian and Gleason saying: “look what I can do now!” Gleason excels at the little details too. The opening sequence has Damian perched above Bruce’s bed, laces dangling (which left me curiously annoyed.) Later, Gleason and Tomasi use these laces as Bruce’s restraints on Damian:
Overall this is a satisfying re-launch for Damian back into Batman’s world. The pacing is a bit awkward, but that’s because Tomasi has to tie up some emotional loose ends for Damian before we can move forward with the superpowers angle.
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