Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Batman and Robin 40, originally released March 25th, 2015.
Drew: Bruce Wayne’s back was broken. Otto Octavius took over Peter Parker’s body. Superman had a mullet. Steve Rogers was dead. We often talk derisively of these kinds of easily-reversed changes in superhero comics because they seem gimmicky and cheap — what better way to boost sales than to trumpet the death of Superman? — but I’d actually argue that these stories offer a clever way of exploring what makes these heroes great. Moreover, they remind us not to take what we like about these characters for granted. Fewer characters have been put through quite so many changes recently as Damian Wayne, who has both died and gained superpowers, so while Batman and Robin 40 ends with him back in his non-dead, non-superpowered state, it’s actually kind of refreshing.
This issue picks up on Damian’s outing with the Justice League, blowing up his typical brash arrogance to superhuman proportions as he orders the trinity (and Shazam) around to defeat a giant evil robot. Only, it turns out this was all a ploy by Bruce to help wear Damian out in hopes of draining his powers. It’s a clever twist — the kind you don’t see coming, but makes total sense in retrospect — perfectly explaining why Bruce would be willing to take Damian, who’s always been a dangerous loose cannon, out into the field. The ploy works, leaving Damian powerless, and putting these characters in roughly the same place they were before Damian died — effectively giving this series its original logline back.
It’s been a decidedly circuitous path back to normalcy, but I actually find myself wishing that it had been a little longer. Damian has never played well with others, but that’s heretofore only ever been a family matter. Barring a few cameos here and there, Damian has really only interacted with the Bat-family, and while I have a great sense of his relationships with Dick and Tim (and especially Alfred), it was kind of fun to see him bouncing off of the likes of Shazam and Superman. That is, he was exactly as insufferable as we might expect a superpowered Damian to be.
Before writer Peter Tomasi let the other shoe drop on the real purpose of this little mission, I was excited at the prospect of Damian’s arrogance getting even more out-of-hand. It was bad enough when he was a mortal 10-year-old — just imagine how bad it could get when he’s an indestructible demi-god.
Not that I can fault Tomasi for wanting to get Damian back to his old self. It’s been over two years since Damian died, and while Tomasi has done an admirable job of keeping this series afloat without him, “Robin” is half of this series. A power-tripping Damian might have been a fun storyline, but it doesn’t quite fit the father-son dynamic that made this series so great before Damian’s death. Plus, the loss of superpowers brings us this hilariously relatable sequence.
Don’t worry if you can’t read the words — artist Patrick Gleason makes the story crystal without them. Trying to see if you have superpowers (and coming up short) is such a universal kid experience, it’s almost thrilling to see Damian experience it. There’s not a lot in his short life that I can relate to, but realizing he can’t fly is definitely one of them (though, to my credit, I didn’t test that by jumping out of a window).
But really, all of this is just building up to those final few pages, where Bruce and Damian are doing all of the Batman and Robin things, just like old times. Tomasi and Gleason go for broke here, bringing every piece of Batman and Robin iconography they can, from the fire poles to Damian’s pets to the signature Burt Ward palm-punch (albeit inverted here). They’re decidedly familiar sights, but I’d forgotten just how much I missed them all. Batman and Robin — both the series and the team are back, and it couldn’t be more thrilling.
Spencer! Did you find those closing pages as exhilarating as I did? Are you excited to have these characters back in familiar form? It’s certainly been a long time coming.
Spencer: It certainly has been, and I certainly am, but it’s a bittersweet thrill. Drew, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but this is the final issue of Batman and Robin. After Convergence it’s relaunching as Robin, Son of Batman with Patrick Gleason doing double duty as both writer and artist, and while I look forward to that new series (as far as I’m concerned, Gleason’s the definitive Damian artist), I’m going to miss this take immensely. The fact that Tomasi only just now got back to a place where he could tell the “father and son” stories that defined Batman and Robin‘s best issues only to have the book end is kind of heartbreaking.
I can’t pretend to be privy to any of DC’s behind-the-scenes decisions, but the end of Batman and Robin feels a bit sudden. Tomasi seemed to have plot threads he still wanted to explore — such as the mysterious woman killing people in the mountains and Damian’s guilt over his mother’s death — and the resolution of Damian’s superpowers is just a tad bit rushed. I can buy them fading away when they did, and even the idea that they were finite at all had been foreshadowed more than once in previous issues, but Damian gets no chance to process their loss. Bruce talks to him for less than a page, and suddenly he’s fine with it. There’s more story to tell about a boy gaining and losing ultimate power in rapid succession like that, and I’m disappointed that we won’t get to see it.
Still, while Tomasi likely has more to say about these characters, and while the resolution of the “Superpower” arc feels like it got cut short, the rest of Batman and Robin 40 is still a brilliant coda to Bruce and Damian’s relationship and how it’s evolved over the last few years. We’ve seen Damian grow quite a bit — as arrogant as he still is, he’s become much more playful, obedient, and heroic as well — but Bruce has grown as a father as well.
This whole final arc has seen Bruce handle Damian with a surprising amount of respect and patience, but this issue finds him dipping his toe into some typical parenting shortcuts — having Damian fight until he depletes his powers is very similar to when parents have their kids run around at the park until they exhaust themselves, and with quite similar results.
How adorable! And how domestic! Bruce and Damian have finally successfully completed the transition from “blood relatives at each others’ throats” to true family, and there couldn’t be a better way to end this series than by emphasizing that one final time.
In fact, Tomasi and Gleason make the fact that Damian’s return has healed the rift in the Wayne family quite literal by having Damian complete the Wayne Family Portrait himself, and that kind of almost totemic imagery is rampant throughout the final four or five pages. All the nostalgic callbacks to many of the elements that have been important to Batman and Robin over the last 40 issues — such as Damian’s pets or even the various clutter in his room — are a nice way to cap the series, and Gleason’s interpretation of Batman and Robin suiting up is downright iconic.
I especially love the symmetry of Batman and Robin here, which is an interesting contrast to a similar moment early in the issue where Robin and Superman are both shooting heat vision in identical fashion from opposite sides of the page — Damian is still his father’s son, and not even powers could change that.
There’s a lot of powerful stuff in these last few pages, and it all climaxes with the final two. The issue ends on this perfect bombastic splash of Batman and Robin leaping into the camera, both smiling, an image that captures all the catharsis of Damian’s return with an expert hand. For my money, though, the most moving image of the issue comes just a page prior.
It’s just a father watching his son, his face full of pride — there just aren’t many emotions out there more powerful than that, and at its best, Batman and Robin was a series that captured these simple, impactful moments of love, family, and humanity between the superhero beats. I’m sure I’ll enjoy wherever Gleason takes Damian next, and I look forward to seeing him pop up across the rest of the DC universe again as well (I’m still a bit pissed he didn’t show up in Batman Eternal or “Endgame” with the rest of the Batfamily), but still, I think I’ll be missing the heart at the core of Batman and Robin for a while yet to come.
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