Today, Michael and Shane are discussing Batman and Robin Annual 3, originally released April 1, 2015.
Michael: Convergence has already begun, whose end will signify the sort-of-new direction for DC’s entire line. While Batman and Robin 40 was Patrick Gleason’s final issue on the series, Batman and Robin Annual 3 marks the quiet death of the Batman and Robin series that Gleason and Pete Tomasi re-launched back in 2011. So prepare yourselves for Batman and Robin IN SPAAAAAAACE!
Following Damian’s depowering in Batman and Robin 40, Batman and Robin Annual 3 finds the young Robin bored and looking for something to do. What does he decide to do? Take his dog and go to space, of course. After surprising Batman in the Justice League satellite, Batman and Robin (space) suit up to investigate some strange activity emanating from the original 1969 lunar module. The dynamic duo travels across the moon to discover that the NASA lunar modules have been commandeered by aliens with what I would call “reverse Ponda Baba faces.”
Batman somehow manages to read the aliens’ detailed plans and realizes that they have pieced together all of the modules to build a spaceship that will take them to Earth and trasnmutate the entire population. After a bat-smack-down between the dynamic duo and the aliens, Batman throws Damian off of the ship as the launch program initiates and starts to leave for Earth. Batman wants to save Robin and take on the problem himself, but in typical fashion, Damian doesn’t listen. Batman reroutes the aliens’ craft to crash into a volcano on Earth and ejects into the atmosphere, with Damian (and Titus) arriving just in time to catch him.
Batman and Robin Annual 3 is pretty standard as far as plots go, but it’s the kind of fun caper that Tomasi frequently employed that made the series such a joy to read. For the moment, this is Tomasi’s last issue with the dynamic duo. Many writers would take the opportunity to make grand sweeping statements about the characters, but Tomasi instead wants to go out reiterating the touching father/son dynamic of the title characters. Bruce and Damian will always be equals in their stubbornness: Bruce will always try to protect Damian by holding him back and the headstrong Damian will always disobey him and find his own way. They’ve come a long way as partners and father/son since the series launched, and since Damian was introduced in 2006, for that matter. They still butt heads on the best way to do things, but it comes from a place of mutual respect instead of distrust.
The adventure on the Moon was a super silly idea that reminded me of Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin. Batman and Robin are street crimefighters, but why NOT have them go to space? It makes no sense and all the sense in the world. Seeing Batman in places other than dark corners is always an enjoyable experience; it’s fun to see how well the power of the Batman myth holds up in different environments. It’s a cool thought to have Batman, creature of the shadows be somewhere like the Moon where there is really no place to hide. Honestly I would’ve loved to see a three/four issue arc of Batman and Robin in space; that would be highly entertaining.
Truth be told, I’ve never really been a fan of Jose Juan Ryp’s artwork. The way he details characters makes them look stiff and lifeless, often times with their features looking like they will melt right off of their faces. At times, I think that Ryp is trying to blend the styles of former Damian Wayne artists Frank Quitely, Chris Burnham and Cameron Stewart — which are all great influences, but makes for inconsistent renderings of our heroes. Character complaints aside, he does a pretty good job laying out the vast landscape of the moon and making the lunar module spacecraft epic in size compared to our heroes. Like Apollo 13 or Gravity, Ryp uses the solitude and relative emptiness of space to make the stakes larger than our characters. The double-page spread reveals give both Batman and Robin pause when they see what they’re up against.
I guess since this is a “by-the-numbers” plot I shouldn’t be surprised by some of the clichés and tropes present. I’m tired of self-sacrifice you guys; can’t we just work as a team and not try to ride the doomed rocket to its demise? Another thing: why is it in space movies that the heroes take off their space suits/helmets when they’re in the craft?? Batman doesn’t know what those aliens have done to that ship, and after all, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” B y the way, how far above Earth were they when Batman ejected? Another thing that can be forgivable in movies but maybe not so much in comics is the presence of sound in space. After the first KRRRRROOOOOOMM that the moon rover made, I couldn’t help but notice all of the sounds inserted that felt very out of place.
Who am I kidding; I’m not Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Batman and Robin Annual 3 was pretty fun overall. I really dug the little father/son lessons that Damian and Bruce were repeating to each other. And of course Bruce saw pearls in the stars. Always with the pearls! Shane, did you have any space complaints like I did? Did you want to see Titus in a doggy space suit?
Shane: I don’t know, Michael — I love Titus, but if I want to see a doggy space suit, I can hop on over to Marvel’s cosmic books and read about Cosmo, the telepathic Russian canine astronaut! Because after all, Marvel is the world outside your window.
To get to your notes about the art, though: Juan Jose Ryp is an artist who I’ve really come to appreciate a lot lately, not just because of his skill as an artist, but also for his potential. I really disagree that the characters look lifeless: I think that Ryp offers a lot of personality to their expressions and emphasizes individual looks, as opposed to just giving everyone the same face. And his level of detail is exceptional — a lot of modern comics art has swung back around to simplicity lately, which I applaud, but I love Ryp’s commitment to even the most minor aspects of a scene. I think that, at times, he can focus too much on that and not quite enough on how he’s laying out a page: there are a number of instances in this issue where a scene might look impressive, but feel a little…disorganized.
The first panel here looks great! Batman is energetic, there’s a sense of movement (and not just because Ryp uses a “swish” effect for the swing of Batman’s arm)…but then I don’t know what to make of the next panel. It looks impressive, but where is Batman coming from? Is he being propelled by something, or in a freefall? How did he go from that first panel to the second, anyway? This could also be the fault of the writer for not setting the scene properly, or maybe just a mishap of collaboration, but it’s not an isolated incident. Ryp has a lot of skill, but a lot to learn as well.
I’m kind of surprised that you’re so surprised by having the characters in a space-setting. Didn’t we, um, sort of just have that a couple arcs ago? You know, this whole big event where Batman and his allies went to Apokolips? Maybe I imagined it. But it actually makes sense to me that this annual would take place outside of the traditional Gotham setting: ever since its inception back in the Morrison days, the Batman and Robin series has been about breaking the mold. Initially, that was with a bold new dynamic between the new Caped Crusaders, but it built as Morrison’s run did, and Tomasi and Gleason just kept breaking boundaries and going even further. If you look at it like that, this is probably way more of a traditional Batman story than the title has told in the past two years: between an extended mourning period, a New Gods crossover, and the incredible adventures of SuperDamian, the creative team has taken us all over the place. Here, we have a mystery, we have action, and we have Batman and Robin in the shadows. Sure, they’re the shadows of space, but shadows nonetheless!
To be entirely honest, although I was just as disappointed as you that Tomasi’s final statement on Batman and Robin was such standard fare, I can see why he’d go that route. Issue 40 with Patrick Gleason gave us a real emotional ending to the series, but Gleason is going to get to continue with Damian Wayne — so for Tomasi’s last statement on the characters, why not return to (relative) basics and simply give us a solid story? As their writer, he has taken the characters on an incredible journey, but now, he’s putting the toys away, back in their original place. He’s scaled back and brought everything full-circle, giving him a chance to, after such an eventful time, show us how the characters relate now.
Amidst the incredible setting and explosive action, Tomasi wrote a tale about the unique interaction between a father and son. Bruce and Damian have never had a conventional relationship, but they’ve come a long way, and this issue shows without having to tell us that. In that sense, it’s kind of a genius story to end this run on. Was it an innovative or even emotionally notable issue? Not at all — but it was a fine Batman and Robin story, and that will always have value.
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?