BATMAN AND RED ROBIN #19

By: Peter J. Tomasi (story), Patrick Gleason (pencils), Mick Gray (inks), John Kalisz (colors)

The Story: He’s not alive!  He’s not alive!!!

The Review: Just as my generation saw Wally West as the Flash and Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern, the Robin that I knew best was Tim Drake.  I became familiar with him on Young Justice, got to know him better on Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans, and really got attached to his life and character on Red Robin.  Though I’m fond of both Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, Tim is really the first person that comes to mind when I think of Robin.

I always found his sudden marginalization once Damian entered the scene a bit unfair (which probably contributed to my initial dislike of Bruce’s son), and though he retains importance as the current leader of the Titans, he really feels like an outsider in the Wayne family these days.  I had looked forward to seeing him featured with Batman again (albeit for just one issue), but I was to be disappointed; here he appears briefly, toward the end of the issue, nevertheless doing enough in that short time to incur Batman’s wrath on top of his resentment and coldness.

Instead, the spotlight of the issue lands on another, even more marginalized Robin in the Batman canon, Carrie Kelly,* the Robin of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.  Tomasi completely reimagines her as a drama nerd, one who’d been secretly teaching Damian the art and craft of acting (at which he was apparently “a real natural,” even going so far as to learn the Method—which suits his deranged personality to a tee).  While her Robin get-up is pure costumery in this issue, she still has the unsinkable boldness that’s a trademark of all of Batman’s sidekicks.

Ultimately, neither Tim nor Carrie take center-focus in this month’s story.  We’ve seen Bruce experience both the depression and anger stages in the grieving process, only now has the denial begun to kick in.  Alfred’s observation that Bruce continues to use the present tense in referring to Damian is one red flag, and the moment Frankenstein appears on the page,* we know that wherever Bruce is taking his mourning, it won’t be good.

Even though the signals of Bruce’s increasingly disturbed mentality are all there, you don’t want to believe this usually calculating, ultra-logical figure can become this unhinged.  However, the whole crux of Batman is that he always operates on the edge of madness, which his extended family has in recent years drawn him away from.  In their absence, he falls freely into his dark side, growing audacious enough to try something only the comic book gods may accomplish: bring Damian back to life.  In using “forbidden science” as his method to achieve the “unholy,” Batman becomes a mad scientist the equal of Frankenstein’s creator.

Under these circumstances, Tim stepping in to stop his ex-mentor is him once again taking up the primary role of Robin: to save Batman from himself.  Sadly, his pains are met with a haunting glare, though it’s hard to blame Bruce, given the context of his mindset.  Having been abandoned in Death of the Family by the people he cares most about (a somewhat over-the-top reaction from them, I thought), to the point where they still give him a hard time even as he grieves for the one person who remained loyal to him—to then have one of them come back just to take away the one hope he has, mad as it is, well, you’d be pretty upset too, I imagine.

Although his art isn’t as obviously beautiful as that of some other artists out there, Gleason easily proves the equal of anyone in pure storytelling prowess.  Sometimes, it’s small, simple things, like taking us from a pristine, mountainous landscape panel of Castle Frankenstein, stark, white, and moonlit (thanks, Kalisz), the Batplane casting its shadow over the snowy ground, to an inset panel of Batman spraying a restraining agent on Frank inside the castle.  In a quarter of a page, Gleason takes us from point A to point B where other artists would’ve taken a whole page or more.  Then there are more grandiose examples of Gleason’s mastery, like the two-page conversation between Alfred and Tim, patched together with surgical stitches and interspersed with panels showing Batman’s disturbing science experiments.

Conclusion: Plays directly to Tomasi’s strengths as a pure character writer who enjoys layers of symbolism and meaning, which in turn plays to Gleason’s strengths as an inventive and thoughtful artist.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Speaking of which, an anonymous commenter and Wendell Marshall both suggested that the initials “C.K.”, which appeared on the list of suggested films Bruce found among Damian’s things in #18, stood for Clark Kent.  Guess we were all misled on that point.

* Frankenstein is a brilliant character choice for this issue for lots of reasons, but particularly as the one man on Earth who can match Batman in both grit and angst.  It’s genius, really.

– Love the use of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and Carrie reading the part of Innogen, who in the play adopts the guise of a boy (a hint for her future as Robin, perhaps?).  There’s a lot of meaning to the lines she reads, especially the grief over a parting of a loved one: “O the gods! / When shall we see again?… / There cannot be a pinch in death more sharp than this… / I am senseless of your wrath.  A touch more rare / subdues all pangs, all fears… / Past hope and in despair: that way past grace.”  That last line in particular means that when one has lost hope and reaches despair, one shows distrust in God and is beyond the reach of grace.

– I don’t know if this is the intention of Gleason or letterer Carlos M. Mangual, but Bruce writes in all capitals, which handwriting analysts interpret as someone who tries to hide himself behind the characterless quality of such letters.

Grade

Conclusion