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Batman and Robin #21 – Review

BATMAN AND ROBIN #21

By: Peter J. Tomasi (story), Cliff Richards (pencils), Mark Irwin & Marlo Alquiza (inks), John Kalisz (colors)

The Story: Batgirl deals with daddy issues and father figure issues.

The Review: Of all the Bat-family team-ups, I was most looking forward to when Batgirl got her turn by the Dark Knight’s side.  From the start, she operated separately from Batman, following a different agenda and using different resources.  Unlike the Robins, she was never his ward nor did she need him as a father figure, having an outstanding one of her own to look up to.  She thus exists as part of his extended family, in many respects even more an outsider than Jason Todd.

Even so, she is inextricably attached to him by their shared brand, even if hers has been blacked out for a while.  To date, though, few people have properly explored the exact nature of the bond she and Batman share.  I had high hopes for Tomasi’s crack at the relationship, considering his special gift for getting inside characters and dragging out the humanity laying within these superheroes.  Sadly, even Tomasi doesn’t seem to grasp the importance the pair of vigilantes have to each other.

Like Red Robin and Red Hood before her, Batgirl ultimately fails to break through to the caped crusader, but that’s really no shocker; no one expects Bruce, of all people, to get over a traumatic death that quickly.  But more than failing to have an effect on Bruce, Babs nearly fails to register her presence at all.  She simply rehashes the same talking points as the others—the anger, the darkness, the question of whether all this can really ease his pain—and even with video proof of his behavior, she offers little new insight to the problem.

She does point out one interesting fact, though: that Batman’s vigilante rampage has unintended, not entirely positive side-effects for the city.  “You’re pushing the city to the edge,” Batgirl tells him, explaining, “packing the jails—straining the courts—”  But this is something that’s more appropriately shown than talked about.  She can claim all she wants that Gotham is concerned about their hero’s recent intensity, but it doesn’t seem like anyone particularly minds or even notices, even though his vengeance apparently extends only to common crooks.*

Whatever value this information holds, it’s overshadowed by Batgirl’s almost disturbing offer of herself to be Batman’s new Robin.  I can only hope that she means it rhetorically, and he does read it as a euphemism that he needs saving, which he of course rejects.  But even if that’s true, there’s a subconscious bit of self-promotion in that scene which I find uncharacteristic of Babs, not to mention the fact that it would be something of a demotion to operate as sidekick for the first time in her life.  Besides, it does seem highly inappropriate for her to make the offer when she’s currently not at a point where she feels worthy of wearing the Bat.

As if to reflect Batgirl’s disconnect with Batman, this issue itself feels like an outlier within the current story arc.  What’s going on with Carrie Kelly and her new part-time job at Wayne Manor?  And more importantly, is Tomasi really intending to let the ominous appearance of Two-Face at the end of last month’s issue go without even a moment of exploration here?  These seem like bizarrely neglectful narrative choices to me.

On top of the issue’s other problems, Richards is simply no Patrick Gleason.  There’s nothing necessarily unattractive or ugly about his work, but it lacks any kind of distinction.  From a distance, he appears to follow in the same flatter style of art as Marcus To or Emanuela Lupacchino, but unlike either of those artists, his work has no personality.  Character expressions seem mechanical, unconvincing.  When Bruce screams at Babs to get out of the cave, it should be a frightening, intense moment.  Instead, the moment is almost comical from the distraction of his overly wide mouth, which appears as if it can comfortably fit an entire fist.

Conclusion: Rather than repair the at best distant (at worst bitter) relationship between Batman and Batgirl, the issue calls attention to the weaknesses and vagaries of their bond, besides suffering from noticeable scripting and artistic defects as well.

Grade: C+

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I must say, too, that Gotham’s criminals must be morons for continuing their activities during this tense period instead of, you know, lying low for a while.  I don’t think Gotham can be saved.

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