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Batman and Robin #22 – Review

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

The Story: Batman’s kryptonite?  Strong, smart women with a sharp wit.

The Review: I have a friend I carpool with up to Los Angeles every day and often, as we trudge along in the early morning traffic, he’ll see me writing one of these reviews and, out of what I assume to be sheer politeness, ask what it’s about.  When the question came to this one, I immediately said, “The character work.”  Hardly anyone else handles these superhero characters as deftly and with as much credibility as Tomasi does, often to the detriment of the actual plot.

Now, there are other great character writers in the superhero genre, but while they often find character by working from the outside-in, rendering agile dialogue which gives an outline to a personality, Tomasi works in the opposite direction.  He seems to grasp the entire being of a character as a whole, and draw out their personality from that understanding.  As a result, his characters seem completely natural and true to themselves even when doing the unexpected.

Who would ever have expected to hear the faint strains of sitcom humor in a modern Batman comic, for instance?  But that’s exactly what Tomasi brings to the Carrie/Bruce/Alfred scenes in the issue, and remarkably enough, he makes it work.  There’s a snappy rhythm to Carrie and Bruce’s exchange that sets up Alfred for his perfectly-timed entrance and blasé punchline.  When asked what she’s doing in his house, Carrie says, matter-of-factly, “Working.”

“Where?”  Bruce demands.

“Here.”

“In this house?”

“Yep.”

“Since when?”

“Since two weeks ago.”

I didn’t hire you.”

“That’s right,” she replies calmly, “Mister Pennyworth did.”

Alfred!

Instantly, without breaking his straight face, Alfred pops up behind him.  “Yes, Master Bruce.”

Beneath the humor, there’s a few important things going on, most crucial being the deepening familiarity between Bruce and Carrie.  It’s pretty significant he doesn’t bat an eye when she shows up unexpectedly at his home in the morning, and even more significant that he indulges her impudent bargaining.  He may not realize it, but she’s making inroads into his life, offering him the most normalized relationship he has now, and it’s only going to grow if he continues this pen-pal communication with her while masquerading as his son.

All this reveals Bruce as someone isolated by necessity, not choice, which may explain why he’s so drawn to such bright personalities, including of course, Catwoman.  As an unrepentant thief, she’d have been taken down by Batman a long time ago but for her winning playfulness and heart of gold, both of which Tomasi captures perfectly.*  The Bat and the Cat not only complement each other very well, they have surprising common ground as well: a preference for solitude and a soft spot for children.  Selina instinctively understands what Bruce needs most; why else would she request his assistance in saving a child from those who would use and abuse her for their own ends?  You don’t think of Batman as tender, but it seems so right here.  “<Let’s go see your mother and father,>” he tells a young Chinese girl, cradling her in his arms.

“<Are we going to jump?>” she asks tearfully.

“<Yes.>”

“<Should I close my eyes?>”

“<Have you ever dreamed you can fly, Jia-Li?>”

“<Yes.>”

“<Then keep them open,>” Batman tells her as he sends out his grappling hook.

Gleason and Tomasi were clearly made for each other.  There is something about Gleason’s rubbery style that doesn’t seem like you can take it seriously, and yet it’ll amaze you with its incredible depths of emotion.  The expressions he delivers are rich and varied and human, despite the slightly cartoony faces, and they unfailingly touch you at exactly the right moments: even with most his face covered, you can see the gentleness and warmth Batman has as he carries Jia-Li, who clutches onto him, all hope and anxiousness until he takes off, when her expression turns to wonder.  Gleason’s action sequences are stellar as well, making Tomasi’s straightforward battles look complex and thrilling (see the silhouettes of Batman and Catwoman stalking through an embassy of guards, backlit only by Kalisz’s flashes of color).

Conclusion: Again, there’s not much in terms of plot going on,* but the studies in character are more than engaging enough for the issue, especially with some outstanding art behind it.

Grade: A-

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Tomasi on Catwoman.  Let’s make it happen, folks.

* Except for another ominous appearance by Two-Face at the end, which I admit is pretty intriguing.

- I don’t know how Bruce has time to perpetuate the image of himself as a hardcore swinger if he’s out doing his own business all night.  Surely someone somewhere would notice that for all the hype, no one ever sees him stumbling out of a club, disheveled and drunk-faced.

- Evidently, Batman’s moved on from the Kevlar to some really potent stuff; bullets ricochet, Superman-like, off his arm and shoulder as he moves to protect Catwoman.

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