Batman and Robin #1

Batman and Robin #1

A-

When it was announced that the relaunched Batman and Robin would be teaming Bruce and Damien Wayne, I thought it was a terrible idea. It’s not that I don’t like the characters; it’s not even that I was miffed about Dick Grayson’s apparent demotion. It’s that Bruce specifically said that he couldn’t work with Damien, in a comic written by the guy who gave us Damien Wayne as Robin in the first place. Add in the fact that Peter Tomasi was originally slated to write this book with Dick Grayson in the title role, and it seemed like Batman and Robin was doomed to be a hastily-rewritten mess of a book, hinging on a forced pairing of characters who did not belong together.

I did not have high hopes.

So color me surprised when Peter Tomasi found a believable justification for putting Bruce and Damien together, and worked in some ballsy character development moves that ease the transition between Batmen.

Batman and Robin #1 is really two different stories, which are (as yet) unconnected. Our opening scene is a familiar one, with a gun-toting hoodlum being chased by a shadowy bat-man. Patrick Gleason does a good job of subverting our expectations right there on page one when the shadow turns out not to be Batman, but a hulking Russian member of Batman Incorporated. The Caped Cossack Crusader doesn’t get a name, but given his general appearance, it seems only appropriate to call him the K.G.Bat, who stars in the villain-introduction half of the book.

I generally like Patrick Gleason’s art, and I’m a sucker for Batman Incorporated, but it melds together into a book that does not hold the reader’s hand. Page two has the K.G.Bat fighting (and losing to) an invisible foe called Nobody, and the sequence is pretty hard to follow and parse the first time through (in fact, there are still parts that I’m not sure about). The book’s second action sequence is similarly hard to follow, despite being a little more straightforward as a beat-‘em-up followed by a chase sequence. Outside of that, though, Gleason’s art is excellent, walking a thin line between cartoon and realism. Some props must also go to inker Mick Gray and colorist John Kalisz, because the use of shadows and lighting is simply perfect for a Batman title.

Tomasi’s conceit for bringing this Batman and Robin together — that Bruce wants to bring his son along on his annual memorial trip to Crime Alley — is a stroke of some brilliance, maintaining their abrasive relationship while also justifying this outing. The character moments with Bruce and Damien — even Alfred’s brief appearances — demonstrate a clear understanding of the characters and a desire to develop their relationships and personalities in new ways. Tomasi is pretty clearly setting up the father-son relationship as a theme, similar to what Scott Snyder did in his Detective arc, and I’ll be curious to see how it plays out and how it ties in with the mysterious villain. I’ll also admit some glee in seeing Bruce call out Damien for his petulant arrogance. The one major complaint I had was the enormous suspension of disbelief that Gotham University would build a swimming pool on the floor above a nuclear reactor.

All that said, I can’t imagine what this issue would be like to a new reader, or someone who hasn’t been around for the last year or three of major Batman developments. There’s no recap or explanation for why Bruce Wayne has a son, or how he got to be Robin, or why there’s a Batman in Russia. I can understand why Dan Didio dislikes recap pages, but in major first issues that are this new-reader-unfriendly, such pages would be a real boon.

Overall, this was a good issue that did an admirable job in exceeding my expectations, though it’s pretty opaque for a first issue. I’d like to see a little more fluidity to the art in the action scenes, a little less disbelief-stretching deus ex machina, and I hope the father/son theme isn’t just a throwaway or an element that remains unconnected to the larger plotline. I’m interested enough to see where this is going, and if you’ve enjoyed Batman for the last few years, you could do a lot worse (or so I hear from people who read Detective Comics #1). But if you’re new to the Dark Knight, there are bound to be better entry points.

Oh, and no one tell Patrick Gleason that Batman’s line-covered new costume is supposed to be some kind of armor. It looks much better this way.

Pull list verdict: KEEP IT.

tags: batman and robin, patrick gleason, peter tomasi, the new 52

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