Thursday, June 4, 2009

Batman and Robin 1

A talking toad-man henchman who speaks in circus slang. A villain who debuted dead two years ago. A man on fire. And two sons surpassing their father. Dick Grayson takes the world's ultimate promotion, becoming Batman (not for the first time: Shhhh) and walking into his first week on the job with some sadness but no lack of confidence.

In what effectively resumes Grant Morrison's run on the Batman title, Batman and Robin launches with some of the same themes intact Interviewed, Morrison promises a simpler set-up than in his long wind-up to Bruce Wayne's departure. So far, the layering and texture seems to be all about mood and not about plot, but only time will tell if there was perhaps something like the "Zur En Arrh" graffiti in this issue, waiting for us to recognize its significance later. Nevertheless, this story connects with Morrison's earlier run in at least a few interesting ways. One, the Professor Pyg found dead in Batman #666 is the villain of this first arc, creating hideous doll-human servants by disfiguring and enslaving his victims, with a bit less technology than seen in that future story. And a last-page preview panel (Geoff Johns has made excellent use of these in JSA and elsewhere) shows Doctor Hurt, indicating that he will return on some level.

This first arc, as Morrison has already told us in interviews, is about the Circus of the Strange, and if you read his comments, you already know that the man on fire is a circus freak named Phosphorus Rex. The twisted circus calls to mind The Killing Joke as well as Dick Grayson's past, and if you spend some time looking up Toad's vocabulary, you'll find circus lingo is his dialect, which Dick tells us anyway. Clearly, his first mission as Batman is going to be a homecoming of sorts. The Ghost Train image has come up before in Morrison's work, and obviously Morrison and Frank Quitely (whose work in this issue is phenomenal in creating a mood) are putting us on a ghost train for this story. Of course, if there's a ghost story being told, Bruce Wayne is the unspoken subject (a spectral Batman appears in a preview panel as well). Damian and Dick both speak of carrying on his work for the first and surely not last time. It's refreshing that the theme of living up to Bruce's impossible standards has not burdened this issue. We know that exceeding the one, true Batman is impossible. And yet, look -- this Batmobile flies!


  1. Don't seem to be able to post a long comment. I enjoyed your comments on the DC boards and now your blog. It was clear you were right. I'll confess that at the end I was rooting for it not to be the devil. Only because to me that seemed much too clearly the case since #666. In any case.. I loved this issue. I wonder what you think of the following: The next issue is the Circus Of Strange, Dick is moving to a penthouse, RIP felt to me as having an air of some Hugo Strange involvement, a homage to Englehart and Rogers?

  2. I don't recall if Morrison mentioned Englehart in any comments, but Morrison's run has at least one very specific reference to it -- Doctor Hurt's toast at the end of #678 is very similar to Hugo Strange's toast upon capturing Batman -- the similarities are undeniable. Englehart's overall aim of integrating old villains and scenes (not only Hugo Strange, but also Deadshot who had not been seen in decades, and reprising the Giant Typewriter scene) was similar to Morrison's.

    That's a very nice call to link the Penthouse to that. I like how the message was conveyed visually but not in dialogue. It makes sense too: Dick belongs there more than in a mansion.

  3. Nice point about Dick in the Penthouse. He's not from money so a manor is out of place, and between New York, Bludhaven and Titans Tower, he's definitely a city boy. Plus, let's face it, this is a great way of carving a niche for himself, rather than using the empty mansion as a tired metaphor for how no one can replace Bruce.

    And Englehart's run (in Strange Apparitions) is great. I've ranted about this on the DC boards, but it really has stood the test of time.

    Keep blogging, Rikdad, you lifted RIP from good to exceptional for many of us.

  4. One of my favorite things about the new series is that Robin is a kid again. And yeah, I kind of like Damian. Not as a person, but as an interesting character.

  5. I'm not sure why it took me this long to think of it, but note that Englehart's run opened with a villain named Doctor Phosphorus, and now this series opens with a villain named Phosphorus Rex. Coincidence? Probably not.