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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Review: Batman and Robin #18

Damian Wayne is dead.  His death took place last month in the pages of Batman Incorporated.  Now we get to see the beginning of the fall out of the son of Bruce Wayne throughout the Bat-family.  To paraphrase Dickens, it is important to know that Damian is dead or else nothing amazing can happen in this issue.

Making perhaps his boldest move in his tenure on this book, Peter Tomasi makes the decision to have Batman and Robin #18 be a "silent" issue.  Without a single word being uttered we are able to see the ways in which Alfred, Bruce, and, even, Wayne Manor are dealing with the loss of yet another Robin.

This will be a very hard review to do for many reasons.  For one, as this book contains almost no words, it is hard to review the writing.  Therefore, my entire review of this book for this month will consist of discussing the bold choices made in Pat Gleason's art (at the direction of Tomasi, obviously).  Another reason this will be a hard review to write is that this is an incredibly moving comic.

Everyone has their favorite Robin.  Most would probably answer with Dick Grayson.  It is a logical answer.  Not only was Dick the first Robin, but he moved on to become an awesome hero in his own right by taking over the mantles of Nightwing and, briefly, Batman.  My favorite Robin, however, is Damian.  The lingering question of whether Damian would be able to stick to the role of Robin without reverting to his lethal training from his mother (Talia Al Ghul) made for more exciting story-telling.  It also helped that Damian was Bruce's son; the dynamic between the two of them was made inherently more fascinating knowing that it was father and son working together as opposed to a rich man and his young ward.  These tense father-son conflicts would also make for some of the stronger character moments in Batman and Robin.  With all this in mind, you can probably guess how devastated I was to read that Grant Morrison would be killing off the character.  I was initially angry at Mr. Morrison for doing this, but this issue completely settles any resentment I still had.

I cannot imagine what it must be like for a parent to lose their child.  No words can probably express the grief that comes with such a loss.  That is perhaps why going for a word-less issue was the best move for the narrative overall.  Those who have lost someone will know that, while grieving has its moments of noise, it is when we are left alone to ponder our loss that grief can be the most effective.  Long-time readers of Batman will know that, even if he does not have much to say, Bruce at least always has some kind of internal monologue going.  That is not the case with this issue; instead our only peeks into what Bruce is thinking are in the way he is drawn on the page.

Frankly Bruce is not taking the loss of his son very well.  The death of Jason Todd is a bruise compared to the gaping wound Damian has obviously left in his father's life.  I do not wish to spoil too much of the beautiful art that is in this issue, but I will highlight some of my favorite moments.

The first of many gut-wrenching scenes in this issue involves Alfred examining the recently painted portrait of Bruce and his Robins (minus Jason Todd).  Visually, this moment gives us an idea of Bruce's reaction to Damian's death as Damian's image is left unfinished in the portrait.  Not only does Alfred's reaction to this show a mix of grief and dismay, but the way Bruce almost yanks the portrait away from his closest friend is a moment of real heartache.

Throughout the rest of the issue, Bruce goes on his nightly patrol as Batman (something we get more details about in this month's issue of Batman), imagining Damian with him every step of the way.  There is an artistically stunning moment in this montage of Bruce looking at his reflection in the windows of a building.  On the outside, there would seem to be nothing wrong with such an image, but the physical reality of Damian's death which it evokes is powerful.  

As Batman goes on his patrol, it would seem he has lost his ability to control his rage.  While we only get one splash page of Batman fighting any criminals, the small snapshots of crime-fighting we get are enough to show where Bruce is mentally.  There is no mercy in Batman right now and any criminal who stands in his way is going to regret that decision.  This splash page is countered with a humorous, while also sobering scene involving Commissioner Gordon.  Without revealing too much, I will just say that it seems Bruce is using crime-fighting to avoid thinking about his son.

The real blow to the gut in this issue comes in one of the only moments of written words in the entire story.  A letter left by Damian before he went to his final fight packs an emotional wallop that almost left me in tears both times I read the issue.  This letter is able to allow Bruce to finally let his emotions flow.  While I highly doubt the healing process has begun, we at least see him begin to back off from his rage.

Despite Tomasi providing almost no words for this issue, he and Gleason had to work in perfect harmony to pull this issue off.  All of the pressure was on Gleason to sell the moments of Tomasi's script, and Gleason hits the ball out of the park.  Every turn of the page holds another emotional moment that is expertly choreographed.  The entire issue builds to a crescendo that leaves the reader drained of all emotion.  I do not know where Tomasi will take Bruce from here, but he has my trust that it will be worth the read.

Overall this issue is absolutely perfect.  Some may whine about paying $3 for a comic without a single word in it.  These people do not understand the emotions that come with grief (we like to call them heartless individuals).  As far as I am concerned, Batman and Robin #18 is a must-own for everyone.  It is easily one of, if not the best single issue to come out of the New 52 thus far.  If you did not pick this one up, drive back to your comic shop immediately.  You'll be glad you did.

Rest in Peace, Damian.

Rating: A+

Summary:  Batman and Robin #18 is perfect.
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