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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Review: Batman and Red Robin #19

The Death of Damian Wayne was a shock to the comics community, sending waves of angry fans upset that their favorite Robin had been killed.  Even more upset were the fans who received the news from DC's website before the issue of Batman Incorporated featuring Damian's death had even been released.  During all of last month, each of the Bat books released a special issue showing how their characters were dealing with the loss.  While Scott Snyder did a great job in Batman, the stand out issue from last month was by far Batman and Robin, taking the road of a silent issue which perfectly expressed the emotions Bruce was feeling.  Now Peter J. Tomasi gives us the next chapter in Bruce's struggle with the loss of his son.  As there is currently no Robin, other members of the Bat family will be guest starring with Batman on the series.  This month Batman and Robin is called: Batman and Red Robin.  Read on to see how this issue plays out!

With dialogue returning to the pages of the book, Batman and Red Robin features the grieving Bruce Wayne, who is finding himself at wits end over the loss of his son.  Bruce's grief causes him to disappear to the Arctic Circle in search of Frankenstein (of the recently cancelled Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.), which in turn means a worried Alfred sends Red Robin to check on the Caped Crusader.  Back in Gotham, we learn of a friend of Damian's who had been teaching him something involved with the arts...none other than Carrie Kelly.

As the fold out cover of this issue shows (this is part of the previously planned WTF month of DC's New 52 where the covers of each issue feature some strange twist), this month's issue marks a new point in Batman history as Carrie Kelly has been introduced to the main DCU continuity.  Those steeped in Batman lore will recognize the character as the adventurous young girl who joined an aging Batman as his new Robin in Frank Miller's classic graphic novel: The Dark Knight Returns.  The decision to bring Carrie Kelly into the main DCU was met with a bit of criticism.  Many Batman fans were upset that the addition of Kelly was a nail in the coffin of any hopes of Stephanie Brown being added to the New 52.  Fortunately for those fearful that this means Stephanie will never become Robin in the New 52, they can rest easy; Carrie Kelly is not the new Robin (yet, at least).  Since this is the New 52, Carrie is not exactly the same girl she was in Frank Miller's story.  While there is no indication whether Carrie comes from two zoned-out, hippie parents, she does seem to be a bit different in one major regard: her age.  It is clearly indicated in this issue that Carrie is a college student, making her just a bit older than her more famous incarnation.  The new Carrie Kelly is also very interested in theater and, particularly, filmmaking.  She makes references in the issue to putting a film together with a friend and funding it through Kickstarter.

Though there may be some changes, Carrie Kelly still seems ever so much the plucky girl who, in another timeline, would become Batman's partner.  Hopefully Tomasi will expand more upon what role Carrie will play in the Bat books as it is a bit unclear here.  She is certainly present for a somewhat large chunk (about 25% of the story), but it is still not quite clear what her connection to Damian was.  Carrie was clearly teaching Damian something, most likely pertaining to film, but it is not certain why this happened.  Unfortunately we must wait for Tomasi to give us the rest of the story in terms of Carrie's connection to Damian as it is the lynch-pin in making her a believable addition to the continuity.  The way the issue ends, however, does not paint a promising picture for Carrie immediately returning next month.

So, lets move on to what this issue is actually about, eh?  This issue makes a very unusual turn in the story of Bruce's grief in that he has become desperate as possible to have his son back.  In some ways this is very understandable, Damian was Bruce's only son and a trusted partner.  It is only natural for a father to wish his son were still around, but Bruce takes this to an entirely new level.  Apparently there are no more Lazarus Pits left as Bruce seeks out another method for Damian's resurrection: Frankenstein's monster (also called Frankenstein).  It is Bruce's hope that the secret to bringing life to dead material can come from Frankenstein, but Bruce would like to perfect the process as he would like to avoid having an undead son.  It would seem cancellation did not mean the end to Frankenstein's time with S.H.A.D.E.  Bruce takes the necessary precautions to make sure he will not be interrupted by the creature's teammates.  Tomasi makes it abundantly clear in this issue that Bruce is a desperate man.  Frankenstein may fight for good, but Bruce treats him like he would any criminal, forcing him to help him bring back his son.  Though Frankenstein does not approve of being taken captive, it does make for a very nice fight scene against Batman.

Though it may have been a spoiler, it would have perhaps been better if this month's issue had been titled Batman and Frankenstein as Frankenstein featured much more prominently than Red Robin.  After such a brilliant issue last month, it is very likely that this story may drive a lot of readers away.  Batman is no stranger to the supernatural, having tangled with any number of forces beyond the scope of human understanding.  That being said, it is quite possible that many readers will be turned off by the addition of a famous literary monster teaming up with Batman.  Fans of comics such as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen may not find this as much of a threat to their suspension of disbelief, but it is still rather jarring to have a character like Frankenstein take prominence in a Batman story.  This is not the first time Tomasi has done something like this on the book, however, as a recent story arc dealt with Batman and Robin fighting zombie-like creatures.  Fortunately, this issue is written much better.  No matter where you stand in terms of this issue, there is no denying that it is a very odd change thematically for the title.

While it may be odd to have Frankenstein in Batman and Red Robin, the story is worth telling on Tomasi's part as it makes for an interesting investigation into death in comics.  It is often joked about that it is hard to take death seriously in comics as no one truly ever stays dead, unless you're a non-Asgardian member of Marvel's Ultimate Universe.  This inside joke among comic fans has permeated into the comics themselves, with Bruce bringing up that Superman and even he have both died, so there is no reason Damian cannot come back.  The way Tomasi has Batman working to bring back is son is definitely unorthodox, but one must give the man credit for at least attempting to give an explanation for the possible sudden re-appearance of a character.  This issue also serves to show the desperation Bruce is feeling and the lengths he is willing to go to fill this void in his life.  What will be quite interesting to see over the next few months will be whether or not Tomasi continues with Bruce attempting to resurrect Damian in various ways before finally admitting defeat.

On the art front, Pat Gleason does a great job once again.  While it is a bit sad that we cannot have more issues like #18 where Gleason's ability really gets to shine through, he still does good work this month.  The aforementioned fight between Batman and Frankenstein is drawn extremely well.  Carrie Kelly's introduction also gives Gleason a chance to do something with his art that no other main DCU artist has ever had a chance to do.  Though the issue does not focus on the parallels between the two, Gleason also gets the lucky task of creating a cover with a Dark Knight Returns vibe to it, which is always fun to see.

Overall Batman and Red Robin is not as amazing as the previous issue, but it is still a fun read.  The story is quite odd, but it raises enough interesting points about the development of Bruce's character that it does not feel like a waste of time by any means.  As it has been established that Tim Drake was never actually Robin in the New 52 (he became Red Robin on his own), perhaps this explains why Red Robin is only featured in the last third of the issue.  It makes for a somewhat misleading title, but this can be forgiven as the main story was at least interesting.  Hopefully the coming issues will feature the new partner more heavily, particularly since the next issue is Batman and Red Hood.

Rating: B+

Summary: Batman and Red Robin #19 is not as great as the previous issue and features a story which could turn off many readers, but it begins a potential story thread that may prove to be quite interesting, making it worth the purchase.

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