Sorry for the radio silence last week, I was very ill with this flu that’s going around. Going around where, you ask? Everywhere! Apparently, anyway. I am mostly better, except for the coughing, which remains after the illness is gone, yay. With that said, it’s time for the next post in out Batman epic! Batman and Robin!I
Specifically let’s talk about the first two volumes, Batman Reborn and Batman Vs. Robin. In the first volume Dick Grayson struggles with replacing Bruce as Batman, and struggles to keep Damian in check. Professor Pyg comes to Gotham, looking to spread addiction through the city by viral means. Then Jason Todd returns, as the Red Hood, to try to take Bruce’s place as a killer vigilante. He hires one of Pyg’s victims, a girl with a Dollotron mask stuck to her face but without the horrible surgery that usually entails. Dick and Damian get in a fight with them, only to be interrupted by The Flamingo, a European hitman who was lobotomized, forced to kill his family, and who now likes to eat the faces of his victims while they’re still bleeding and, often, alive.
Notice a pattern here? Pyg wears a pig mask and remakes women into a Dollotron army, featuring horrible doll masks. Meanwhile, Dick and Damian both struggle with their new “faces.” Dick feels like he’s just pretending to be Batman, and only owns the role when Alfred helps him to recognize it as just that — a role that could possibly be played by dozens of people, like Macbeth or even James Bond. Damian doesn’t want to take orders from Dick, and tears his ‘R’ patch off before trying to take on Pyg by himself. His transformation into Robin begins not with a realization of a role, but of the reality of his job — the girl I mentioned earlier, Scarlet, is in the camp when Damian goes to confront Pyg. He nearly, but not quite, rescues her, and his regret over this loss, not of a fight but of a person, ignites his desire to actually become Robin, and not just follow his father.
Meanwhile meanwhile, Jason Todd shows up, accusing Dick of stealing Batman’s role, and he’s got a new mask as the Red Hood, while he hires Scarlet as a tweeting sidekick, trying to rebrand vigilante justice with catchphrases and marketing textbooks. It’s all about faces, is this volume. That reaches into the next volume as well, wherein we see one of the Darkseid experiment clones of Bruce brought back to life in a Lazarus pit, with Bruce’s face and none of his discipline. Meanwhile, first Damian and then Dick become suspicious of the Gravedigger, a detective from Britain tracking the deaths of the old Black Glove members. It turns out, at the very end of volume two, that he’s the Joker.
During all this the realization that it wasn’t Bruce’s body they found during Final Crisis gets Dick and Damian to searching Wayne Manor for clues, in some of the stuff that stands out in volume two as evidence for what Grant Morrison once said of this comic: DC should have kept this series going for a hundred years. Robin (Damian, remember), still doesn’t have a taste for all the superheroing, so Dick has to spend time cajoling him into enjoying the hunt for hidden clues. At one point he says, “Oh, c’mon, we just found a secret passage. Isn’t that a little cool?” Both volumes are deeply concerned with identity. The climax of volume two features Talia taking over Damian’s body using the synthetic spine she inserted into it, trying to kill Dick with Damian’s body. She hired Slade, Deathstroke, who has an old grudge against Dick, to be the “puppet-master” pulling Damian’s strings, so to speak. It doesn’t go well, as Dick figures it out and shocks Damian — hurtful to him, it nearly fries Slade, since he has enhanced senses.
We already saw Bruce experiment with what Batman actually is, in RIP. Volume one of this series, particularly, is full of people wondering if something’s odd about Batman. “I thought he was taller.” “Did they sound different to you?” But in the end Dick becomes Batman because, as Alfred reminds him, people are ready to believe he’s Batman, because they need a Batman. Dick is simply cursed to be one of the people behind the curtain, one of the people who sees how the illusion works. But that doesn’t make the illusion any less important.
Also, the seeds are being sown for Batman Incorporated — Knight, Squire, and even Batwoman appear in the second volume, since the final Lazarus pit is in England. We get a great glimpse of some of the supercrime gangs in England. One boss claims descent from Arthur himself, while the other draws maps of mines with dominoes.
Oh, and Dr. Hurt reappears, heading back to Gotham, thinking Bruce is gone, and wanting to destroy it in his absence. He has been in the background of the comic since its opening, as “El Penitente,” a mysterious crime lord elsewhere (South America) who runs some of the people killed by Todd.
So this is a transition period for the narrative, but it builds in a lot of the foundation stones for the whole thing as it appears in its latter half. Bruce will return from out of time and displace Dick and Damian; he will see that Dick was Batman — so what does that make Bruce? Bruce comes to terms with that, clearly, as he decides to franchise Batman out all over the world, but it’s in these moments that the idea makes sense, that there might as well be more Batmen, because it doesn’t matter who started it, only how it is handled.
And Professor Pyg is amazing — and one of his issues has the best title of anything ever: “Mommy Made of Nails.” That’s all.