[16 April 2013]
The ripples spinning out from the devastating loss of Damian Wayne in Batman Incorporated #8 may no longer be felt within the pages of Detective, Batgirl and other titles grouped beneath the shadow of the Bat Family umbrella of books. Yet, Batman is just now coming to terms with the untimely death of his son in Batman and Red Robin #19. This daunting psychological load becomes central to the story of just how far a bereft parent would go to fill the void left by their late child… When you’re Batman, you’ll attempt fill that void in the most outlandish and controversial manner possible.
Batman and Red Robin #19 opens up right on the one character longtime comic book readers have been clamoring to know more about since DC revealed her place in the New 52: The Dark Knight Returns’ Carrie Kelley. No longer the eager teen sidekick from 27 years ago, Carrie is now a plucky film major, troubled by the inexplicable disappearance of Damian, of whom has been working on a secret project with her unbeknownst to Bruce Wayne and us readers both. Meanwhile, Bruce’s inability to accept his late son’s passing is taking a dark toll on a man who once was an exemplar of rationality and stoicism in the DC Universe. Letting his emotions cloud sound reason, Batman kidnaps Frankenstein and absconds with the undead hero to his creator’s hidden laboratory in the Arctic Circle, hoping to reverse engineer the life force that brought the monster back from the dead and, hopefully, bring back Damian. Fearing for his master’s mental and emotional health, Alfred Pennyworth contacts Red Robin to find Batman and have him see reason.
As far as this issue’s story went, I was somewhat indecisive in regards to the stance I wanted to take on Batman’s descent into temporary madness. For the most part, it was interesting to see him contradict the very heroic convictions that he had berated Damian for flippantly disregarding throughout the run of the rebooted Batman and Robin series. Chief among them being not to allow unchecked emotions be the driving force behind one’s resolve. In essence, Batman became the impetuous child that put himself before the welfare of those closest to him, not once considering the implications his hasty actions would have down the road. Add to this the constant self-justification of his heinous plan and use of a fellow hero as an unwilling research subject, it was somewhat enjoyable to witness Batman devolve to the same level of depravity his rogues gallery displays, even though this certainly hasn’t been the first time Bats has contradicted his own system of belief.
Conversely, I also carried this dissenting opinion of Batman’s morally questionable character, feeling that writer Peter J. Tomasi may have gone a tad too far in presenting a shattered mirror image of a hero so many of us have come to idolize. Capturing Frankenstein for his own ends was one thing, but to actually proceed with his grisly dismantling—and rob a hospital of cadavers to be used as guinea pigs in his twisted endeavor beforehand—made Batman an actual villain as opposed to, as I initially assumed reading the issue, an echo of what he was destined to become if he didn’t pause for a bit of spiritual introspection. To put it all into better perspective, Red Robin’s grimace upon discovering Batman’s butchering of Frankenstein pretty much matched my own expression taking in the art of that particular splash page. Yes, we all know Batman can have his extended moments of moodiness. But there’s being a brooding sourpuss and there’s, well, callously chopping up people. Alive, undead, doesn’t matter. It’s unsettling any way one slices it (pun not intended).
In light of the series’ title saying otherwise, issue #19 can hardly be called a team-up of Batman and Red Robin as the latter’s appearance is negligible as it is hollow. It’s clear where Tomasi was going when he had one of Batman’s erstwhile wards snap some sense into his mentor, taking the moral high ground that, in any other situation, would have been occupied by the Caped Crusader. Truth be told, virtually any of Batman’s former sidekicks could have filled Red Robin’s role and the fleeting tensity the scene conveyed wouldn’t have been any different. But no other member of the Bat Family would have been quite as fitting as Jason Todd (a.k.a. Red Hood). Having already faced death and brought back to life, Jason would have been more relevant to the overall theme and situation at hand, as well as likely offering a far more substantial and entertaining exchange of colorful words between he and Batman. On that note, this oversight and use of Red Robin—a character that basically served no discernible purpose—felt like a missed opportunity that would’ve added more to the story.
Batman and Red Robin #19 wasn’t really the best way to kickoff the new status quo for the series, but I’d be at fault to say that the issue wasn’t without it’s redeeming qualities. Next to Frankenstein’s philosophic discourse on the dangers of playing God for one’s own ends, the introduction of Carrie was a standout, showing plenty of promise for the series down the road—my curiosity piqued over the role she’ll play in the Batman mythos. Will she take on the mantle of Robin or aid the Dark Knight in an auxiliary capacity that would allow another character (Harper Row if the divine powers that govern this world will it so) to become Damian’s successor? At this point in time, Carrie’s fate is ambiguous as Tomasi is doing plenty to skimp on the details and keep readers yearning for more. I’ve been an avid reader of Batman and Robin since issue #1 and, irrespective of this dip in quality, it hasn’t done anything to reconsider my monthly purchase of the title, though I hope hiccups such as this will be few and far between moving forward.