Hands down, Batman and Robin #14 is one of the best comics I’ve read this year. This book hasn’t been without its flaws (the Red Hood storyline comes to mind), but on the whole, Grant Morrison is writing one of the most consistently interesting comics on the DC shelf at present. I’m in a proselytizing mood, so if you’re not already reading Batman and Robin, here are five reasons you should be.
1. Damian Wayne: He’s arrogant, polarizing and often unlikable, but he’s never dull. Over the run of this comic, Morrison has shown us hints of Damian’s vulnerability through confrontations with his mother, Talia al-Ghul, and his growing attachment to the Robin role. In less capable hands, Damian would be simply a violent brat. Morrison has shaped him into a complex, unpredictable and even sympathetic would-be hero.
2. The artists: Batman and Robin has benefitted from the work of some top-notch artists, including Frank Quitely, Andy Clarke and Cameron Stewart. A great deal of issue #14’s impact is attributable to Frazer Irving’s dreamy, fluid illustrations, which are fitting for Morrison’s almost hallucinogenic storyline. The level of detail, including a two-panel sequence of Dick Grayson’s Batman demonstrating his acrobatic fighting style, is crazy. It isn’t just a generic combat scene, but a thoughtfully crafted one that demonstrates Irving’s understanding of a specific character.
3. Morrison: What I appreciate about Morrison, even when I don’t quite get it, is that he’s making an effort to do something beyond the usual. I like an old-fashioned, straightforward story as much as the next fangirl, but it seems to me that Morrison writes comic books for people who read things other than comics. He brings an indie spirit to mainstream characters — a certain fearlessness and a much-needed element of surprise. And since comics are a legitimate form of literature, what’s wrong with having to work for it every now and then? I’m not saying that Morrison’s writing always clicks for me, but I like the fact that he’s essentially telling the reader, “You’re smart enough to figure this out, so I’m not going to insult your intelligence.”
4. The Oh, Snap! Factor: As in, “Did Damian just smash the Joker’s face with a crowbar?” and “Is Professor Pyg dropping it like it’s hot?” and “What in Gotham’s name just climbed out of the Lazarus Pit?” If you’re not reading Batman and Robin, you’re missing some of the most jaw-dropping moments in comics right now.
5. The Freak Show: One criticism of this book has bugged me, namely, the opinion that Batman and Robin is too grim. This is certainly a dark book, but isn’t Gotham the ultimate scary city? In order to justify the existence of a hero like Batman, you need some serious villainy, and there is plenty of it here. As I pointed out in my Newsarama review of issue #14, Pyg is one of the most twisted characters I’ve ever seen in a comic, anywhere. Upon seeing the good professor in an … unusual situation, one character says, “This whole thing stinks of some low rent torture porno.” When you’re dealing with Black Hand, the Joker and Pyg in one place, well, yeah. But it also heightens the drama without seeming gratuitous (See: Batman, the G-ddamn).
A book with a strong point of view is sure to elicit strong opinions, and Batman and Robin is bound to grate some readers. But it sure won’t bore them.