A Batman & Robin: Death of the Family Review – Heart and Horror

Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the FamilyTITLE: Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the Family
AUTHORS: Peter Tomasi, Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Greg Capullo
COLLECTS: Batman & Robin #1517, Batman & Robin Annual #1, Batman #17
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: November 17, 2013

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 is our last stop before this series reaches a major turning point. One might even call it the end of an era. This book contains the last issues Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason get to work with the Damian Wayne before…*ehem*

The reason that’s so significant is because since the New 52 began, Batman & Robin has been primarily a book about Damian, his relationship with his father, his life as a hero, and his inner conflicts with his murderous instincts. That direction has made for some of the best Batman content in recent memory. But after this book, drastic change takes hold.

But this era ends with a hell of a bang. As the book’s title obviously indicates, Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the Family ties in with the big crossover involving the Joker, and his attempts to take out Batman’s extended family. As such, Robin and the Harlequin of Hell come face-to-flappy-face. And as Batman fans know, bad things happen to Robins when the Joker is in town.

Batman #17, 2014, Greg Capullo, table sceneNaturally, much of the praise and criticism I directed at Death of the Family as a whole will apply here. That criticism isn’t necessarily directed at Tomasi or Gleason, as they were working with source material from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s work on Batman. But it’s worth noting, especially because Batman #17 is collected here. I’ll sum up what applies to Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 in two quick bullets…

– While the Joker’s voice remains consistent across all the tie-ins I’ve read, and definitely fits with his character, the whole “repairman who cuts his face off” thing goes a little too far in the horror direction for my taste. And the Joker’s explanation for surgically removing his face, which we get in Batman #17, doesn’t do much for me.

– DC gave us too much of a good thing by having Joker appear in too many Death of the Family tie-ins. In addition to appearing in Batman and Batman & Robin, the character either appeared in, or influenced events that occurred in Detective Comics, Batgirl, Nightwing, Catwoman, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Teen Titans, and Suicide Squad. It’s unclear to me how much time elapses during the entire Death of the Family story arc, but it all seems to occur fairly quickly. Even in a world of super powers and colorful heroes, it seems a bit unlikely the Joker could accomplish so much in such a short span of time.

– Having noted those criticisms, Batman #17 is, for the most part, a very satisfying issue. I loved the scene between Bruce Wayne and the Joker at Arkham. Also, Greg Capullo’s art is damn close to perfect.

Robin, Joker, Patrick GleasonIn Batman & Robin, Joker lures Damian to the Gotham City Zoo by leaving traces of hyena urine at Wayne Manor. My question here is, how did the Joker know it would be Robin who found that particular clue? We find out in Batman #17 that he doesn’t actually know who Bruce, Damian, or any of Batman’s crew really are. So did he know Damian would be at Wayne Manor? Couldn’t it just as easily have been someone else who picked up that trail? Is this a plot hole, or am I missing something? Either way, my suspension of disbelief was shaken.

The stuff between the Joker and Damian is, for the most part, very satisfying. But again, it’s pretty high on the horror/gross-out element. Our young hero gets a nasty dose of one of the Joker’s toxins and dropped inside a sanctuary filled with countless dead birds, including of course, robins. A short time later the Clown Prince tops it off by dropping a massive assortment of ”only the best beetles, grubs, earthworms, fruits, berries, caterpillars and grasshoppers” on the Boy Wonder. In a word…ew. Still, unlike the whole sawing your own face off thing, I get the perverse joke here. Dead Robin, dead birds, bird food, etc. I get the horror angle here.

In retrospect, this exchange made it pretty obvious that the Joker didn’t know the Bat-Family’s true identities. He doesn’t talk about the fact that he’s standing there with Batman’s friggin’ son. It’s all about Robin’s connection to Batman, as opposed to Damian’s connection to Bruce. But from that standpoint, Joker still manages to hit Damian with some intense “insights” of his own unique variety. At the risk of overusing my bulletpoints, my two favorites were…

– “Oh, I bet one night among the gargoyles he said, ‘One day, you, too, can be the best Batman ever.” Well guess what — no, you can’t — there’s only one Batman and he doesn’t need you — any of you…” (This would have been an interesting one to hear back when Battle for the Cowl was being published.)

Batman & Robin #17, Death of the Family, Patrick Gleason– “…Robin’s greatest fear is being responsible for Batman’s death, and Batman’s greatest fear is being responsible for Robin’s death!” (Particularly poignant, coming from the man who killed Jason Todd.)

The face-off progresses in a fight to the death between Robin and a “Jokerized” Batman imposter, who Damian believes to be the genuine article. This wonderfully ties not only into the death of Batman/death of Robin angle, but a theme Tomasi and Gleason have maintained since the beginning of the series: Damian’s inner conflict. As wants more than anything to make his father proud, but he also wants to go his own way, and sometimes struggles with the desire to give into his more deadly instincts. It all culminates in a really passionate, emotional character moment for Damian. As such, he came out of Death of the Family looking better than most, if not all of his Bat-Family peers.

Of course, Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 isn’t all bugs and clowns. We also get more of Tomasi and Gleason’s take on the Bruce/Damian relationship in issue #17, which takes us into the dreams of Bruce, Damian, and Alfred as well. It’s a fairly effective issue. Oddly enough, the dream sequence I found the most touching was Alfred’s, which ended on a rather comedic note. It gives us an absolutely perfect (albeit violent) snapshot of Alfred’s nurturing, protective nature. He’s a surrogate father not only to Bruce and Damian, but to the entire extended Bat-family, and I loved what Tomasi and Gleason did to illustrate that. The issue also ends on a touching father/son moment between Batman and Robin.

Batman & Robin Annual #1, DamianThis book also collects Batman & Robin Annual #1, in which Ardian Syaf takes the pencil. Damian sends his father on something of a Wayne family scavenger hunt across the globe, so that he can have the streets of Gotham to himself for a few nights. He dresses in a miniaturized version of the Batman #666 costume, a cutesy move that’s a bit uncharacteristic, but not unwelcome. I came away from this issue once again marveling at the unique father/son dynamic between Bruce and Damian.

In the end, it’s that added heart that’s made Batman & Robin stand out so much from the other Bat-books. Tomasi and Gleason capture the human element better than any other team at DC right now. And while Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham handled Damian’s fate quite well in the pages of Batman Incorporated (as Damian’s co-creator, Morrison had every right to that story), I can’t help but wonder how Tomasi and Gleason would have handled it. It’s rare for me to get choked up while reading a comic book. But I’ll betcha bucks to Batarangs they could have done it.

RATING: 8.5/10

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