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Roundtable Review: ‘Batman and Robin’ #13

ComicsAlliance writers Chris Sims, Caleb Goellner, David Brothers, David Uzumeri and Laura Hudson sit down for a roundtable discussion about the newly released “Batman and Robin” #13. WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW.

David U: “Batman and Robin” #13 is the first part of “Batman and Robin Must Die!”, Grant Morrison’s fourth arc on the top-selling “Batman and Robin” that ties into the entire grand time-traveling Bat-tapestry he’s been slowly building since 2006. It is, in Morrison’s words, “R.I.P. as farce,” containing R.I.P. villain Simon Hurt, the Joker and the themes of death and addiction all thrown upside down from the story it follows. The entire arc, judging by the opening sequence of this issue, will take place in the three-day period leading up to Gotham’s solar eclipse that will — judging by the events of “Return of Bruce Wayne” — herald the original Batman’s complete return. Morrison’s on script, and his “Klarion” collaborator Frazer Irving is digitally drawing the entire shebang. So sorry kids, you won’t be able to buy art from this bad boy.

Chris S: I’ve really been excited for this one, since “Batman RIP” is my favorite Batman story of the past ten years. Maybe twenty.

David B: First three pages of this book? Those were probably the best first three pages in a Batman book in years. I like that Morrison begins the story with an assault on the most basic building blocks of Batman. The death of his parents, and “Yes. Father.”

Chris S: You say it’s playing directly on “RIP,” but there are a ton of homages to other stuff thrown in as well. The cover is a riff on “Killing Joke,” the first page is a direct homage to “Batman” #404 (the first part of “Year One”), But everything’s inverted. It’s Robin beating the Joker, and Thomas Wayne surviving instead of Bruce.

David B: Sucks to be a mom in comic books, I guess.

David U: Oh, it’s mega-referential in general, but it is specifically, in structure, playing on RIP. Starting off in the future and then flashing back, ending on a villain in prison getting their mojo back as a full-face shot. In RIP, Batman gets addicted to heroin. Here, the entire city is addicted to… the Simon Hurt Superdrug.

Chris S: There’s even the return of someone getting buried alive — in “RIP” it was Batman, but now it’s the Joker burying someone alive as an act of… well, not heroism, but righteous vengeance at least. Like you said, everything’s upside down, and it’s just so fun.

David U: Pyg is the wildcard villain, and Joker is basically playing Jezebel Jet. it’s all awesome as well because it really does read like the world’s biggest slander on Batman as a character.

Chris S: This is the second time Dr. Hurt’s tried to ruin Bruce Wayne’s good name, too. But again, the first time he did it by assaulting Thomas Wayne’s character, now he’s become Thomas Wayne publicly.

David U: Your mom was a junkie! Your dad recreates Ludacris videos with David Lynch doing set design! Your son is a killer! Your ward is a dead failure! Actually Ludacris is a terrible example there.

David B: It’s more early 2000′s Sean Combs, yeah. Specifically, the Nas “Hate Me Now” video is the easiest reference to make in regards to the panel of Simon Hurt in 120 Days of Sodom.

Laura H: There’s that bit about how even the cops like Dick better as Batman.

David B: That’s a good touch, and shows the main difference between Bruce and Dick. Bruce growls orders. Dick’s more of a “Hey, how you doin’ Officer Jenkins? Good to hear.”

Chris S: Seriously, the guy is basically BEGGING for Bruce Wayne to come back from the dead and put a stop to him.

David U: Maybe that’s what he wants? If he’s the devil-worshipping Thomas Wayne from 1765 [first seen in "Batman and Robin" #10], then that places his ‘birth’ AFTER all the issues of ROBW we’ve seen so far.

David B: I don’t think he wants Batman to stop him, exactly, but more that he wants to end the institution of the Wayne family/Batman.

Chris S: Do you think that’s who Dr. Hurt is? Because I’ve always held that he’s Mangrove Pierce. Or that Mangrove Pierce was him.

David U: I totally think so. I mean, he claims not to be Pierce, and we haven’t even seen Pierce in forever. He really DOES seem to be a Wayne, a Thomas Wayne. He KNOWS enough, you know? He knows about Barbatos, and the family rite. And the black sun. I mean, I assume Bruce’s dad knew too, he just got capped before he could tell his son.

Chris S: All I know is that Batman said he’s Mangrove Pierce in “Batman” #681, and I trust Batman more than I trust you, Uzumeri.

David U: It would explain why Hurt tells Bruce the last time he sees him will be his last — since he’ll have already met him, or read about him, or whatever in the past.

Chris S: Also? “Mangrove Pierce” is maybe the best name ever. It just sounds like it could be an Old Money plutocrat or an utterly filthy sex position. Or both.

David U: Oh, there’s so clearly more to him than being Mangrove Pierce. And let’s be honest here, nobody comes up with better names in comics than Morrison. Or titles. Actually, Matt Fraction might tie him for awesome titles. Oh also, I just want to use this space to point out I TOTALLY CALLED the entire domino/domino mask connection.

Chris S: You know what else was an interesting inversion? Dick Grayson and the Joker.

David B: What was inverted between Dick and Joker?

Chris S: In RIP, when Hurt’s going on and on about his master plan, it’s the Joker that says “I bet, double or nothing, that Batman crawls out of that shallow grave with his faculties intact and hunts you down like the dogs you all are.” In this, Hurt is monologuing about everything with a gun to Grayson’s head, and he still says “You don’t get it, do you? You’re finished.”

David B: Ah, right. And the third issue of this arc will undoubtedly feature Batman leaping out of the eclipse to stop the bullet.

David U: I think the thing about this run on Batman is that it seems like the kind of Batman comic that Batman would really love.

Chris S: Yeah. It’s like, people have talked about how everything’s done in code and it’s full of mysteries and callbacks, but it’s like Morrison actually IS writing for a detective. He wants you to put it together. Plus, it leads to these grand, dramatic parlor scenes.

David B: I think I mentioned a while back how dissatisfied I was with some of “Batman and Robin,” but this issue has the punch the series needed. Lots of clues, questions answered, fantastic moments for all involved… It’s the Morrison I expected to read from the beginning.

Laura H: I actually felt bad for the Joker. All he wants is what a lot of people want: a return to the status quo. He’s Oberon Sexton because he isn’t even really the Joker anymore without Batman.

David U: Yeah, but he got him back. That amazing smile on his face when Damian starts reading him the riot act. He realizes, you know, Bruce had this spark that made him my great enemy, and this kid TOTALLY has it. He can’t work up the energy to match wits with Dick, but DAMIAN? Oh, MAN. And it’s totally a compliment. It gives him purpose again. He’s so happy to have this thing back in his life.

Laura H: That one panel of Joker’s eyes behind his hands when he says “you’re just like him.” He’s so f—ing happy.

David U: I don’t think Joker has EVER been happier than when Damian annihilated the living hell out of him with a crowbar.

David B: And the difference between Bruce and Damian is interesting, too. Bruce is the detective. Damian is the dark knight. Because, yes, you will get hit in the face with a crowbar if you fool around.

Chris S: The idea that the Joker can’t even exist without THE Batman, even when Dick’s doing his best to fill the role. It’s so perfect. And also tragic. It really puts the onus on Batman as being responsible for all the Joker’s crimes, which is why I love that moment with Damian: Even without Bruce, the Joker would find someone else.

Laura H: Not just anyone else. The DCU is a big place full of a lot of heroes, but no one has filled the void for him since Bruce left. Certainly not Dick.

David B: There’s got to be a specific connection, some chemistry between the two.

David U: It’s the lecturing. The childish stubbornness. The fact that Joker knows he will NEVER win Damian psychologically. He might be able to sweet talk Dick, but never this kid. This is it. This kid really will always call him on his bullsh–.

Chris S: Getting back to that line from RIP I talked about for a sec. Looking back, isn’t exactly what happens. Batman comes back, but he doesn’t hunt the members of the Black Glove down, because he gets killed in “Final Crisis.” So the Joker does it himself. He completes Batman’s action. They complete each other.

David B: This is skipping ahead a bit, but I want to point out one thing. On the very last page, in the three To Be Continued boxes. Dick Grayson is still in the process of getting shot, but not yet shot.

David U: Something will happen.

David B: And there is a bright light directly in front of his face, instead of behind him. Obvious clues, yeah?

Chris S: You know what? I bet Batman stops time to save Dick. That’s why he went to Vanishing Point in “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne” #2, where time is stopped.

David U: Vanishing Point is AFTER he returns in #6. Like, #6 is him in present day wreaking horror and death. Then he escapes AGAIN to the future knowing what he did.

David B: I think he’s going to step out of time and pick the bullet out of the air. At which point he reveals he knows who Simon Hurt really is, what his plan is, and how it will stop.

David U: I love how we’ve reached a point where we’re talking about Vanishing Point and Omega Beams in a Batman run.

Caleb G: I think Batman’s going to show up in a jacket and deflect the bullet. Also, wearing a choker. That’s what happens when you fix a timeline, right?

David U: I think Simon Hurt is James McAvoy and the bullet will curve around and hit the returning Bruce.

Caleb G: Damian is probably my favorite new DC character. No, scratch that, he is.

David B: We’ve all been pretty positive so far. Is this the best issue of the book thus far?

David U: Yeah.

Chris S: I don’t know. I mean, it’s been a pretty solid book all the way through.

David U: We’re hitting the climax, and it’s just so satisfying. Irving absolutely slaughters on the art, though. I’ve always said Irving should have done the art for RIP, and this proves me 100% right.

David B: I mean, I was middling, and I liked some of the last arc, but I like this issue way more than pretty much everything but the middle to last bits of the Stewart run and the Quitely fighting stuff.

David U: He NAILS this gothic horror vibe.

Chris S: I think it says a lot that even five jaded comics journalists start talking about this book and then we immediately just go into “That was awesome!” “I bet this is going to happen!” “Oh do you remember when–?!” (Not that “enthusiasm for Batman” has ever been something I lack.)

David U: I kind of wish he drew any backgrounds at all, but the characters are worth it.

David B: Joker’s faces were great, despite the huge smile

Chris S: I think it’s partly because of the smile. Some artists — like Marshall Rogers — have based the Joker on Gwynplaine from “The Man Who Laughs,” with the idea being that he can’t stop smiling no matter what horrible things he’s done and that’s part of what makes him so crazy. And now Morrison has really put that explicitly in the text.

David B: There’s that clash between the smile and his expressive eyes.

Caleb G: Dick’s body language was perfect too. He stands up straight, but never poses. And his eyes are never “angry.” His mask just looks calm and composed. Also, Morrison can handle exclamation points like nobody else in comics

David B: Dick leaning against the Batcomputer while chatting with Gordon is good.

Chris S: How great is Damian’s smile when he pulls out that crowbar? That little kid loves his job.

Laura H: Both Damian and Joker are having a grand old time. They might even be a better match than Joker and Batman.

David B: There are a few things where I’m not too sure whether or not they worked. The falling dominoes would have been fantastic in a movie, but I don’t really buy them here. Also I’m sure Uzumeri has some justification, but what’s up with that European Batmobile! Dick drives on the right side of the car?

Caleb G: I think the dominoes work, but they’d have been better if they were organic. Like, say, someone had literally started the chain reaction and they were falling just as literally as symbolically.

David B: Yeah, that’s cliche, but it works well enough. Doctor Doom playing chess, Darkseid playing Heroclix…

Chris S: There’s some interesting stuff there with the idea of the Joker and Jason Todd as mirror images of each other that Morrison’s been playing with for the whole run. In the Red Hood arc, Jason Todd gets dumped in chemicals (the Lazarus pit) and comes back and becomes the Red Hood. The Joker, of course, was the Red Hood and then got dumped in chemicals and became the Joker. And now there’s the line about how “I was a Boy Wonder once.”

David B: Oh, you know, I just realized something that ties in to what Laura was saying about Joker earlier. He’s grooming a new enemy. When he tells Dick that everyone is going to die unless “you’re as good as HE was,” he means it. And there’s that little telling pause.

David U: I hadn’t considered the telling pause, but you’re right. And it sounds great in the way I just mentally heard it in Heath Ledger’s voice.

David B: The “as good as he was” is a total tease, an old school “I bet you can’t top this.”

Chris S: There’s just a level of craftsmanship to Morrison’s Batman work that you rarely see in super-hero comics. Things carry over, themes are revisited, stuff that happens a year ago matters with what happens now, but not in a clumsy way like just having people issue vaguely ominous leading statements and not following up on them for months. Each story works within itself, but it makes this huge arc where we see the same themes brought up and played with in different ways. I mean, this is the Joker that follows logically from Morrison’s very first issue of “Batman,” and that was in 2006.

Laura H: Damian can be as good as HE was, and he knows it, which is why I think he’s so insufferable a lot of the time. Also because in a lot of ways that drive is all he has, much as it was for Bruce. His dad’s dead and he may as well be dead to his mother. He’s an orphan now too.

David B: And he’s been trained to be better than Bruce pretty much since birth.

David U: Which really makes Dick seem all the more sainted. I mean, he really didn’t have to do what he’s doing. But a lot of the time, I think him being Batman isn’t about honoring Bruce at all, it’s about helping that kid.

Laura H: Well, it’s about Dick helping that kid the way Batman helped him.

David U: I continue to live in fear that Morrison will kill him.

Laura H: He’s too awesome now to just kill off like he originally intended. Morrison has admitted as much.

Chris S: Morrison’s been bringing up the idea that Batman was “made” — Not just in the death of his parents, but by the fifteen thousand years starting with the Bat Tribes and the family line. With Damian, there’s a literalized reflection of that: He’s not Talia and Bruce’s child (as seen in “Son of the Demon”), he’s the product of a “eugenics experiment” to make an heir for Ra’s al-Ghul. He has been manufactured to be Batman. It’s something Morrison does with All-Star Superman, too, where the baby universe that Superman creates ends up having a Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster who create Superman.

David U: What the hell happened to the Miagani, anyway? They were around as of … 1718.

Chris S: What happened to a LOT of Native Americans around 1718?

David B: Wow, look at you. Maybe they were hanging out with Mickey Eye the whole time. But honestly, yeah, Manifest Destiny probably wiped out Batman’s predecessors. Way to go, America.

David U: I really doubt it will be as simple as Batman’s spiritual cave-dwelling super-death-trap-laying children getting defeated by smallpox blankets.

Chris S: No, think about it. What did Europeans bring to America? Guns. What kills Batman’s family? Only in this case it’s his actual family subsuming and replacing the metaphorical family he created when he went back to Caveman days.

Caleb G: Guns don’t kill people, Chris. Joker Fish kill people.

David U: That is a good point. I was thinking Simon Hurt would convert them to his cause when he summoned the Great Bat Spirit or whatever.

Chris S: Maybe. But it’s not out of the question that they got wiped out by desperate men who wanted what they had. I mean, I’m not a hundred percent sure that’s how it’s going to play out and I might be severely overthinking it, but it makes for an interesting parallel.

David B: So the 99 whoevers are their latest iteration?

David U: Yeah, I mean, they have the domino masks and the demon appellations and everything.

David B: We ready to wrap up?

Chris S: I think so. I give this issue an A! And a gold star. And a Scratch-and-Sniff sticker that smells like grapes, because Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving did a GRAPE JOB.

David B: Yeah, I liked it.

David U: Blue ribbon.

Laura H: (101) Very insightful.

David U: This is the best panel of 2010 so far.

Chris S: No, David…

Chris S.: NOW it’s the best panel of 2010 so far.

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