Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Building a Better Batfamily: Grant Morrison's Third Year on Batman (and Robin)

Finally continuing the series of posts that I began with Grant Morrison's first year on Batman and continued with his second year on the title, I'll be discussing his third year of writing Batman, this time in Batman and Robin. This year is a little simpler than previous ones with 12 issues all in a row with no breaks and no crossovers. Four stories, all featuring the new Batman and Robin, Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne. I've also decided to also discuss Batman #700-702 since 700 is a one-off issue and the other two comprise a storyarc filling in the gaps between "Batman R.I.P." and Final Crisis, leading directly into The Return of Bruce Wayne. It looks like next year will be a very busy year with The Return of Bruce Wayne in addition to Batman and Robin. As with past posts, I'll be avoiding what I read online. The only exception is David Uzumeri's annotations of the book. I won't be referencing them directly (except once or twice), but that's because I'm purposefully not going back and rereading them. So, I may steal from them without meaning to. Do remember that it is possible that we both thought the same thing on our own. But, my aim different from David's, so, hopefully, I'll cover different ground. And that's enough with the pre-chatter, let's do this.

"Batman Reborn" (Batman and Robin #1-3)

Morrison's run on Batman began with "Batman and Son," and Batman and Robin begins with a similar idea by introducing Damian Wayne as Robin -- but to Dick Grayson's Batman. So, it's not "Batman and Son" really, it's more like "Batman's Sons." This storyarc sets up the major idea of this run (for me, at least) by continuing to deliver various iterations of the father/son relationship, including the idea of sons being rivals with one another. In "Batman and Son," Damian saw the newly adopted Tim Drake as a rival and tried to eliminate him completely. Here, he's done just that by taking over the mantle of Robin, while Drake has moved on to the new identity of Red Robin (following in the path of Dick who, upon abandoning the Robin identity, crafted his own with Nightwing). Like the previous Robins, Damian didn't take up the mantle until losing a parent -- that loss being the impetus to become Robin almost. It seems to be Robin, you need to lose at least one parent and need a father figure of some kind to set you on the right path. Similarly for the role of Batman. Bruce Wayne crafted the identity to avenge his parents' deaths and to make sure that crime pays, while Dick Grayson adopts it to honour the life and legacy of his recently deceased 'father.' There's no one to avenge because the apparent killer of Bruce was defeated at the end of Final Crisis, but that still leaves Dick wanting to honour the memory of his 'father' -- both by replacing him despite protesting that he never wanted to and by attempting to complete the training and reeducation of Bruce's biological son.

Of course, the sons don't get along, both laying claim to their father's legacy and identity. Damian sees himself as the only real son of Bruce Wayne, the others just sad, pathetic jokes that aren't blood, so they don't count. More than that, he thinks himself simply better than both Dick and Tim, because of his training by the League of Assassins, and his willingness to do more to stop criminals, including killing them. There's an interesting tension between Damian's claim to be the true son of Bruce, but the only one to advocate the use of methods that Bruce himself swore against using. What matters more, biology or philosophy? Damian embodies the former, while Dick and Tim embody the latter... (And, in the next storyarc, Jason Todd returns to show why the philosophy is what matters...)

At the same time, does Dick truly embody the philosophy? Yes, he refuses to kill and plays by the same rules as Bruce, going so far as to endear himself to the police and Commissioner Gordon in the same way, wanting to step into Bruce's shoes as much as possible so that there is an obvious and seamless continuity. But, Dick is doing this out of a sense of duty -- at least, partly. He tells Alfred in the first issue,

He doesn't want to be Batman, but he's always known he would, one day, become Batman. It's classic father/son psychology: the son wants the father to always be superior, always be in charge, but knows he will one day surpass and replace him, which he both hates and, secretly, wants. Dick thought about this day so much because he, deep down inside, wanted it to happen. He wanted to replace his father as Batman and prove that he could be just as good if not better. Throughout the series, he struggles with that concept, constantly insisting that he's not Bruce's equal let along his better, constantly finding excuses for why he shouldn't be Batman or ways to bring Bruce back. Twice in this story, Dick talks about not wanting the job or being good at it; those feelings don't go away.

The initial pairing of Dick and Damian doesn't work, because of Damian's refusal to see Dick as better suited to the role of Batman, while Dick tries to literally replace Bruce and become a new father to Damian. The second issue features Damian quitting after Dick berates him, spouting Frank Miller Batmanisms by telling him to obey direct orders. It's partly another example of Morrison mocking Miller's Goddamn Batman (who treats his Robins like soldiers) and partly Dick trying to play the part of the strict father. The 'my way or the highway' attitude that Bruce would use sometimes, but without the gravitas to back it up. Bruce pulled it off through fear, intimidation, and respect, none of which Dick has used effectively on Damian. Dick begins by playacting how he viewed Bruce when he was kid, but misses out on a few essential details, like the differences between himself and Damian. Dick was a bit of a brat, but basically a good kid who had a large shock when his parents were killed. Damian is more entitled and arrogant, convinced that he knows what best, not lost because his entire world just crashed down around him.

What works is Alfred's suggestion to treat Batman like a role. It's not necessarily far off from where Dick was, except that Dick was trying to be Bruce Wayne Batman instead of viewing it as something looser and more open to interpreation. Alfred tells Dick to "THINK OF BATMAN AS A GREAT ROLE, LIKE A HAMLET, OR WILLIE LOMAN... OR EVEN JAMES BOND. / AND PLAY IT TO SUIT YOUR STRENGTHS." Dick was like an actor so influenced by a previous interpretation of a role that he simply aped it and it wasn't natural. Bruce could play the bastard and Dick can't. Dick is the friendly, focused guy who every other superhero likes and gets along with. He can't be the sadistic hardass Bruce was; it just isn't him.

The idea of Batman as a role, an empty vessel for people to inhabit, is another idea that reoccurs throughout Morrison's work on the character. In Batman, Dr. Hurt created three Batman replacements in case Bruce ever died, including one that shot the Joker in the face, prompting a personality shift. Batman is larger than a single person or interpretation. Morrison's run culled together various Batman aspects from various eras, tying together absurd Silver Age craziness, Bronze Age darkness, pre- and post-Crisis conceptions of the character; basically, taking all of Batman history and mixing it to create a single history, all of it true, all of it 'counting,' confirming the idea that no single interpretation is right or wrong. Batman is bigger than that. As such, Dick is not really a replacement Batman or a temporary Batman or a fake or a fraud... he's simply Batman. Just as true and legitimate as Bruce Wayne. He's another variation. The same way that Damian is Robin. Another in a line, one among many that all point to some platonic ideal of the sidekick that's never actually existed.

Just as "Batman R.I.P." contained variations on the Joker to match with the variations on Batman previously introduced in "The Black Mask" through the International Club of Heroes, "Batman Reborn" introduces a Joker variant for the Dick Grayson Batman, because Batman is incomplete without his Joker. Professor Pyg fills this role, first, by using henchmen that complement and tie into Dick's past: circus performers. While the traditional Batman Rogues Gallery is based around the urban because Bruce is from Gotham and is tied to the city, these new villains spring from the circus, Dick's home growing up. Beyond that and lending themselves to some cool visuals from Frank Quitely, that bunch don't really do much or signify anything necessarily.

Professor Pyg on the other hand...

Firstly, his Dollotrons are his version of the post-Joker Gas people. While the Joker's gas usually kills, I believe it's been used to get people in line and do what was asked of them (if I'm wrong, let me know). The Dollotrons are similarly twisted and grotesque. Instead of literally shaping their faces like the Joker does, Pyg uses a mask since he also wears a mask. Underneath, he's a (presumably) normal/boring looking man. He chooses to be weird looking, to embrace this madness and lifestyle... if there's ever been a flaw with the Joker, it's that he wasn't always this way (despite whatever bullshit some writers have tried to add to the character). An external event changed him, both inside and out, creating the man we all know and love. While that could certainly have happened with Pyg, from what we can tell, he's a regular person who's willingly adopted this different identity. Like Batman, he wears a mask.

Pyg's base of operations is the carnival grounds from The Killing Joke, making the Joker connection/relationship that much more obvious. Former circus boss, his identity is wrapped up in a weird obsession with a mother figure of judgment and hate instead of love. He wants to make the world as ugly and awful as he feels. He calls this perfection. A comment in issue three, "hit me againnn," suggests an S&M streak (well, that and his earlier dance/spoken word performance), some self-loathing, etc. Pyg has the circus connection, but also acts as the Joker to Dick's Batman. We've seen him in the future (in Batman #666), killed by the Third Policeman Batman, so he becomes a longterm member of the Rogues Gallery.

"Batman Reborn" features art by Frank Quitely that establishes the tone for the series for the year. He incorporates sound effects into the visuals, draws fight scenes with a rare speed and cutting quality... plus, his line work is just so goddamn beautiful and elegant. Some have criticised Alex Sinclair's colours, and I agreed at first, but Zom of the Mindless Ones convinced me otherwise. He says it best.

The opening arc re-establishes the themes of fathers and sons, Batman/Robin/the Joker as abstract concepts/identities for others to fill, and does so in a concise and compact fashion. The final issue of "Batman Reborn" also sets up the sidekick for a possible replacement Batman/rival son of Bruce Wayne in a manner that recalls Dick Grayson's origin...

But, more importantly, this arc ends with the reunion of Dick and Grayson as, as Damian puts it, "Robin and Batman" with Dick taking on a kinder, more 'big brother' sort of role. He's no longer trying to play father to Damian, he's resuming his role as the Batfamily's cool older brother that's there to give you advice, watch your back, and make you a better hero. We return to the beginning of "Batman R.I.P." with the unseen (here) proclamation of "Batman and Robin will never die!" as they take down Le Bossu. We don't get the statement, but the message is implied and is important, because these two are Batman and Robin. I mean, who else could they be?

"Revenge of the Red Hood" (Batman and Robin #4-6)

Batman and Robin doesn't really deal with Tim Drake and his Red Robin persona. It's the glaring absence of the first year of this book. He's mentioned, sure, but Morrison never examines his role after the death of Bruce Wayne, the Batman father figure of this little world. We do get Jason Todd and where he goes after the death of his 'father,' which is the direction that Bruce's biological son, Damian, avoided and one that (seemingly) prefigures the upcoming Batman Inc.

Jason returns here as the Red Hood, an urban vigilante that kills criminals and posts the slayings on the web, focused on growing his 'brand.' He wants to overshadow Batman and replace that hero myth with his own, which is a continuation of the identity the Joker had before becoming the Joker (it's always about those two working against one another). In that way, Jason is both a 'replacement' for his father, but also a redemption (of sorts, perhaps) for his father's enemy. He replaces both Batman and the Joker with this identity, combining the two into one whole. That makes sense given his relationship to both men; trained by Batman, killed by the Joker. He's the messed up forgotten middle child that falls in with the wrong crowd, looking for attention.

There's also a part of returning to Batman's roots in his methods. The original Bob Kane/Bill Finger Batman used guns and would kill. That interpretation didn't last long in the larger history of the character, but it is a part of the Batman mythos that Morrison hadn't worked in yet, hadn't found a way to make work with the character. By alluding to it here with a reflection of Batman, a possible successor/replacement in the form of one of his 'sons,' it implies that part of the Batman history. Depending on your perspective, Jason is following his father's legacy...

The inclusion of Scarlet as his sidekick is a Robin allusion. Robin and Scarlet both suggest red, but, also, Sasha's origin is reminiscent of Dick Grayson's. Her father was murdered at a carvinal before she's taken in by an urban vigilante, trained to help fight his war. The allusion is broad, but she definitely fits the pattern of Robins. Her costume is a visual reminder of the Robin costume: cape, solid shirt, short shorts... She also seems to be an allusion to Carrie Kelly, the Robin from The Dark Knight Returns as this story addresses the dark and gritty vigilante from the '80s. The Red Hood's base of operations is a truck (Batman's tank in DKR), Jason looks like Rorschach from Watchmen, the use of the Red Hood recalls The Killing Joke, and there's the explicit debate over how far is too far -- can superheroes kill?

In the Batfamily (and Batworld), the answer is no. Killing is the one line you don't cross. Damian is taught that previously, with the idea of playing within specific rules hammered home in the first arc. So, having this story follow that offers up the contrast: Dick and Jason, which is the proper way to honour and continue Bruce Wayne's legacy? The answer, of course, is Dick. It's never meant to be a serious question. It's a strawman argument with the answer already predetermined. It sets Jason up in the villain role with the inclusion of the Flamingo later to be the proof that those extreme methods produce consequences too grave. It's not just that killing is wrong, it's that by upping the ante, you have to keep going. It's a critique of superhero comics that push things too far -- once you begin pushing the envelope, you have to keep doing so until you don't know where to stop. With limits and rules, you can explore the full possibilities of stories; by pushing things, you've become a fad, a one-note performer that must keep going or people lose interest.

The idea of 'growing the brand' isn't a new one to superhero comics. Joe Casey's Wildcats Version 3.0 centred around that very concept, but Jason trying to defeat Dick through PR is an interesting strategy. In "Batman Reborn," one of Dick's main criticisms of Damian was that he wasn't friendly enough -- he didn't ingratiate himself with the police. Dick wanted to win over the police in order to operate and felt that the Dynamic Duo needed to behave a certain way. A public that's on board is essential to operate (or, at least, preferable). Jason tries the same thing, appealing to the side of people that wants to see criminals killed, the streets made 'safer' through extreme means. Morrison dealt with this idea in his opening story on JLA with similar results: extreme heroes win approvals, but either have dark and sinister motives, or fall by the wayside compared to the lasting heroes that aren't swayed by public opinions. The difference between Dick and Jason's approaches is that Dick only wants to win over the police, a group that operates within certain rules (presumably), while Jason wants to win over the public, a group that changes its mind often and without thought.

Replacing the Batman brand/myth with the Red Hood one is the goal. If Jason can't be Batman, he'll replace Batman with something better. Two brothers fighting over the legacy of their father. While Dick is hesitant to replace Bruce, Jason is eager -- and eager to prove that he's better. He's not his father's Batman! "The fight against crime grows up!" With daddy dead, he can finally be an adult and step into his place. However, the only way to really replace Bruce is to become Batman, which Jason failed at. By donning the identity of the Red Hood, he simply produces an identity on par with Nightwing or Red Robin -- a complementary identity at best. A supporting player, not the star. Because he's ceded the Batman role to Dick, he can't actually replace Bruce. He's lost before he begins.

The Flamingo acts as the Joker figure to Jason's Batman. He's got the dandy insanity thing going on, but is pure extreme violence. There's no personality -- it's just grunts and growls as he focuses on inflicting horrific violence. He looks cool, but there's no substance there. He's a cheap, quick response to the extreme tactics of the Red Hood. He's almsot forgettable, which is why Jason can defeat him. In that way, he is a success -- but only because he's so dull that the fight between him and his arch-enemy isn't interesting enough to continue. No one's demanding more Red Hood/Flamingo stories (or, are they?).

The story ends with Jason addressing the idea that Bruce can be brought back. Jason's attempt at playing hero prompts the idea that Dick already had: he's not good enough to replace Bruce. The only real Batman is Bruce Wayne. Jason and Tim were failures as Batman in Battle for the Cowl, so why is Dick any different? So far, he's managed to stay ahead just barely. With Bruce back, the sons would all return to their proper places, confident and secure in the knowledge that the true Batman is still there.

Much was written about Philip Tan's art on this arc. It was bad at the time and looks worse when put into the context of the series as a whole. It falls apart by the end with shifting styles that make no sense. The problem with the location of Jason's HQ is a big one that's only revealed through careful reading, because Tan doesn't make that piece of information explicit enough despite a line of dialogue resting upon that knowledge. He does try to do interesting things with his pages. The third page of issue four contains a layout that tries to show chaos, but doesn't flow well and suffers from looking cluttered -- partly because he doesn't actually lay the panels out in a logical manner and partly because his art style is so overwrought and overrendered that it has a naturally cluttered look that doesn't lend itself to a cluttered or complex layout. I will say that it has the right style to match an arc featuring an 'extreme' vigilante and a one-note, grunty, violent villain.

This story also introduces Oberon Sexton, the British detective and author that's nicknamed the Gravedigger. He wears all black, including a full face mask with red glasses. Not much is known about him, but he does have a connection to Simon Hurt. He appears to be a possible Bruce Wayne/Batman replacement/double. That he first shows up at the same time as Jason adopts the Red Hood identity is great, because Sexton is the Joker -- as Jason adopts a Joker-esque persona, the Joker adopts a Batman-esque persona.

"The Revenge of the Red Hood" ends with Scarlet escaping this life, the Dollotron mask falling from her face, seemingly without leaving any scars/marks. And, Dick opens a vault containing the skeleton of Bruce Wayne left after his confrontation with Darkseid.

"Blackest Knight" (Batman and Robin #7-9)

Another double of Bruce Wayne/Batman here as Dick Grayson tries to use a Lazarus Pit in England to resurrect Bruce from his corpse. With him are the Knight, Squire, and, later, Batwoman. The desire to bring Bruce back is the driving point here. In superhero comics, dead is never dead, and Dick sees his responsibility to Bruce as one to save him from death instead of continuing his legacy. Once the idea is planted, it can't be denied. If Dick can bring back Bruce, he can give up the burden of carrying on his legacy. Dick is the dutiful eldest son, the one that goes into the family business and replaces his father because he has to. Jason is too screwed up. Tim is too young and inexperienced, while Damian is even more young and inexperienced. Dick is struggling between being his own man and doing what's right by his dad.

I've discussed the Knight and Squire previously; they're reflections of Batman and Robin. Neither does anything here to warrant further discussion. They're both cool characters and I always enjoy when they show up. The Knight doesn't seem on the level of Batman (any Batman), while the Squire looks like she's destined for greatness, better than any Robin at this point. Or maybe not. Hard to say. We get to see a few of their villains: King Coal, the Pearly King of Crime, and Pearly's son, Smooth Eddie English, the Pearly Prince (plus some others are mentioned when Dick visits Basement 101, the English double of Arkham). They're your typical sort of villains, but with some cool dramatic flairs like the chimney sweep goons. Morrison is very good at giving the impression of a larger, more complicated world/life/story through suggestion.

The corpse that they put in the Lazarus Pit is not Bruce Wayne's. It's one of the cloned copies that Darkseid's minions were creating in Final Crisis with the hopes of having a Batman army. They all died from experiencing the trauma of Bruce Wayne's life, revealing that Bruce's 'superpower' is the ability to handle more stress and bullshit than any person possibly could. Most would go insane and die from shock, but he seems to thrive on it. Thus, the resurrected corpse of the Clone-Batman (I probably need a better name... did anyone coin a good name for this version of Batman?) is a broken-brained thug. It speaks in fragments and incomplete words. In issue nine, we get a glimpse inside his head, which features a remixed version of Bruce Wayne's history. The Joker is Robin, Catwoman and the Riddler are one, as are Bane, the Scarecrow and Azrael/Jaul-Paul Valley Batman... He's what Bruce Wayne could (and should) have been by this point in his life: a mental case that can barely function, but is trained so well that he just keeps going.

As such, he is Bruce Wayne -- just a broken Bruce Wayne that can't cope with the realities of his life. Oddly, he's the result of what Darkseid wants the Omega Sanction to do to Batman. The Omega Sanction is meant to break and destroy a person, but Bruce Wayne is uniquely suited to that sort of trap. This Clone-Batman is the supposed end result. Because we know what the Omega Sanction is meant to do, if Morrison hadn't included a flashback scene revealing that this is a cloned Batman, he could have presented this as really being Bruce Wayne post-Omega Sanction, leaving Dick's realisation at the end that Bruce is still alive somewhere to be false, another hopeless dream of bringing daddy back from the dead. Far more depressing and giving Darkseid a victory, but interesting nonetheless.

The Clone-Batman's interactions with Damian are the most powerful. While he ignores Dick, not knowing that it's Dick under the cowl, Damian is instantly recognisable and becomes a target for his twisted, dark mind:

Damian is confronted with what could possibly be the truth of how his father saw him. How Damian reacts shows a lot about his character, because he doesn't get defensive or argue, he keeps on fighting against this thing that looks like his father. If anything, these words, these harsh truths, they spur him on in the next arc to embrace his father's legacy. Because he knows there's truth in these statements, he has to work harder to prove his father wrong about his first reaction to Damian's existence. Unlike his 'brothers,' Damian will always have something to prove in his crimefighting career, something to overcome. In that respect, he's similar to Jason -- the kid that started out bad, in need of redemption. Dick became Robin because of pity and necessity, Tim because of desire and ingenuity, Jason and Damian because of redemption. Instead of folding in on himself like Jason, Damian struggles and becomes better, fitting into his father's legacy, while maintaining his own personal style. We've seen this as the future (or, a future, but it's the future of the Morrison Batman run). Here, the conflict for Damian between mother and father shows up, but is addressed in more detail in the next story.

Batwoman's role here is to present another alternate to Bruce Wayne/Batman. She comes equipped with her own Alfred/Robin in her father and, like Bruce, dies and is resurrected in the Lazarus Pit, but turns out fine. Morrison also continues the plot of involving Batwoman and the Religion of Crime with her death/resurrection signifying an Age of Crime (and that does seem like it happens, at least with what's going on in Batman and Robin right now). She also fills in for the injured Damian. A recurring idea of this book is the partnership. It's titled Batman and Robin for a reason: all of the heroes work in pairs. Batman and Robin, Red Hood and Scarlet, Knight and Squire, Batwoman and her father, Batman and Batwoman, Damian and Alfred, Batman and Alfred, Damian and Oberon Sexton... the final issue of this storyarc continues the visual cue to this theme by having the Knight and Squire punch out King Coal together, while Batman and Batwoman do the same to the Clone-Batman, recalling Batman and Robin doing so to the Toad and Professor Pyg in the first and third issues of the series. Why did Red Hood and Scarlet fail? They never punched out a bad guy together.

There's another recurring motif in this storyarc: the dominos that were introduced in the first issue show up with Pearly using them to show Batman where the Lazarus Pit is without actually showing him. I'll be honest, the dominos idea doesn't appeal to me/hit me just right. I like the pattern games that Morrison plays, but this is one that never connected with me or comes off as anything more than an obvious, simple one. Maybe I'm wrong. It's a powerful visual one, especially in later issues, but it doesn't warrant lots of discussion, I think. (Then again, my interest lies in some very specific themes and ideas by this point... obviously.)

Cameron Stewart's art is a nice return for the book after Tan. His fluid action scenes are amazing. I've never thought of Stewart as a great action artist, but he proves me wrong. Batman rushing through London, Batman versus Batman, Batman & Batwoman versus Batman... all are stunning. Not much to say about the art beyond positives.

The title of this arc is a play on the Blackest Night crossover and takes place after it, but gives its own take on the 'evil zombie' story there by showing another hero returned from the dead who possesses all of the memories and none of the personality of the deceased hero. It's an interesting callback, but not much more.

The story ends with Dick coming to the conclusion that Tim is right, that Bruce is still alive, somewhere in the past. I really wish Morrison had a chance to deal with Tim more here, because his denial of Bruce's death is so interesting. He's got the same problems as Dick, they're just more obvious and taken further. He makes for a good comparison/contrast, but either a lack of interest on Morrison's part or the demands of Tim's own book prevent him from showing up here. It's a hole in the series, I think.

"Batman vs. Robin" (Batman and Robin #10-12)

The final Batman and Robin storyarc of Morrison's third year is one that ties into the larger plot quite heavily, setting up elements of the next storyarc and The Return of Bruce Wayne as Dick and Damian explore the mansion in search of clues planted by Bruce in the past. This is a case where Uzumeri's annotations are probably more useful in connecting the dots than analysis/commentary. But, there are plenty of interesting things going on in this story beyond that.

Damian plays a large role as he embraces his father's legacy and lifestyle. The story opens with him in a Wayne Enterprises board meeting, taking charge of the company in an active, hard-nosed way that's a strong contrast to the braindead, lazy playboy character Bruce played. He's replacing his father and doing it better. It's an interesting shift from the focus on the Batman part of Bruce's life. It was hinted at back in issue four at the party where Dick meets Oberon Sexton, but Damian filling the role is an inspired choice. Still, it's only three pages and doesn't get much play anywhere else. It follows up on the confrontation with the Clone-Batman in the previous story, but also remains a largely unexplored/underplayed aspect of the life of Bruce Wayne/Batman. It's nice to see one of his sons fill the role, though.

Later in the story, he becomes exactly what he and his father feared: a tool to destroy the Batman legacy. When he was healed in the previous arc after an injury sustained at the hands of the Flamingo, a system was placed in his body to allow someone to take over and control him. We get a flashback where his mother, Talia, wants him to return to her side and abandon the 'brainwashing' of Dick Grayson and the others who follow Bruce Wayne. When Damian refuses, saying he won't be a weapon against them, Talia responds, "We'll see." He actually becomes just that, though unwillingly. Even when he wants to embrace his father's way of thinking and become a hero, he can't escape his past, dragged back by his mother. When freed from her control, he confronts her and she basically disowns him when he won't return home. Not only that, but she shows a replacement for him, another son that she's growing in a lab. It's a harsh scene.

What sets Damian apart from the other Robins/sons of Bruce Wayne -- and even Bruce himself -- is that he has a mother. The rest, all of their mothers are dead, and, now, she's basically dead, replaced with another enemy to fight and bring down. In trying to prove his father wrong and earn his love/respect (even after death), he sacrifices the love and respect of his mother. An odd decision, but one fitting with the book so far. The focus here is the father/son relationship -- mothers are unnecessary.

Damian's 'team-up' with Oberon Sexton is an interesting one, creating another duo. They work together to fight off forces sent by Dr. Hurt with Damian speculating aloud that Oberon could be Bruce Wayne. The truth, of course, is that Oberon is the Joker -- the anti-Batman in a guise that reminds us of Batman. Oberon and Robin fighting together has a visual style that reminds us of a Batman and Robin team-up, but lacks the dual-punch out scene that solidifies the partnerships/good guys in this book. Oberon can't participate, because he's actually a villain.

Dick figures out the identity of Oberon, continuing an emphasis on detective skills that's shown up throughout the book. When Dick initially scolds Damian, it's because Damian doesn't focus on honing his detective skills, wanting to solve his problems with violence. Dick's training of Damian focuses on the problem- and mystery-solving skills of a detective. Anyone can train to be a fantastic fighter, but what makes Batman Batman is that he's the world's greatest detective. In that way, Oberon Sexton is a double and stands out as possibly being Bruce Wayne. But, this story emphasises Dick's detective skills: he figures out the mysteries of the mansion, he figures out who is controlling Damian, and he figures out who Oberon Sexton is. Dick proves his worthiness by being the proper successor to Bruce's detective.

Deathstroke controlling Damian raises another tension in the Dick father/son relationship. Deathstroke has come to see himself as a father figure to the (Teen) Titans, someone that moulds and shapes the young heroes through challenge and adversity. He's the strict father that makes his children strong through struggle, though punishment, and harsh lessons. He seemingly trains kids to be better heroes despite saying he wants to corrupt him. In that way, he would see himself as a father to Dick in some ways -- in ways that Dick would deny and Slade could taunt him with. More than that, Dick trained and 'turned' Slade's own daughter against him; by taking control of Damian, Slade does the same to Dick after a fashion. Deathstroke has also been portrayed as an evil Batman. A man of immense skill and intelligence, able to take down the JLA through strategy and physical ability. He's never been as accomplished, but he represents an alternative Batman/Bruce Wayne for Dick, both as a father figure and as an example of what someone with these abilities can do/be. Dick rejected him long ago and continues to do so, besting this father once again, in a storyarc that helps prove himself when compared to his traditional father figure.

Dick's exploration of the mansion shows off his detective skills, connecting the lineage of the Wayne family, showing that, quite possibly, Bruce is the ur-father of the family. A figure that was actually several Waynes throughout history, directing the course of the family. He's always been the lingering presence of this series, the absent father present in every panel, but this takes it to another level. The return of Simon Hurt raises the idea of which Thomas Wayne he is. Is the father of the father returning? How can Dick and his 'brother' fare against Bruce's father? It's suggested that he's another Thomas Wayne, an earlier one, but that makes him an even larger father figure in the same way that Bruce becomes such because of his time in the past. It becomes less a fight between father and son than a fight between two fathers for dominance of the family. But, much of that is still unknown... it would be interesting if it played out that way, though.

Andy Clarke's art has a distinct, somewhat stilted line that I like. He doesn't complete the run, requiring some assistance on the final issue. His use of parallel lines for shading gives the art a carved, classic look that suits a story that takes place in an ancient mansion, the use of swords, and lots of action. It's a battle of knights against one another. His thin lines give the art a different, more formal feeling than previous stories.

It occurs to me that I haven't really addressed the role of Alfred in these issues (or the series so far). Surprise surprise, he's a father figure of sorts. He was a father figure for Bruce and remains one for Bruce's sons. Damian keeps the relationship formal with Damian in a superior position by calling him Pennyworth instead of Alfred. He's the wise father that lends advice and assistance, but doesn't necessarily expect anything or demand that you conform to a specific path. He's the accepting father, the one that's there when you need him and backs off when you want to go your own way. Here, he assists Dick, while previously he fretted over Damian's health and Dick's difficulties in the role of Batman. I almost want to call him the favourite uncle of the comic.

The first year is a progression for Dick and Damian, both struggling to find their place in the aftermath of Bruce Wayne's death. Dick tries to come to terms with the idea of replacing Bruce as Batman, first failing because he imitated Bruce and then rejecting the role in favour of bringing Bruce back, but, in the process of searching for Bruce, proving himself a worthy successor/replacement. Damian began by wanting to replace Bruce, thinking himself ready and not willing to respect or listen to his 'big brother.' Over the issues, he learns some humility and respect for Dick, willingly settling into the role of Robin, even rejecting his mother's influence in favour of proving himself worthy of being Bruce Wayne's son. The year ends on a high point with both Dick and Damian comfortable in their roles... that doesn't last. But, that's something to discuss next year, I guess.

"Time and the Batman" (Batman #700)

A one-off issue that presents a continuity of the Batman. The part of the story featuring Dick and Damian as Batman and Robin takes place at some point during the first twelve issues of Batman and Robin (I'd place it between the first two stories). I find the comparisons between the three Batmen interesting.

First, we have Bruce and Dick as the Dynamic Duo, captured by a group of villains led by the Joker in an absurd plot to obtain various objects or information from throughout time thanks to the Maybe Machine. Then, there's a locked room mystery for Dick and Damian on the anniversary of the death of the Waynes. Finally, Damian prevents Gotham from being poisoned with a Joker Gas-like venom. They're all connected by two things: Professor Nichols and the Joker's jokebook. Nichols is the inventor of the Maybe Machine, helping Batman in the first timeline, dying twenty years too old in a locked basement in the second, and is held captive by 2-Face-2 in the third, tying together the various timelines and mysteries. The Joker's jokebook is a MacGuffin, a meaningless item that shows up in all three timelines to create the punchline that it is seemingly empty, written in an ink only visible to the insane.

This issue stands apart from the rest of the run, unconcerned with the father/son dynamic for the most part. Sure, there's the trasition of Bruce/Dick to Dick/Damian to Damian (to Damian advising Terry...), but, beyond that, there isn't much of a concern. It's more of a straight-up adventure comic. It's fun in that respect, but doesn't fit into the larger run neatly as a result. The most interesting part is Damian as Batman in the future since we've only seen that once before. It proves that Damian does continue his father's legacy.

The real idea behind these stories and the one-page scenes that follow them is the riddle that the Riddler asks "What can you beat but never defeat?" The answer is the title of the issue. Or, there's the proclamation that begins "Batman R.I.P." that this issue emphasises. It's about how Batman is an idea, a form to inhabit, and it continues on and on, sometimes with Robin, sometimes not. If there's a need for the Batman, the Batman is there.

The concept of the art for the issue a strong one: three artists Morrison has worked with before on his run, returning to draw a Batman they're associated with. Tony Daniel draws Bruce Wayne, franky Quitely (with Scott Kolins) draws Dick Grayson, and Andy Kubert draws Damian Wayne with David Finch, the future artist of The Dark Knight handling the future. The execution isn't to much taste always, but I think it all suits the issue reasonably well. Quitely not finishing his part is disappointing. Kubert is the surprise stand-out, having a clear conception of what Gotham is like in 15-20 years, and being the only one to do Damian as Batman.

This issue is an anomoly for the run, but does touch on Morrison's concept of Batman, acting as a summation of that theme from an impersonal perspective. Normally, that idea is filtered through the father/son personal relationship -- here, it's more abstract, a given.

"R.I.P. The Missing Chapter" (Batman #701-702

We conclude this post with two issues that were seemingly redundant. Some still think they are, others don't. I'm somewhere in between, finding the second half of #702 offering new ideas/information, while the rest is unnecessary. The story bridges "Batman R.I.P." and Final Crisis, something that most didn't see as necessary. After all, the flow from one to the other was shown in "Last Rites" and what wasn't shown was implied heavily. To most readers, there simply weren't any gaps. The relevent/new material is Morrison adding onto the Batman/Darkseid scene, showing, from Bruce's perspective, what happened when he was hit with Omega Sanction and explaining the narration of "R.I.P." (and these issues).

There's an emphasis in these issues on Bruce Wayne as man. Narrated by him, there's a down-to-earth quality after the events of "R.I.P." He's wiped out and feels vulernable and invincible at the same time. He's still reeling from Simon Hurt/Thomas Wayne and what that may mean to him. The first issue details this as he goes from that to wondering about the hidden room with 'BARBATOS' and 'thomas' written on the walls -- a room he vowed to never go into and Dick discovered in "Batman vs. Robin." This is apparently key and fits into The Return of Bruce Wayne, but it doesn't feel necessary. It's interesting that Bruce never went into the room or was told not to, but him entering it here doesn't provide much actual knowledge.

The real idea that Morrison explores here is the concept of myth and mortality as Batman finds himself mixing with superhumans and gods. Is he on that level? Every action seems to suggest a larger, more elevated meaning to him. A regular threat to Earth becomes a mythic battle between good and evil. Superman is not just Superman, but the representation of the Hero. Even Batman steps into that role, using the gun against Darkseid. Despite his vow to never kill, he accepts that this gun represents all guns, that Darkseid represents evil, and that by using the platonic ideal of a gun against Darkseid, he's, in a way, working against the intent of the gun -- he's undoing its evilness (except not really).

The insight into the Omega Sanction is intriuging as it brings back ideas from Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle with Darkseid reshaping Batman's history to make it worse, to break him. The hole in Batman's past is Darkseid-shaped. His tragedies are a result of this one act. Thomas Wayne is implied to be an insane brother he didn't know about. I'm not entirely clear on how much was changed/reshaped necessarily. It seems more a subtle shifting of things than an all-out change. If anything, the second issue bridges the gap between Final Crisis and The Return of Bruce Wayne, linking the gods/myth ideas with the Omega Sanction fallout.

Despite this, I'm still not convinced these issues are essential to the run, providing information not given elsewhere. Morrison's focus on Bruce Wayne and his perspective is certainly interesting. It's one of the most concise and specific looks at Bruce and his perspective, staying with him and his narration. In other attempts to show this, Morrison jumped around, showing scenes outside his perspective, but, here, it's just Bruce. Except he doesn't know he's Bruce necessarily.

Tony Daniel does the art and some have praised it. I like the odd panel, but find it doesn't hold up to the standard set in Final Crisis. He tries to overdo it at times, show these characters as mythic literally and it fails. But, I do like the page of Bruce returning to the mansion in #701. That's an interesting, visually arresting page.

And, that's that. Hope you enjoyed. I'll return for year four when it's done.