Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Batman and Robin, Volume 2: Pearl by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason Review

The second volume of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's New 52 Batman and Robin should really be called Robin as its almost entirely made up of short stories about Damian Wayne. But it's these brief, ineffectual vignettes that also makes this not as good as the first volume (pretty much the story of the New 52 second volumes) though it has its share of good/bad moments.

The first chapter is the #0 issue where we see Damian being born/raised by Talia Al-Ghul, a story readers of Grant Morrison's Batman series will already be familiar with. It takes Damian up to meeting his dad, Batman, for the first time and helps new readers understand why Damian is the way he is by showing Talia's questionable parenting techniques.

The second chapter sees Damian fight a Talon who's trying to assassinate a high ranking military officer. It's not a bad comic but I already read this issue in the Night of Owls book - the repetition is a bit annoying as others who read that crossover book might find.

The longest story arc here sees a new villain show up called Terminus, eager to battle Batman. While Batman doesn't kill, he is incredibly heavy-handed in dealing with his foes and so has amassed a number of enemies, the majority being low-level thugs, who bear the marks of their encounter with him. This is a neat idea executed terribly because the "villains" were nobodies, henchmen essentially, who're now hilariously deformed but are in no way more dangerous as a result.

One guy literally has Batman's boot print on his face for life because Batman kicked him so hard! Another guy has a batarang embedded in his brain causing him to sometimes lose his train of thought! Another person has a batarang stuck in her ear - not sure why she can't take it out, but there we go (I suppose it makes a cool novelty ear-ring). These guys made me laugh they were so silly which makes taking them seriously in any way an impossibility - but darn it if Tomasi doesn't try!

Terminus on the other hand is some generic bad guy with tons of expensive tech and a weird, debilitating illness (terminal illness = Terminus. Writing!). It's barely worth going in to because he's so forgettable and dies after a couple issues anyway. Terminus' main aim is to discredit the bat symbol by burning it onto peoples' faces, on the sides of buildings, etc. Flawless plan, right? It does lead to a parody of the excellent Dark Knight movie poster though. Talking of superhero movies, Snyder/Capullo's Iron Batman suit makes an appearance in this book in a scene reminiscent of The Avengers movie finale which is just weird.

Meanwhile Damian has decided to arbitrarily fight the other Robins (Dick, Jason and Tim) to prove that he is the best Robin of all. This storyline bugged the hell out of me the most. First off, I've grown to hate superheroes fighting superheroes after years of melodramatic, go-nowhere stories revolving around this common conceit - what, there aren't enough villains to go around? And also, it's so pointless. They fight, pages pass, the end. It's never worthwhile and is completely tedious to "read". But supes vs. supes is basically all DC does these days, probably for the lame covers, so we get a healthy dose of it in this book. Secondly, Damian has done this before. When we're first introduced to the character in Grant Morrison's Batman and Son, he beats up Tim Drake pretty badly. Since then, he's become a far more rounded character. He's developed in that he's become less arrogant, less psychotic, more empathetic, and a sense of nobility has arisen in him - at least in the Grant Morrison books. Tomasi crassly undoes the years of character building Morrison has given the character by taking his behaviour back to the start, having him fight each of the Robins, just because that's something he thinks Damian would do. Which he would - years ago like in 2006/07, but today? He's a different person. Not that you'd know reading this book.

The volume ends weakly on a zombie-ish storyline where some nothing bad guy group called The Saturn Club is supposedly resurrecting the dead. This dreary storyline is the lead-in to Joker's return and the Death of the Family Event. But the worst part of this sequence is the fill-in artist, Tomas Giorello, who draws Damian looking like a twentysomething midget! Seriously, Damian's face goes from babyfat-inflected (he's 10 remember) and child-like, to having adult contours. The transition between Giorello's art and Gleason's is jarring as you see twentysomething Damian suddenly morph back into child-like Damian in between panels! Horrible artistic choice to have Giorello fill-in on this title, he simply can't draw kids believably.

There was stuff in this book I liked - none of the issues are badly written and Gleason's art continues to be surprisingly good. Not surprising in that he's normally a bad artist but because he's not a well-known name - when you think Bat-artist, you don't necessarily think Patrick Gleason, but he's doing great work on this series to receive that recognition. The Talon issue was good, and there were moments in all of the issues that were nice touches (Bruce and Damian can't have an ordinary father and son heart-to-heart; because they're Batman and Robin they have to have their serious talks in space! Brilliant).

That said, the father and son moment at the end was really forced and came out of nowhere. It's why the book is called Pearl and felt, not just overly sentimental, but also like a con, trying to convince the reader that there's a heart to this book when it really hasn't earned any emotional payoff from the preceding pages. Bruce and Damian have had some touching moments but this was definitely not one of them though it looked like it really wanted to be.

Generally though, there are no strong, challenging villains in the book to make reading this an exciting read. Everybody Damian (and it is largely Damian) encounters is someone he can easily deal with. Maybe that's why Tomasi shoe-horned the stupid Damian-fights-the-Robins storyline in, to give him a challenge? The stories here are too short which makes me wonder if Tomasi had been told about Damian's death so that any longer story arcs would have been nixed to make do with disposable, irrelevant set pieces.

I enjoyed parts of the book but found too much here that annoyed me to really say it's a great Batman book. If you're a Damian Wayne fan, you'll probably enjoy this but for those looking for a more substantial bat-book, I suggest checking out Snyder/Capullo and Morrison/Burnham's Batman books.

Batman and Robin Volume 2: Pearl

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