Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn
written by Grant Morrison
illustrated by Frank Quitely and Philip Tan
The DC Universe has been through a lot over the past few years. Not a single hero or villain has been immune to the effects of reality-altering circumstances, sudden resurrections, and crazy machinations that threaten to rewrite the entirety of their existence. It’s pretty heavy stuff. With everything so mired in complex continuity, it’s difficult to just leap into any comic, but Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin presents a good starting point.
Here’s what you need to know: Bruce Wayne has disappeared in time, because comics like to do that. The original Robin, Dick Grayson, has returned to Gotham to fight crime as Batman, alongside Bruce Wayne’s 10-year-old son, Damian, who is essentially half supervillain and very angry about stuff. Both of these heroes are finding their legs in these iconic roles throughout the course of these six collected issues. Everything else should spell itself out without becoming too confusing.
Grant Morrison is one of my favorite writers. He can write incredibly strange, surreal, psychological fiction and just as easily slip back into writing powerful superhero tales about the X-Men or the Justice League. While it sometimes feels that Morrison is writing weird things for weirdness’ sake, the historically bizarre bad guys that attack Gotham are a very good fit for his version of creepy, and there’s no better artist to make sense of his strange exhortations than Frank Quitely.
Quitely’s artwork, which is used for the first half of the collection, might be an acquired taste. It feels soft and squishy, but it’s also ultra-detailed and focuses on a stylized realism, textures, and atmospherics. His characters may sometimes appear a little ugly, but it’s a very refreshing approach to the undeniably attractive world of comic-book superheroes, and Quitely is amazingly skilled in depicting just about anything with amazing clarity. Philip Tan takes over art duties on the second half of the book, and while his art is good, it leans toward a more typical comic-book approach.
As a Batman fanatic, I was initially unwilling to accept anyone else in the Batman costume, as are many readers who’ve become cynical about the disposability of superheroes and the negligible effects that death actually has in comic books. Bruce Wayne has been out of the cowl for various reasons over the years, and the entire “Battle for the Cowl” storyline that preceded this didn’t seem to simplify anything at all. What the DC Universe needs after a highly complicated narrative event are titles that distill things back into their essences and don’t rely on referencing everything that just happened. Having a Batman and Robin, albeit a different set of them, going out and fighting crime and weirdo criminals is a perfect way to do this and make comics accessible again.
Because this is the mainstream DC Comics universe, there is no profanity or outright sexuality, but because this is also Batman written by Grant Morrison, expect a fair amount of grotesquely broken bones, blood, and people getting disfigured or tortured. Batman’s been written into a whole lot of pointless, awkward stories, but this is a good Batman book, as well as the beginning of an entirely new series that seems like it will definitely be worth reading.