Batman and Robin #17
Life Is But a Dream
I'm going to have to address a spoiler from Batman #17 to talk about this month's Batman and Robin. I don't think it will be a major revelation, but if you are eager to preserve every second of surprise from the conclusion of Death of the Family, then turn back now because the rest of this review is not safe.
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Damian is alive! Rejoice Robin fans...at least until Morrison completes his run on Batman, Incorporated and murders the brat there. Relax, I'm just kidding. I love the brat as much as the next guy, and let's hope he has not been spared Joker's crowbar to die at the hands of Leviathan.
I really have no idea what to expect from Tomasi anymore. His run started off amazing, became mediocre, got down right shoddy for awhile, and then boosted back up to being really great, so I am officially labeling this series a wild card. Does our young hero use his new lease on life to have an inspiring adventure, or is this a muddling story written just to string as along the series until Robin's soon coming death?
In this issue, Robin, Batman and Alfred are all haunted by their own nightmares.
This was a very odd issue, so I'm going to use a fairly odd reviewing pattern and just break up my reivew into the different sections of the story.
First, Tomasi seems to be keeping with the same strategy he used in the Batman and Robin Annual of focusing on the Damian, Bruce, and Alfred. Though he is still the least focused on of the three, it feels right for Alfred to get a little more of a starring role in a Batman series, and it makes sense that it would be in this book which is the most family based title in the Batman lineup. It's about darn time somebody started writing some good Alfred stories, and I hope Tomasi continues to deliver.
At the beginning of this issue, we see Batman and Robin come home and go through their cool down routine. Its a nice scene with lots of little nods to deeper personal interactions. Though the act of coming home after a night of fighting would be exceptional to most people, you get the feeling that this is just an everyday experience for them. Bruce and Damian chow down on sandwiches back to back almost appearing to ignore one another, yet Damian is using his dad as a support as he slouches back. Even the little differences of the three as they drift off to dream land is carefully thought out.
We have a throwback to the Zero issue with Damian riding in a submarine while drowned bodies float outside. Instead of being random unidentified victims though, these are all heroes and villains from the Batman world, and two Damians are holding two different versions of a Batman cowl, one with and one without a head. There is definitely an element of Damian fighting with his two natures in the scene, yet at the same time, they are not truly fighting. It's like he has come to an almost peaceful acceptance on his fundamental conflicted nature. Neither side is clearly victorious or openly hostile to the other, yet his more violent side seems to be urging Damian to slaughter his new family. “There's nothing more any of them can teach us,” he says. It seems that Talia's darker instincts, to use and discard people as tools, are influencing Damian's thinking even until today though it is equally clear that part of Damian is horrified at the idea of turning on his new family.
The double nature of Damian continues to play out in the next section of the dream where Damian appears to be about to crush a robin much as he did the bat early in the current volume of the series, but he then turns merciful and follows the path of the Robin which leads him inevitably to the presence of Batman. Again, we get a nod to Batman: Year One with the bell, and there is also a definite feeling of Morrison's work with the demonic looking bat clinging to Batman's back rummaging up images of Bat Mite's true form hiding just out of sight in Batman R.I.P. It's a creepy scene and when Batman asks Damian to join him, its not really clear if it is Bruce talking or the Bat. Also, the Bat is clearly feeding off of Bruce which makes this an extremely complicated symbolism. I suppose more so than anything else, it represents the double nature of Batman. He is a man and bat, a monster of sorts. Does the man wear the bat or does the bat wear the man? Damian has been asked to join this great cause, yet it seems to feed off everyone who enlists.
Alfred's dream appears to be a lot more straightforward. I get the feeling that the first part is an actual memory, and we get a focus on the pearls yet again which is beginning to feel a bit overdone as a reference point for the Wayne's death. I wonder if all this pearl focus is leading somewhere.
(Spoiler) After the memory section of the dream, Alfred then descends down into the darker elements of the Wayne household and confronts Joker by blowing his head off in an extremely comical and gruesome scene. Alfred jerks awake in shock and horror, yet he then falls asleep with a smile on his face, so it appears Alfred has some darker instincts he is dealing with as well.
Everything else in this review happens in the back half of the issue, so only read on if you don't mind the spoilers. Otherwise, skip to the conclusion.
I thought this section was a bit of a let down because though it has some subtext, it does not add anything particularly new to our understanding of Batman. To be fair, it's hard to add anything to Batman. Bruce remembers his parents deaths and there is the focus on the pearls again. He makes a paper boat from the flyer for Mark of Zorro. I think this represents Bruce taking the pain he felt on the night of his parents' deaths and trying to deal with it by using vigilantism. Bruce is counseled by the hopelessness of this action by his father, “You can't just build a boat, son, and hope darkness magically sales away in it.” I love Bruce's entitled answer to this. “Why not? It's my boat.”
The metaphor then gets a little messy. Batman is on the paper boat, he's caught in the flow which is pushing him further away, he loses track of his parents, and all the villains try to pile on to his paper boat, but really, what does any of this mean? I can see some significance in Batman's “boat,” his idea of vigilantism, rushing out of control, but did he really lose his parents from this action? I don't think so. If anything he clings to their memory more because of Batman. Are the villains trying to get on the boat really messing things up for Batman? No, I would say in the metaphorical sense, they are aiding him by giving him purpose and a sense of righteousness. It would have been more apt in my view if the villains were the crew of his ship or his slave labor.
Then, the giant Joker whale eats the ship which is pretty transparent. I get that he's a monumental villain, and I guess it sort of makes sense that Joker destroys everything Batman represents, but it seems a bit much to me.
Yet Damian gives Bruce a hand, a lifeline, and lifts him up. Even when everything else falls apart. Damian is there to lift him up.
Bruce checks on Damian, and that is a sweet moment, but I felt Damian's final dream kind of brought everything down a notch. Damian basically dreams of his everyday life as Robin, and he says that this is a dream in which he is willing to stay. In some respects, it's cool that Damian is content with his present state, but after seeing that all the characters of this story are so clearly torn in their emotions, loyalties and desires, it feels insincere to see such a tidy ending to this story as if everything is okay.
This is a really interesting issue. At first glance, it might seem like just a bunch of dream sequences with no substance behind them, but there is more to it than first meets the eye. If it had an ending which better addressed the conflicts represented in the issue, it would be great, but the ending feels a bit weak to me, so I've got so say the issue is merely good. If you are a fan of the series or want a more intimate take on the Bat Family, you should definitely pick this issue up.
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