Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Batman and Robin #4 Review

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Philip Tan and Jonathan Glapion

Ugh, what happened to this series? I want to blame it on a jarring switch on the artist side of things, but, in the span of one issue, we've gone from a Silver Age All Star Superman-like iteration of Batman with modern day trappings to some generic, uninspired take on the grim and gritty era of comics.

I suppose I'll tackle the most drastic change in the title first - the art. Philip Tan did an excellent job on Final Crisis: Revelations. It was dark, moody and fit the work he was doing. He then had a stint on Green Lantern with the Agent Orange storyline. That one was absolutely terrible. It was rushed, sloppy, lacked backgrounds in most cases and did not look like the same person that did Revelations.

For this issue of Batman and Robin, the detail is much better and more in line with Revelations, but it still suffers from two things: 1) he's following Frank Quitely, who did some amazing work in both composition and storytelling with his art and 2) this is bland, generic 90's Image-level artwork. Early on, he tries some unique panel composition, one instance seeing panels arranged on angles and in one bordered playing card-like fashion, but it quickly devolves into a standard comic book, which, in most cases is fine, but is pretty boring, especially in a Grant Morrison story.

I can't lay all of the blame solely on Tan, as this new story arc by Morrison is a stark departure from the previous one, too. Gone are the personal touches and, barring one rooftop scene with Dick and Damian, the fun, light moments. In their place is a barebones story about the new anti-hero, the Red Hood, who's set up to make us believe is Jason Todd, and a Batman story that feels like any old Batman story from the 90's. If you didn't know this was Dick as Batman, there's almost no indication or reason to believe it isn't Bruce, which defeats the purpose of having a new Batman in the first place.

Another major problem with the issue is that Morrison ignores everything other writers have done with characters to tell his own story. I'm not asking him to tow the line or dumb down a story or play up to some status quo, but simple things like the characterization of the Penquin, who has not been a Silver Age or 60's Adam West style 'squawking' Penquin charicature in decades, or how Black Mask is completely ignored as a major player in favour of quirky Morrison villains and gangsters.

There's also the throwaway lines about Bruce Wayne's reputation, which I assume is a reference to what happened in Batman RIP. That happened almost an entire year ago and has not been mentioned by Morrison in three issues of this series or any other writer since he introduced it in RIP. Why even mention it without adding context to it for people? I had to think about it for a minute and tried to reconcile if it was something I missed in Pual Dini's Streets of Gotham with Hush as Batman or something from earlier issues of Batman and Robin before finally settling on it's just some off hand remark about Batman RIP. That's not clever. That's just bad writing.

The issue wasn't a complete loss. There were a few highlights in it, such as the glimpses of the new contract killer, Flamingo, who's described in hushed tones and as a consumate professional while we see he's coming to Gotham in an austentatious pink jet while screaming like a girl. I'm hoping he's a Sasho Cohen Bruno-like character based on what we've seen. Would be a stark contrast to the grim and boring Red Hood stuff we've seen so far.

Verdict - Check It. A steep decline in quality, both in writing and artwork, for what had been some of the best Batman work in over a decade. I'm hoping this is only a temporary set back for the title as it's just pedestrian work right now. At least Morrison's pre-Batman and Robin work was interesting and unique, if not something I cared for. This is just dull and uninspired in comparison to that and the past three issues of this series.

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