And while we’re on the subject of collections worthy of their hardcover editions...
“Batman & Robin Must Die” functions as both an ending and beginning in Grant Morrison’s run with the character(s). As the business with Dr. Hurt and the Black Glove is wrapped up, the stage is set for the worldwide franchising of the character in “Batman, Inc.” Though Morrison’s run has been fractured and probably a bit too weird for its own good at times, this is still an immensely satisfying volume as threads from his run come together in ways that both conform to and defy expectation.
The prospect of new Batman Dick Grayson and new Robin Damian Wayne taking on the Joker was something that was fully set up with the previous volume’s reveal that the Clown Prince of Crime had been masquerading as Oberon Sexton. However, that conflict doesn’t take the form that one would expect as the Joker is out to get the Black Glove and wants to team up with the new Batman and Robin to do it. Damian has his own ideas about such an endeavor (and they involve a crowbar), but as Dick and Commissioner Gordon plan their attack, Dr. Hurt’s plan unfolds as chaos grips the streets of Gotham once Professor Pyg’s chemicals are unleashed on the populace.
Morrison unleashes this assault in forms both high-concept (Pyg’s viral addictions that you can catch) and inspired. The inspiration coming from Damian’s crowbar negotiations with the Joker (after all, that’s how he did in Jason Todd), the latter’s use of a banana peel to defeat the villain, and Bruce Wayne’s return at exactly the point you’d expect him to. That part may be entirely predictable, but it’s set up and placed so well that you wouldn’t want him to return anywhere else.
Though I’m impressed that everything comes together as well as it does here, the disjointed nature of Morrison’s run means that there are some things that don’t come together as well as they should. Dr. Hurt’s masquerade as Thomas Wayne feels particularly underdeveloped. We never even find out what his plan to “save” Gotham was. Still, Morrison shows us that he did have a plan for this throughout his run and for all of his poetic excess that makes it all worthwhile.
While the majority of this volume’s art comes from the always excellent Frazer Irving, giving Gotham’s dark shadows a fresh sheen to them, the fourth issue features a mash-up between Irving, Cameron Stewart and newcomer Chris Burnham. A veteran of this title, Stewart’s pages look great, mixing the cartoonish and the utterly serious with ease. I didn’t know what to expect from Burnham, but after seeing him in action, I want more. His style is comparable to Stewawarts, but he also has a hint of Frank Quitely’s edge when it comes to detail. I’ve heard that he has done a few issues of “Batman, Inc.” so I’ll be looking forward to seeing them in the forthcoming hardcover.
The final issue features art from David Finch, and while I like his heavily detailed style just fine it doesn’t carry emotion as well as the styles of the other artists featured here do. It works well enough for his story, as Bruce sets up the status quo for the “Batman, Inc.” era and we’re introduced to the next big Bat-threat: Leviathan. This issue is all setup, but does leave me looking forward to more.
At its core, “Batman & Robin Must Die!” is still a pretty conventional Bat-story with our heroes facing unbeatable odds, but overcoming them through superior planning. Morrison and his artistic partners sell it through their attention to detail (as odd as these details might seem) and some careful planning of their own. The first volume of “Batman & Robin” recently came out in softcover, and served as a reminder that if I had waited a year, I could’ve had that story for ten dollars less. While that’s a valid point, it also meant that I wouldn’t have been able to read this volume now. Wait or buy it now, this is a story that belongs in the library of any Bat-fan.