I wouldn’t say that the stories Grant Morrison has been writing on “Batman & Robin” have been genre-redefining masterpieces. Really, the biggest thing he has accomplished with this series is getting me to take Dick Grayson seriously as Batman’s replacement and likewise for Damien Wayne as the new Robin. That said, the stories contained in this volume are great examples of what I expect from “Batman” comics in terms of quality and execution.
“Blackest Night” is the better of the two stories as it serves as a thematic tie-in to the “Blackest Night” crossover in that we see Dick’s efforts to resurrect Bruce Wayne via the last Lazarus Pit on earth. This involves teaming up with Batman and Robin’s English counterparts Knight and Squire, taking on some themed upper and lower-class villains, and a surprise encounter with Batwoman. The team-up here is particularly gratifying as it shows that Morrison actually read Greg Rucka’s work with the character and he winds up integrating a lot of that well in this arc. Artist Cameron Stewart’s cartoonish style is used to good effect here as his characters are quite expressive with their masks and he effortlessly handles the speedy action scenes with the characters.
If there’s anything that’s going to trip a reader up here, it’s that the big reveal about Batman’s corpse hinges on the reader having read “Final Crisis.” For someone who reads all of Morrison’s DC Universe work, that’s not a problem but if you haven’t then you’re going to be wondering who Darkseid and that other guy is during the big reveal. I do like how the resurrected “Batman” is handled as his broken speech patterns and the reactions of the characters around him manage to give this monster a sense of pathos... notunlikeFrankensteinsmonster. (Damn it! Couldn’t resist the comparison.) It’s a fun adventure that also sets up the next arc rather well.
“Batman vs. Robin” does actually involve the two characters fighting each other at one point, but it serves as more of a tie-in/companion piece to Morrison’s other Bat-title “The Return of Bruce Wayne.” It also nearly buckles under the weight of also having to advance the ongoing subplots regarding the Black Glove society and masked British sleuth Oberon Sexton. That it doesn’t buckle is thanks to the arc’s other focus on the conflict between Damien and his mother Talia. This is the real heart of the arc as she wants her son to inherit the world as the heir to the Al’Ghul legacy while he wants to uphold the ideals of his father -- in his own way. It’s a classic tale of a son trying to escape the legacy of his family, made more relevant and fun in this story by the fact that the mother has a high-tech control mechanism built into her son’s spine which allows her to manipulate his every move.
While this conflict infuses every aspect of the arc, there’s still enough stuff going on that I wish we had another issue to showcase it all. From the demon thugs prowling around Gotham, to Dr. Hurt making his return to Gotham, to the mystery surrounding Oberon Sexton and the architectural madness in Wayne Manor itself, I was impressed this storyline managed to function at all. As for artist Andy Clarke, though he isn’t the best artist this book has seen he’s still able to keep up with the mad ideas and demands of the writer. By the end, Morrison has somehow managed to weave it all into a successful transition for the book’s climax in the next volume. I imagine that his success is due in no small part to revealing Sexton’s true identity -- which leads to a confrontation that I’m sure everyone has been anticipating since Dick and Damien took over their new roles.
I do think “Batman & Robin vol. 2” is worth your time and money. If you’ve been following Morrison’s work with the character then this won’t disappoint and if you haven’t, it serves as another reason to jump onboard. Whether or not it’s worth buying in hardcover, that’ll just depend on whether or not you can wait a year for this to arrive in softcover. It’s a hard, but certainly not impossible proposition.