The Absence has come for Batman and Robin because they did not come for her after she “died” while Bruce Wayne was “dead.” Now she is on on a mission to make Bruce Wayne pay by killing all of the other ex-girlfriends he’s ignored over the years.
I’m choosing to keep an open mind and believe that this arc of Batman and Robin is a product of a tight deadline. I’m holding out hope that the finale to this arc was created at a less frantic pace and will, in turn, make up for an average first issue and a fairly bad second issue.
Batman and Robin #18 is more or less an origin issue–the origin here being that of a brand new villain, Absence. The character on the cover by Gullem March looks like a great addition to Batman’s roster of villains, but appearances can be deceiving.
Absence’s real name is Una Nemo, an awful name for an awful character, so I suppose that’s appropriate. Una is yet another debutante that Bruce Wayne supposedly dated and who happens to be richer than Bruce. For a guy who keeps such odd hours, Bruce Wayne seems to have a never-ending stream of ex’s.
All of this background was established last issue and doesn’t necessarily equate a bad character. However, we learn in this issue that Una Nemo’s amazing survival and subsequent transformation into Absence came from . . . water pollution. As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s the only possible explanation, given that the other one we get later–that she has Dandy Walker Syndrome–makes no sense at all.
Dandy Walker Syndrome is a brain malformation that can feature a complete absence of the center of the brain, but not to the extent that a person would survive with a giant hole in her head.
For that matter, how, exactly, is it that this thug shot her in the head and managed to leave a perfect circle right through that supposed missing section of her brain?
Absence’s motivations are no less forced. She’s upset that Bruce Wayne didn’t miss her when she was killed (he was traveling through time after Final Crisis), and now she wants him to see what he was missing–evidently by killing people and taking parts of their bodies. (Because she’s missing part of her head–get it?)
Additionally, her followers would love to die for her because she fills “a void in their lives.” Get it?
The issue ends with Absence attacking Vicki Vale, who is, coincidentally, trying to come up with a word to use in her story. She ponders using “Cyclopean”–because, you know, that’s a pretty common word used by journalists and has nothing to do with the fact that the giant hole in Absence’s head seems like a single, giant eye.
Last month, the first post-Morrison issue of Batman and Robin showed some promise. In crafting the first chapter of a quirky, fast-paced mystery tale for the new Dynamic Duo, Paul Cornell appeared to be flexing some of the same creative muscle he’s recently shown over in Action Comics.
Disappointingly, chapter two doesn’t fare nearly as well. Ordinary in both content and structure, it’s several steps away from the bleeding edge on which this book once walked. Who would have thought that a mere 60 days later, Batman and Robin could have become so commonplace?
Picking up where the reveal of the villain in the previous issue left off, Batman and Robin #18 delves into the origin story of The Absence, the latest colorful rogue to hit the Gotham City scene. Like her sobriquet suggests, this character is missing the imaginative spark that would make her a truly memorable addition to the Batman mythos.
Granted, all the key surface level elements of a classic Bat-nemesis are here. The Absence has an unmistakable physical deformity, a tragic backstory, and an idiosyncratic gimmick to all of her crimes. Like Morrison before him, Cornell obviously understands the raw ingredients that make up a timeless Batman foe.
Boiled down to her essence, though, The Absence turns out to be nothing more than an angry jilted lover–and that’s not a very interesting premise. Her core motivation falls on the wrong side of the dividing line between characters who could have been featured in Batman: The Animated Series and those more suitable for appearances on The Batman (the follow-up animated series).
For the majority of the issue, Cornell is joined on art by Scott McDaniel, whose tendency to contort characters into oddly zoomed-in panels always hindered my ability to follow the action. A Wizard Magazine favorite for much of the 90’s, McDaniel seems a bit exposed when considered alongside some of the other talents who previously worked on this series.
If Cornell and McDaniel are deserving of a pass for this sub-par effort, it is due to their status as last minute fill-ins for this project. Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason were originally solicited as the creative team for this (and the previous) issue, and the presence of Christopher Jones as a secondary penciler is further evidence that this story arc was a rush job.
Even so, the implications this issue has for the future of Batman and Robin are fairly bleak. What was once the pride and joy of DC’s line now seems to be simply a label to slap across the results of factory-produced storytelling.
As I read Batman and Robin #18, I kept thinking back to the comic books I read decades ago. In particular, I thought of Alan Grant’s pedestrian Batman stories in the late 80s and early 90s, but also of even older stories than those–the comic book stories of my childhood.
In December 1975, I had a weekly allowance of five dollars for doing chores around the house–a sum that my mom paid me, and one that my dad thought was too much for doing less chores than he had to do when he was my age (he grew up on a farm and I was living in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio at the time). That same month, DC Comics published 36 issues and I bought 15 of them–an amount that ate up about a fourth of the money I earned through household chores that month.
Of those 15 comics, 11 of them were superhero titles; I did not buy Action Comics, Superman, World’s Finest, Shazam!, and Adventure Comics (starring Aquaman at the time, and one I should have been buying). I was a DC superhero junky back then, and
the reason I didn’t buy those four superhero titles is because I was also buying Warlord, Claw, the Unconquered, Weird Western Tales (starring Jonah Hex), and Joker (technically, not a superhero title). I should have been buying Tor, but I had not yet discovered how great Joe Kubert was.
Of the 15 comics I bought in that December of 1975, most of them were average in terms of writing and illustrations. The only ones that stand out now, 35 years later, as being memorable (if not necessarily “above average”) are Warlord #2, Claw, the Unconquered #6, Weird Western Tales #33, All-Star Comics #59, and 1st Issue Special #12 (starring the blue-skinned Starman).
Additionally, Supeboy #215 was memorable–not because either of the stories were memorable, but because I was a huge fan of the Legion and Mike Grell’s work as the illustrator of the series at that time.
In December 1991, I was working full time (plus overtime) on the loading dock of a frozen food and ice cream warehouse while putting myself through college and paying for other aspects of a misspent youth. DC Comics published 66 titles that month, and I bought nine of them. I probably should have bought more, but comics were more expensive, I had grown-up responsibilities, and I was buying a lot of independent comics from small press publishers.
Of the nine DC comics I bought, five were memorable and above average in quality–Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, John Byrne’s Omac (but not as good as Kirby’s), Keith Giffen’s Legion of Super-Heroes, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and Peter Milligan’s Shade, the Changing Man (but not as good as Ditko’s).
I had stopped buying a lot of DC’s titles in the late 1980s, and by the early 1990s most of what I bought would eventually move over to the Vertigo imprint–DC’s version of the independent comics I was mostly buying at that time. The “average” adventures of superheroes that had thrilled me when I was a kid had begun to bore me when I was a young college student who had to be tight with his full-time wages.
I had no time, money, or patience for pedestrian writing and illustrations, which is why Batman and Robin #18 has sent me down memory lane, and why I won’t be buying the conclusion of this current story arc (and probably not any other issues of this series). When I want to read a Batman story, Grant Morrison’s above average writing in Batman, Inc. gets my money nowadays–as does Scott Snyder’s surprisingly intriguing story in Detective Comics.
I’m giving Batman and Robin #18 three bullets because it is an average comic that can be enjoyed by fans of the characters or the creators; however, the days of me enjoying a story simply because Batman is in it are long past.