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Sunday Slugfest: Batman and Robin #9

Posted: Sunday, February 28, 2010
By: Thom Young

Grant Morrison
Cameron Stewart (with Tony Avina, colors)
DC Comics
"Blackest Knight, Part Three: Broken"

While Dick "Batman" Grayson, Knight, and Squire work to uncover the British Lazarus Pit that will restore the All-New Batwoman to life, the resurrected clone of Bruce "Batman" Wayne is in Gotham City to attempt to kill Damian for some reason that isn't exactly clear.

Stephen Joyce:
Chris Kiser:
Dave Wallace:
Thom Young:

Stephen Joyce:

As Batman and Robin #9 begins, Batwoman is dead (but will soon be resurrected), Batman is trapped under a pile of rocks, and the Zombie Batman is off to terrorize Damian and Alfred. No, this issue isn’t a Blackest Night tie-in, but people are rising from the dead. The final chapter of "Blackest Knight" picks up right where the previous issue left off as everyone tries to figure out who Dick Grayson resurrected in the Lazarus Pit.

Batman and Robin has been the Batman book to read since it started as Grant Morrison has flawlessly continued the amazing epic that started when he was writing Batman. The latest story has answered many questions that have been present since Final Crisis concerning the death of Bruce Wayne.

While this arc was been a joy to read, the final act falls a little short. The writing was spot on and the art was good, but the story just felt flat. I normally expect Morrison to throw in a few surprises and keep us guessing as to what his plans really are. However, everything seemed very predictable and uninteresting in issue #9. Fighting a zombie Batman was interesting for about three pages, and then it just started getting old.

The illustrations on par with what we’ve come to expect from Cameron Stewart. He seems to pull inspiration from the styles of several different illustrators to make his own unique style that stands on its own. It works very well for a Batman story because the people actually look like regular people instead of body builders.

Dick Grayson looks like a person who has his fighting style would look. The Zombie Batman may be muscular, but Stewart is able to convey his physique without giving him too much muscle.

However, Stewart's work aside, the only parts of Morrison's that I actually enjoyed were the character moments and conversations that Batman has with other people. I really enjoyed the scene where he not only thanks Batwoman for the help, but he also tries to hit on her. I guess she doesn’t have the heart to tell him she’s not into Batmen.

Chris Kiser:

I hate to say it, but there’s something missing in Batman and Robin #9. Not to worry, though, it’s still chock full of the type of zany, fun action that fans have come to know and love in this series.

As the mindless resurrected Batman from the previous issue shows up at Wayne Tower looking for blood, Grant Morrison’s imagination goes wild coming up with ways for Damian to fend off the brute. Heck, even Alfred manages to jump into the fight.

Throughout all the fisticuffs that take place here, Morrison finds room to squeeze in not one but two instances of a pair of characters throwing the simultaneous double-punch move that has become this book’s trademark. Here’s hoping that Frank Quitely has in mind an upcoming cover featuring a double-punch scene before it’s all said and done.

Present, too, is the deceivingly understated dialogue that gives many of the best Morrison comics their charm. How many other writers manage to have their characters quickly and almost dismissively explain major plot twists that would take several pages to unravel in most scripts?

Look no further than page one of this comic to witness yet another classic example of Morrison's technique. I dare you not to smile when Dick Grayson describes his role in euthanizing Batwoman with all the casualness of ordering a sandwich.

And, yes, Cameron Stewart’s art continues to impress here in his final Batman and Robin outing. Among the many well choreographed action sequences, Stewart’s most notable feat may be the way he is able to visually distinguish between the two characters wearing nearly identical Bat-costumes--even before one of them begins to have his flesh disintegrate.

However, I mentioned that there seemed to be something missing. What this issue lacks that so many preceding it didn’t is the element of surprise. Just about anyone who read Batman and Robin #8 two weeks ago ought to be able to land a pretty accurate guess as to what happens in this issue.

When Batwoman succumbed to mortal injuries next to a Lazarus Pit, who had any doubt that she’d be soon taking a dip in that mystical chemical bath? Thus, since that’s exactly what does happen, there’s no unforeseen wrinkle or complication that overturns anything about the reader’s expectations--so, too, goes the battle against the insane undead Batman clone.

He lumbers around with the lingual sophistication of Frankenstein’s monster. In other words, he’s the kind of templated character that anyone could have come up with. His misspelled, text message-like dialogue adds little originality since it would mostly sound normal if spoken aloud.

Worse yet is the expectation Morrison seems to have that his Zombie Batman’s cruel taunting of Damian and Dick will carry significant dramatic weight for the audience. In a vacuum, these scenes might have had the desired effect, but in reality it all seems a little too similar to the tired type of exchange we’ve already seen in Blackest Night.

On the bright side, however, Batman and Robin #9 is the final issue of an arc that, taken as a whole, holds its own alongside the others in this series. It’s a three-part tale that, unfortunately, just happened to have its climax in the second chapter.

Dave Wallace:

I’ve spotted a pattern with Batman and Robin’s three-issue story arcs. After beginning with eventful, dense openers that introduce plenty of interesting concepts, the middle chapters tend to sag a little under the weight of developing the arcs’ ideas. Yet, those second chapters set up a tense, exciting closing chapter that teases readers with the promise of even more compelling stories to come.

So has it been with “Blackest Knight”, which finishes in style this issue.

Batman and Robin #9 serves up a showdown between the resurrected clone of Bruce Wayne from the previous issue and the current Batman and Robin. The clone turns out to be a far more interesting villain than I expected, as writer Grant Morrison presents him as a disturbing-yet-tragic character who communicates in broken, phonetic speech and who is haunted by his fractured memories of Bruce Wayne’s life (as seen in the Final Crisis tie-in issues of Morrison’s Batman).

This twisted alternate version of the original Batman makes for an intimidating and threatening presence whilst also giving young Damian Wayne the chance to prove himself a skilled fighter--even whilst incapacitated as he recuperates from the injuries he sustained in the previous arc.

Elsewhere, in addition to seeing the obvious resurrection of Batwoman after her death in the previous issue, we’re treated to an interesting conversation between the Knight and Dick Grayson that explains that the Knight was inspired to be a crimefighter by Dick--just as Dick learned his trade from Bruce.

Now that the Knight has his own sidekick in the Squire, Morrison’s story seems to suggest that the heroism of all three characters stems from the actions of Bruce Wayne, which reinforces that character’s significance in advance of his return.

Cameron Stewart’s final issue as artist (well, for the time being, anyway) features plenty of dynamic action sequences for him to draw. Whilst his art in previous issues was reminiscent of Frank Quitely in places, it feels like Stewart is very much comfortable with his own style here.

With certain characters, Stewart makes a couple of interesting and logical innovations (his depiction of Batwoman with Kate Kane’s short hair is something that I don’t think we’ve seen from JH Williams III in Detective Comics, for instance). He also creates a real sense of energy with his jauntily angled layouts, whilst always making the action crystal clear.

Of course, this clarity is partly due to Morrison’s conception of some imaginative and visually interesting fight scenes. I enjoyed the sequence in which Alfred and Damian trap the Bat-clone in the doors of a lift, and I couldn’t help but smile at the perfect timing of the catch that saves the life of the young Robin (who again benefits from some great characterisation with his impertinent and ungrateful line “I could have saved myself”).

There are also two examples of the double-knockout-punch that is fast becoming Batman and Robin’s trademark, and which perfectly encapsulates the book’s lively and fun approach to superheroics.

Batman and Robin #9 is an enjoyable issue that ties the story arc up in a satisfying and straightforward manner whilst also setting up some interesting elements for the future--including the return of Bruce Wayne and a possible conflict between Dick and Damian.

Subtler hints as to the future direction of the book are also evident, with the Bat-clone’s reference to the necessity of the "sacrifice of a son"--making me wonder whether Morrison plans to have Damian or Dick meet a sticky end at the same time as Bruce returns this summer.

Either way, I’m still very much enjoying the book, and I can’t wait to see what Morrison has in store for the next arc.

Thom Young:

When I was a kid (between the ages of 11 and 17), I read every issue of Batman, Detective Comics, and The Brave and the Bold that came out. I was a huge Batman fan, and I read any comic in which the character appeared.

Overall, it means that during those seven or eight years of my life I must have read somewhere between 200 and 300 comics that starred Batman (depending on whether the titles were monthly, bi-monthly, or semi-monthly).

Of those approximately 250 issues, I enjoyed them all (I was less discriminating back then). However, I now only vividly recall about 25 issues (or about 10% of them):
  • Eight written by Denny O'Neil (six of which were illustrated by Neal Adams and one of which was illustrated by Marshall Rogers),

  • Three written by Len Wein (one of which was illustrated by Neal Adams and two of which were illustrated by Marshall Rogers),

  • One written by Bob Rozakis (which I remember because it was illustrated by Marshall Rogers),

  • Nine written by Steve Englehart (six of which were illustrated by Marshall Rogers and two of which were illustrated by Walt Simonson),

  • And I also recall about four others, primarily because they were illustrated by either Walt Simonson or Michael Golden (with various writers).
Of course, I recall bits and pieces of other issues--particularly ones that were illustrated by Don Newton--but I only vividly recall the stories of about 10% of the comics I read when I was a teenager (which is probably not only true of the Batman comics I read but of all the comics I read).

My point is that not every comic book is going to be considered a memorable "classic" decades later. The 10% of the comic book stories that I vividly recall are all "classics" in my mind, but the other 90% were enjoyable ways to pass my teenage years when I wasn't outside playing with friends or working at Dairy Queen.

This latest arc of Batman and Robin is undoubtedly going to fall into that same 90% range. I may remember bits and pieces of it, but "Blackest Knight" is probably not something that I will vividly recall as a "classic Batman story" decades from now--and that's okay.

It was an enjoyable way to pass some time in my otherwise busy schedule.

As my colleagues have pointed out, Grant Morrison's final chapter for the "Blackest Knight" arc doesn't offer any big surprises--Batwoman is resurrected in the Lazarus Pit exactly as everyone except Ray Tate expected, and Damian (and Alfred) held his own against the resurrected Batman clone long enough for Dick Grayson to sweep through in deus ex machina fashion to save the day.

No big surprises.

There were, however, a few minor surprises. For instance, I was mildly surprised that Damian had his wits about him enough to say in front of Batwoman, "P-Pennyworth? Who are all these terrible people and what on Earth's going on?"

Damian feigning a flustered stutter ("P-Pennyworth?), that's a great little inclusion on Morrison's part that I truly appreciated.

Of course, Damian was feigning his flustered confusion and elitist innocence ("these terrible people") in an attempt to throw Batwoman off the notion that the Waynes and Grayson are the Batmen and Robins with whom she is familiar.

Obviously, though, the All-New Batwoman is smart enough to figure out this formula:
The resurrected clone of Batman
A missing Bruce Wayne
A Batman who used to be Nightwing
A wheelchair-bound Damian Wayne
A new Robin (whom she may know was injured against the Red Hood)
The Waynes and Grayson are the Batmen and Robins with whom she is familiar.
I also enjoyed (but was slightly bewildered by) the resurrected Batman clone confusing the All-New Batwoman with the original Batwoman after he was kicked in the gut by her: "Augghh! Kathy! How cud she do this 2 me?!"

It's important to remember that the resurrected clone believes he is actually Bruce "Batman" Wayne--and that his actions against Damian will somehow save his life (in what way is not made clear). The clone is not "evil," but he is insane--as was reported in Final Crisis (Bruce Wayne's life experiences drove all of the Batman clones insane when they were downloaded into those creations crafted by Mokkari and Simyan in Darkseid's bunker).

Thus, the resurrected Batman clone recalls Kathy "Batwoman" Kane, and he is confusing Kate "the All-New Batwoman" Kane with his old friend.

It seems unusual that DC would allow the original Batwoman to still be part of the current continuity. However, Morrison has previously referenced the original Batwoman in his "Space Medicine" arc that ran in Batman #672-74.

It would be interesting to see what the relationship is between the two Katherine "Batwoman" Kanes--and how two women with similar names (and who would have been 10 to 15 years apart in age) both happened to become "Batwoman" at different points in DC's current continuity.

I hope Morrison (and/or Greg Rucka) will tell that story someday. It might be a memorable classic--especially if it could be illustrated by Neal Adams or the Ghost of Marshall Rogers. In fact, just having the Ghost of Marshall Rogers illustrate a story would be memorable enough (especially since I don't believe in the supernatural)!

Speaking of illustrators . . . I've not been overly pleased with Cameron Stewart's work on the "Blackest Knight" arc, and this issue mostly continues my opinion.

It's not bad work; it's just not great work.

There are a few drawings in this issue that I thought were quite good--so good in fact that I double checked the credits to see if Stewart was actually the sole illustrator on the issue or if there was a co-illustrator by the name of Frank Quitely who did a few pages.

The credits list Stewart as the sole illustrator, but there are some pages (or panels) that evoke Quitely's style very convincingly. However, other pages still evoke Robert Crumb's style for me. Crumb is one of my all-time favorite comic book creators, so it's not necessarily a terrible thing that some of Stewart's layouts of figures and body mechanics (not his lines) seem similar to the way Crumb lays out figures and body movements.

However, Crumb's style seems rather odd in a Batman story. When he was hitting on her near the end of the issue, I half expected Dick Grayson to tell Batwoman how much he loves strong-legged women with large butts--now that would have made this issue very memorable decades from now!

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