Monday, 1 August 2016

Grant Morrison Corner: Batman and Robin Book 1: Batman Reborn (#1-6)

"Crime is doomed" - Dick Grayson

Well after all the rape in last months Alan Moore offering, it's time to delve into Grant Morrison Corner instead.  And today we find... Batman and Robin! Now this is going to get a bit complicated.  Grant Morrison had just done the acclaimed run of Batman issues "Batman R.I.P" which took Batman apart physically and mentally.  Then the Grant Morrison event series "Final Crisis" happened round about the same time, and in it Batman, exhausted from the events of R.I.P is captured by New God Granny Goodness and sent to Command D to be broken.  He escapes (because he's the Goddamn Batman) and using a Radion bullet, shoots Darkseid, but falls prey to his Omega Beams.  He is thought dead, but in fact he's been transported back in time even though a body that looks like him appears to have been left in the present.  So the Batman we are following in this series is in fact Dick Grayson who has taken up the mantle, because Gotham needs a Batman, and his Robin is Batman's son (with Talia Al Ghul), Damian Wayne.  A smug and arrogant little bugger, but endlessly entertaining in how he kicks against the rules both Batmen hold him to.  This is just prior to The New 52 2011 reboot so don't confuse it with the Batman and Robin title of The New 52 (although I believe it's a pretty good comic in its own right).  There are two arcs in this volume, on art duties are long time Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely for arc one, and Philip Tan on arc two.

BATMAN REBORN: It begins with Mr. Toad and his gang driving very fast, Toad says the pursuers would need wings to catch them, "they'd need to be Batman - and Batman's as dead as the sky is black".  Then a flying Batmobile flies up alongside the car.

Inside Damian says sniffily, "I told you so". Dick says he's sorry for doubting him and they disable Toad's car.  But it catches fire, so they clamp the Batmobile on top and fly to the river where they drop the car.  They are both waiting as Toad climbs out muttering, "Pyg better be pleased".  Batman and Robin both combo punch him and knock him out, he is carrying a bagfull of dominoes.  "What kind of drug dealer gets paid in dominoes?" muses Dick.
Mr. Toad's wild ride.
Toad wakes up to find him blindfolded and hanging from the Batmobile over what he thinks is high up.  Dick asks him what bought him to Gotham and to tell him before he loses his grip.

Toad: "I'm telling you nanti! Where's my dinari!"

Dick says that's all he needed to know and drops Toad who was actually only a foot or so above a roof.  They leave him for the GCPD to pick up.  As the Batmobile flies off, Toad yells "You wait until Pyg comes!  You'll all wish you'd never been born!"
In the Batcave Alfred asks Dick if he is having second thoughts about taking on the mantle. Dick says no, he always knew this is what he'd do.

Dick: "I just didn't want to face it.  This was my worst, worst nightmare when I was a kid".

He wonders what he is letting himself in for with Damian.  Alfred reassures him that he is difficult but under the bluster is "the inheritor of his father's courage, his determination, his desire to do what is right".  And if anyone can bring out the best in him, it's Dick.

Alfred: "Master Bruce was always proud of you sir.  I know he'd be especially proud of you now".

Later, Alfred serves supper to Dick and Damian while they are working.  Dick says Toad was speaking European circus slang.  He confesses about being Batman that he wishes "I could shake the feeling I was wearing a shroud."
Heading for GCPD.
Damian tells him that if he doesn't think he's up to it, he should make room for someone who is.  "Maybe one day" says Dick, then they fly out in the Batmobile.  Toad is in lock-up at Gotham PD, ranting about how everyone will pay when Pyg comes.  Commisioner Gorden and a couple of cops are shining the Bat signal in the sky.

The cops thinks it's useless and despite Toad's stories about seeing Batman and Robin and a flying car, Batman and Robin are gone.  "Hope springs eternal" says Gordon.  And Dick and Damian paraglide down to them.

Outside the station a car pulls up and a man with his head on fire falls out.  The cops run to help, but the man attacks them setting them on fire.  Elsewhere a man called Niko who was part of Toad's gang is hurridly packing while his daughter Sasha asks why?  Niko says he escaped from Batman today and you don't do that twice. 

Before they can make their getaway some creepily masked, silent figures push their way into the flat.  Later Niko wakes up bound to a table.  Sasha is being restrained by two more of the "Dollotrons".  Professor Pyg says he wanted Niko to be awake for his transformation, and gets out a mask, he intends to do it to Sasha next.

Pyg: "Pyg will make her perfect.  Pyg is here to make everything perfect."

The next chapter begins with Dick looking despondant back in the Batcave.  Alfred asks him what happened, and we flash back to them landing on the roof of Gotham PD.  Gordon says "been a long time.  A whole lot of rumours".  Dick says they've been upgrading their operation.  He asks if Mr. Toad is talking yet?  He comes from an "extreme" circus - "Le Cirque D'Etrange".
DickBats feels like a failure.
Then the front desk calls up to say there is trouble, and Dick and Damian run off to investigate.  One of the cops says to Gordon didn't Batman use to be taller, and doesn't he sound different now?  "Different maybe...but familiar" muses Gordon and they leave the roof.

Downstairs the flaming head man - Rex - is setting cops on fire and another car with some baddies in it pulls up.  One is a grotesquely obese man in a tutu packing a gun, the other is conjoined triplets.  Batman and Robin arrive on the scene and fighting starts.  Damian takes the triplets on first, before Batman steps in and finishes them. Damian ignores his order to stay together and goes after the fat man.

Dick is fighting Rex and calling for help from Damian, he finally manages to disable Rex temporarily with a fire extinguisher and shouts "Damian!  Where the hell are you?"  He ties up the triplets, then goes to find Damian has rammed a bucket on the fat man's head and is hitting it yelling "Explain!"  Dick pulls him away and Damian shouts at him:

Damian: "His boss is planning some kind of attack on the city.  I almost had it out of him!"

Then attention is drawn to Mr. Toad lying dead in his cell.  Gordon is most annoyed that a suspect was killed under their noses.
Damian takes on the triplets.
Back at the Batcave, Dick and Damian are still arguing.  He tells Damian he has to play by the rules, "step over the line and Gordon won't hesitate to hunt us down."  Damian is pissed enough he can't kill, now he has to be nice to cops too?  Dick says there is more to batman and Robin than fighting alone and thinking with your fists.  He needs to hone his detective skills and learn to obey an order.

Damian: "This pathetic impersonation of my father makes a mockery of his memory".

Dick says Damian is only ten and has a lot to learn.  Damian marches off saying "I'll find a teacher I can respect." And he departs the Batcave.
Damian rebels.
Dick asks Alfred if he was such a brat at that age.  Alfred points out he and Damian had very different upbringings.  Dick says no one believes he is Batman, it was insane to try and replace him.  He is even having trouble with the cape, the first thing he dropped when he became Nightwing.

Alfred says Dicks roots are in showbusiness, so think of Batman as a performance and "the spotlight is on you now."  Dick thanks him and leaves the Batcave as well.  While this was going on Damian tracked down Pyg's circus, but he is quickly overwhelmed by Dollotrons.  He is in big trouble and driving the new Quad-Bat, Dick comes racing to find clues as to where he is.

Dick is driving the Quad-Bat at high speed, holding Rex just above the ground and telling him to start talking which Rex does.  Dick brings him back to Gordon who isn't happy about what Dick did.  But Rex tells them Pyg is going to release a sickness in Gotham.
Pyg says... something.
Damian wakes up bound to a chair, in Pyg's circus tent lab.  He also has Sasha tied to a table.  She has a mask on but has retained her identity. Damian sneers, "So.. whose neck do I break first?"  Pyg rambles some nonsensical stuff that probably means something to Grant Morrison but which I cannot parse.

He starts up some music and begins dancing pervily round Damian who is surreptiously freeing himself.  He leaps out of the chair and takes out the Dollotrons who were about to put a face on him and he double-kicks Pyg in the face.  Dick meanwhile has encountered some Dollotrons who spit out a germ ridden phlegm to spread the sickness.
DickBats fights more Dollotrons.
Damian frees a terrified Sasha and promises not to leave her.  Pyg grabs the Dollotron who was her father, so she rams a lit bunsen burner into his chest setting him alight.  He runs away up onto the rollercoaster with Damian in hot pursuit.  Sasha screams:

Sasha: "Don't leave me in this terrible place!  Don't leave me!  You promised!"

Pyg and Damian crash into the ground and Pyg knocks him out with a stick.  He is about to start beating Damian when Dick rams him with the Quad-Bat.

Pyg begins to freak out saying "I wasn't doing anything wrong!".  Damian has recovered and the two of them fight more Dollotrons.  Dick says Damian did a good job even if he went in without doing his research first. 

Pyg's lair is burning, Damian says "There was a girl... Did... did you just save my life?"  Dick manages to retrieve a vial marked antidote from the burning lab and says to Damian no one was in there, she must have got out.

Gordon and the GCPD come to mop things up taking Pyg and the Dollotrons into custody.  Gordon says Batman has his full support, and was all this about the sordid drug trade?  Dick says Pyg invented a drug that destroyed the victim's personality and the gangs wer using it to control women.

But Pyg then realised what he had, that he could hold a whole city to random with it.  And he tosses Gordon the antidote vial.  Gordon wants to know if this is all over.  Dick doesn't think so, he found a domino which was the next in sequence after Toad's.  So who did kill Toad?
Meet The Red Hood.
The Dollotrons are being cared for in hospital, but when the masks are removed it takes the face off underneath.  Sasha finds her Dollotron father and smothers him to death.  Two security guards confront her, but someone shoots them.  It is The Red Hood.

Red Hood: "You need a friend right?  And me, I'm looking for a partner to help me wipe the vomit from Gotham once and for all.  Well?  You have anything else planned?"

And that brings the BATMAN REBORN arc to a close.

REVENGE OF THE RED HOOD: The arc begins with a supervillain called Lightning Bug being chased by Batman and Robin.  He is cornered in a dark alley where Red Hood is waiting.  Thinking he is Batman, Lightning Bug surrenders to him.  He says he needed the money for a medical treatment for a condition he has. 

"It's called dying" says Red Hood and slashes his throat.  Then he shoots him saying "Let the punishment fit the crime!" Lighning Bug is tossed burning through a wall and Red Hood leaves.  Batman and Robin find a red card at the scene and Dick says "Third time this week. Who are these people?"
Covering for Bruce's absence at a society do.
Later Dick and Damian are at a party at Wayne Tower.  Lucius Fox asks after Bruce Wayne, Dick says he's working to clear his name in his own way (during the events of Batman R.I.P lies were spread about him and his family).  Dick is then introduced to a masked crime fighter from England called Oberon Sexton, "The Gravedigger".  He says to Dick, "it seems we have a mutal interest in crime".  Then Alfred calls Dick and Damian away.

At their base, Scarlet (Sasha's new name) is regarding her mask.  She tells Red Hood she is afraid to take it off in case it rips her whole face off.  She says she can't go to the doctor because they have killed people.

Red Hood: "So keep it. It's scary, modern, edgy, whatever.  You give the brand that genuine nu-face chic those try-hard Gotham wannabes just can't muster.  They'll all be imagining the beauty beneath the creepy mask."

She asks what about him?  What's dress up all about?  What is a Red Hood?  He says it's about fighting crime at a new level but mainly "this is about the revenge of one crazy man in a mask on another crazy man in a mask".
Red Hood and "Scarlet" make plans.
Batman and Robin are waiting on a roof spying on a get together of various Gotham criminals including the Penguin.  They are talking about the Red Hood and a man in what looks like a purple KKK outfit called Mr. Santo says his boss "El Penitente" has taken and interest and is sending "Flamingo" or "the man who eats faces" to deal with him.

He goes on to say El Penitente has indentified Gotham as the "perfect testing ground for the next generation of narcotics."  One of them says the mob wants in on this and he mentions a man called "Bullet Nose" who is mostly likely already involved and should be here at this meeting.

Red Hood crashes the meeting saying he stuck a gun up each of Bullet Nose's nostrils and blew his brains out through the top of his skull.  He and Scarlet then start attacking them and Batman and Robin arrive on the scene.  Penguin begs Batman to protect him and Red Hood says to Scarlet who is filming it, "Batman shielding a known felon".  Dick recognises his voice.  "Jason?" he asks.  Red Hood ignored him shouting "Red Hood and Scarlet say 'Let the punishment fit the crime!'"
DickBats, Damian finally meet Red Hood and Scarlet.
A quick bit of background.  Red Hood is Jason Todd, the second Robin.  He wasn't very popular with readers and there was a phone in vote carried out as to whether he'd live or die in a coming storyline.  He was voted to die and the Joker beat him half to death with a crowbar before blowing him up.  He stayed dead until 2005's Infinite Crisis where Superboy punching reality caused history to change.  Jason Todd was bought back to life this time in a Lazarus pit and became Red Hood who is not afraid to use lethal force, mainly to piss off Batman.

We get a peek into Sasha/Scarlet's thoughts.  How she always sided with her father growing up, though in retrospect her mother was probably right.  She says that was what she was thinking when she suffocated her father.

Sasha: "My name is Sasha.  My face is no longer my own.  I have made something of myself.  Something new.  Something strong and unafraid.  My name is Sasha.  But not tonight.  Tonight I am Scarlet."

She and Jason argue with Dick and Damian.  Jason tells Damian, "you're only the latest in a line and don't expect job security". Penguin goes crashing through a window and uses his umbrella to land safely. 
Jason Todd is a prick.
Dick says to Jason to stop talking in slogans, he just killed their main connection to the man in Mexico they are after.  Jason says this person in Mexico won't send anyone else after this little demonstration.  Dick asks what the point of all this is.

Jason: "Batman is dead.  I'm taking this mission to the next level.  I'm doing what we should have done years ago and no ones going to stand in my way."

Irritated, Damian attacks, Jason bashes his head on the floor and tussles with Dick.  Then Scarlet gets a hold of Damian and holds a knife to his throat and threatens to cut out his brainstem.

Jason tosses a red card and says "we'll kick your ass another time" and they leave.  Dick holds Damian back, Damian recognises Scarlet as the girl from the circus he tried to save.  One of the criminals is still alive and holding a domino.  They find the Penguin down on the pavement and escort him to the police station to give his statement.

Next day the news is discussing the Red Hood's antics, Jason has leaked the footage of Dick and Damian protecting the Penguin.  Oberon Sexton is being interviewed to point out they were protecting him from two killers.  "My father made some very strange choices when it came to partners" comments Damian and a poll on the Tv shows a majority supporting Red Hood's approach.  Mr. Santo is in hospital being interviewed by Gordon but all he says is that the Flamingo is coming.
How superficial he is.
At the Red Hood's base, Jason is looking at himself in the mirror and mumbling about zits and going bald.  He tells Scarlet his grey streak is from when he crawled out of the Lazarus Pit.  Scarlet wonders if there will be repercussions for what they did tonight.  He says doesn't her generation want to stand up for something?  They are going to put every Gotham criminal in the dirt.

On a plane which has landed in Gotham, the police have been called because inside are several women dead, minus their faces.  One survived and said the man - Flamingo - skinned and ate only their faces.  Gordon reports this to Dick, who says "it looks like the Red Hood's antics attracted the wrong kind of attention".  They fly to the hospital where Jason is pouring bleach into Mr. Santo's drip bag.

Dick and Damian attack and as they fight Scarlet thinks of a way to hurt Damian, she yells he promised to save her and he freezes up.  Jason unloads his guns into the reinforced kevlar plate behind the Batman logo on Dick's chest stunning him and Scarlet knocks Damian out.

We cut to them leaving with Red Hood saying let them try to get out of that with their dignity intact.  Then he is shot.  Scarlet sees who did it and thinks back to how her uncle and father were scared of a man who had his brain cut away until he was the perfect killing machine:

Sasha: "The King of Killers.  The Ace of Assassins. On that day Flamingo became Death.  And so Death comes to Gotham."

Dick and Damian come to and discover they have been stripped naked and have a webcam pointed at them with a message from Red Hood telling the public one million calls will activate the webcam to see Batman and Robin naked.  Damian says someone might have beaten them to revenge on Jason, he heard gunshots outside.

Flamingo (cover art by Frank Quietly)
Jason is incapacitated and Flamingo is beating Scarlet with a whip.  Jason manages to get up and tells Flamingo to leave her alone, it's him he wants.  He shoots at Flamingo and hits him in the shoulder, but Flamingo just laughs. 

Dick and Damian free themselves and get dressed up, then activate the webcam and tell the viewers to "get a life!".  Damian admits he feels guilty about the girl, "that's a first" says Dick.  They discover the Red Hood HQ is a van which is why they couldn't locate it.  Dick calls Alfred and asks about Flamingo, Alfred advises him to "proceed with the utmost caution" and that he has alerted Commisioner Gordon.
Scarlet attacks desperately.
Jason and Flamingo are fighting and Flamingo shoots Jason in the leg.  Jason yells at Scarlet to "run! get out of here!"  He shouts at Flamingo:

Jason: "So shoot me!  Do it!  I'll come back!"

Then Damian appears and fires a grenade behind Flamingo and makes the un-PC comment, "I was expecting scary, not gay".  Then Dick appears from out of the smoke and attacks Flamingo.  They fight and Dick is knocked over the edge of a cliff but uses the Bat-grapple to stop his fall and climb back up.

Flamingo smashes Damian into a wall and shoots him in the back, but Scarlet jumps on his back and stabs him in the face.  He knocks her away then Jason scoops him up with a mechanical digger and dumps him along with a lot of rubble, over the cliff edge.

Dick arrives back at the top and finds Damian is paralysed from the waist down.  Jason says to him, "you see what I just did?"  Dick angrily says what he did was bring a monster to Gotham.  Jason says Dick doesn't have the stones to protect Gotham.

Dick: "Look at yourself Jason.  You're a mess.  Everything's a mess.  Stop all this and let us help you."

Jason says it is too late for him. He tried to be like Dick but the world had other plans for him.  Gordon and the cops arrive to arrest him saying Batman is allowed to operate because he stays on the right side of the law.
Not the last we'll see of Jason Todd, sadly.
Damian's mother's paramedics have arrived to take him away for treatment.  As Jason is dragged away he shouts that Dick recovered "his" body, why haven't they used a Lazarus pit on him?  He says Batman is dead because Dick, "couldn't stand the fact you were always going to be in his shadow!"

A tired Dick tells Gordon they should look for Jason's partner.  Gordon says she won't go far with a face like she has.  But as Dick says it's time to go home, it's been a hell of a night, we cut to Scarlet driving the Red Hood HQ out of Gotham.  The mask peels itself off and falls away, "And Scarlet was gone".

The arc ends with El Penitente calling Oberon Sexton saying his sins have found him out and he wants him to deal with some unfinished business and a score to settle in Gotham.  Then we get a shot of Batman staggering down to where Bruce's body is being kept, for the next arc is a tie-in to the mega crossover "Blackest Night".  And that finishes the REVENGE OF THE RED HOOD arc.
Dead Bruce Wayne teasers the next volume.
This is a very enjoyable volume that doesn't require a massive amount of knowledge of what was happening during Batman's convoluted history at the time.  Knowing that stuff adds to the enjoyment, but pretty much all you need to know is conveyed in the first arc.  Dick and Damian make and enjoyable Batman and Robin, with Dick making a lighter, more falliable and more optimistic Batman than the overly grim "Bat God" that to be fair was also of Grant Morrison's making.  Batman's son as Robin could have been awful and self-indulgant but Damian is handled so well, that he was very well received by fandom.  Ironically the first attempt at a Robin with attitude was Jason Todd and well we can see how that turned out.  Given the lemons of his return, Morrison makes lemonade by contrasting his supposedly more "modern" approach with Batman's "old fashioned" values.  But crucially does retain sympathy for him in the end.  It's possible that Jason Todd as Red Hood has been as popular as he has been since, with (awful) New 52, DCYou and the DC Rebirth titles starring him mainly due to Grant Morrison's work with the chracter.  So thank you very much Grant, YOU MONSTER! Both artists do a fantastic job, portraying the kind of mad villians that could only come from Morrison's mind.  Philip Tan's work is great, but I'm a huge Frank Quitely fan and his coreography of the fight scenes especially is good stuff.  This volume gets the Batman and Robin series off to a great start and there are two more volumes before The New 52 cut it short and was rebooted into a different title, although Damian still stayed the current Robin.  Definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of how Morrison handles the Batman archetype, or if you just like good comics.

4 comments:

  1. DickBats??! lol! I really liked this series, wish the new 52 hadn't cut it short. Dick and Damian make a great pairing.

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  2. DickBats seems to the internet approved title. Also The New 52 ruins everything. Look at the mess it made of Batman Inc. I could barely follow that series so disjointed it became due to the reboot.

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  3. Ahhhhh, this is Grant Morrison at his best. Like a long cold drink after a long hot day. Really creepy villain too. Apparently Tiamat is an ocean goddess associated with primordial chaos, and "tohu va bohu" (or something close) are the words used in Genesis to describe the state of the earth before the spirit of God moved over the waters and said "Let there be light." So, Pyg is talking about chaos. But, like, really pretentiously. He must see himself as a deity creating life/order/perfection out of chaos.

    What I find amusing is that in the same shot you can see he's got an iPod plugged in to a speaker, because even supervillains need a blast of Taylor Swift or Rihanna to get them energised for their evil schemes.

    Dick is back to being Nightwing now in his proper costume, which is good. (DC Rebirth = not all bad.)

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  4. Great analysis of Pyg there, I didn't even know where to start trying to figure out what he was going on about, you always bring the clever. Also, the iPod detail is funny.

    I wish DickBats and Damien had more time together as Batman and Robin, they have a totally different relationship than BruceBats and Damien. More like equals rather than father and child. Still, having his own identity as Nightwing is important as well, so it's good he went back to it.

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