Best Shots Extra: BATMAN AND ROBIN, UNCANNY X-MEN, BATMAN

 

Batman and Robin #18

Written by Peter Tomasi

Art by Pat Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz

Lettering by Taylor Esposito

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Sometimes there are no words.

Sometimes grief can overwhelm you. Can twist you. Can break you. And while there are few heroes as defined by tragedy as Batman and Robin, Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason are faced with the daunting task that many of us can't imagine. The death of a parent is one thing, but I imagine it's even harder for these two to illustrate the freshest wound on the Dark Knight's soul: the death of his son, Robin.

Faced with an unspeakable tragedy, Tomasi has taken a route that almost seems fitting: he's written a silent issue. But before I get into the pros and cons of that, I will say this — a silent issue can still make plenty of noise when you have an artist like Patrick Gleason at the helm. Gleason doesn't just give his pages the space to breathe, he makes them emote. I love his characters' eyes in particular, sometimes covered in shadow, such as Alfred tearing up over an unfinished family portrait, and sometimes consumed with intensity, as Bruce stares into the fireplace. There's one moment where you can see Bruce almost fighting back a sob as he lightly caresses his fallen son's glove before putting on his cowl.

Hell, I'm feeling a lump in my throat just rereading it.

Yet just because Tomasi isn't using dialogue doesn't mean he too doesn't have a story to tell. There are a lot of great beats here, whether it's Bruce seeing Damian everywhere he looks—a great way to not just commemorate Damian's personality and run on the book, but also a way to illustrate just how undone Bruce really is by this—but also the small moments. The way that Bruce learns after the fact that his son was a gifted artist. The way that Bruce finds his son's list of movies to watch, and realizes he was starting to become a real boy, not just the trained assassin he was raised to be. The way that Alfred pulls the sheet over the family portrait like a funeral shroud.

And while the big explosions of emotion are equally compelling — especially with Gleason drawing it — I can't help but feel that the silent issue also didn't quite reach its cathartic potential for readers. Tomasi has said in interviews that he had so much silence in his original draft that he decided to commit to the conceit and not have any dialogue at all, but I think that's ultimately the biggest draw not just of comics, but of fiction in general — you get to think the unthinkable. Speak to the unspeakable. There is a lot of drama, of themes, of messages that can be drawn from a loss this powerful.

That sort of digging would have made this comic immortal. Instead, we'll have to settle for merely excellent. Which is not a bad place to be. Batman and Robin #18 is a comic that makes you feel the wounds, the loss, the lack of direction that Batman himself must feel after one of his greatest losses. This is a beautiful comic, a powerful comic, yet it is also a comic with no answers.

But maybe that's just life. Maybe that's just grief. Maybe even superheroes can only escape from so much.

 

Uncanny X-Men #3

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza and Al Vey

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

"Avengers vs. Uncanny X-Men GO!" The title says it all, folks, with a kind of energy and enthusiasm that jolts Uncanny X-Men to life after a listless second issue.

What's so interesting about this book is that even though you'd expect a slugfest with that premise — spoiler alert — this is actually more a war of the words between Cyclops and Captain America. Amazing what kind of tension you can build when your lead character is totally bluffing about being in control of their powers, right? While it's somewhat of a stretch that the Avengers don't immediately go shock-and-awe over the most-wanted fugitives in the Marvel Universe, Bendis snarkily addresses it before getting to dueling philosophies. I don't know if I buy Cyclops' rationale just yet, but the fact that he has to both back up his points and not get shot in the head with one of Hawkeye's arrows makes for high stakes and impressive reading.

Chris Bachalo's energetic artwork also helps out tremendously. I really am digging his take on Cyclops' new costume, especially the way that red X ominously lights up across his face. With the new design, Cyclops actually looks much more expressive, because we do see the shadows of his eyes — he can glower, he can smirk, he can finally play up being the bad guy. It just works. The Avengers look fantastic, as well, with Captain America looking more dashing than I've seen him in forever, and the comically homicidal look on the Hulk's face is priceless. Occasionally the layouts do get a little claustrophobic, and some design choices are a little wonky — I'm looking at you, all-white sleeveless Magneto — but overall there's a very dynamic quality to Bachalo's highly rendered, cartoony lines.

With a tiny suspension of disbelief, there's a lot to love about this latest issue of Uncanny X-Men. Feared and hated and misunderstood far worse than we've ever seen an X-team, Cyclops' ragtag children of the atom straddle that fine line between heroes and villains—which gives Bendis and Bachalo plenty of room to play around. It's fun to see the X-Men's resident stick-in-the-mud finally take a walk on the wild side, and with the doozy of a cliffhanger Bendis has provided, I'm excited to see what kind of sparks are going to fly when Cyclops sets his sights on the next generation of mutantkind.

 

Batman #18

CHAPTER ONE


Written by Scott Snyder


Pencils by Andy Kubert

Inks by Sandra Hope

Colors by Brad Anderson

Letters by Nick J. Napolitano

CHAPTER TWO


Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV


Art by Alex Maleev

Colors by Nathan Fairbairn

Letters by Carlos M. Mangual

Published by DC Comics


Review by Forrest C. Helvie


'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

How does a hero pick up and move on after his or her partner goes down in the line of duty? And when that partner is also his or her son — what happens then? Going into Batman #18, this will likely be the question on many readers’ minds for a host of reasons ranging from the events of the “Death of the Family” story to the tragic events of Batman, Inc. #8, with the brutal death of Damian Wayne. Like his readers, this seems to be the very question Scott Snyder tackles in this issue.

Instead of diving into the emotional maelstrom that must be Bruce Wayne’s battered psyche, Snyder opts to tell the story from the perspective from Harper Row—the teen-age girl from the streets of Gotham—who came to Batman's last year in Batman #12. Snyder’s choice of narrator makes sense as Harper provides a unique lens from outside of the Bat family that has not been affected by Damian’s death; further, she previously demonstrated both a strong affinity for Batman and the uncanny ability to track the Dark Knight’s comings and goings in Gotham City, so her reappearance makes sense and does not feel forced. And for readers to truly appreciate the impact of both the figurative death of the family and the literal death of its youngest member on Batman, we need to see it from the perspective of the people of Gotham.

We learn more about Harper’s family history — though not every detail is revealed — and it seems she has not lost her love of Batman. In ways that directly recall Tim Drake’s introduction to the Batman mythos following the death of Jason Todd in “A Death in the Family,” Harper recognizes a sudden and violent shift in Batman’s demeanor as he flies into the criminals of Gotham with reckless abandon both night and day. Donning a black costume of her own, she seeks out the Dark Knight in order to help him in the same way he has helped the people of Gotham. Harper, just as Tim Drake before her, points out Batman’s self-destructive behavior and how it is jeopardizing more than his own well-being. In some ways, this scene is no longer about a young girl who is clearly interested in becoming an affiliate member of the Bat family—if not the next Robin. While Snyder has played coy in interviews about this, readers who know their history (as Snyder certainly does) will immediately recognize how closely this issues parallels a number of the major thematic points from “A Lonely Place of Dying,” which resulted in Tim Drake stepping in as the third Robin. While we may not see a new Robin right away, there is a strong indication this will not be the last readers see of Harper Row.

So Robin died and the Bat family is effectively broken for the time being. Looking back on Batman #18, I can’t help but wonder if readers didn’t get the results many were expecting after all — only one month later? Granted, Damian’s death came (indirectly) from his mother’s hand and not the Joker — in a story written by Grant Morrison and not Scott Snyder. But if the major complaints centered on there being no real death, how can readers say this story didn’t set the stage for this to occur? If Robin was somehow less disaffected following the events of Batman #17, isn’t it possible he might have obeyed his father’s desire to stay home? It is likely the events from Batman,Inc. #8 would have played out in an entirely different manner. I raise these issues, as they seem to the sort of “what if?" questions that plague the visibly tormented Batman we encounter here.

Admittedly, this requires a much more nuanced and thoughtful examination, and given the ways in which Snyder references the themes of Batman as an icon from the previous issue along with the impact of Damian’s death from another title, these elements can work against new readers looking to jump on to the series. Additionally, many long-time readers will notice the shift in the overall look in the issue as Greg Capullo temporarily is on a break in between story arcs and both Andy Kubert and Alex Maleev take over artistic duties for the first and second parts of the issue respectively. Unfortunately, the pairing of such disparate aesthetic styles — Kubert’s polished superhero approach and Maleev’s gritty realism — provided a rather jarring transition that took me out of the narrative for a few pages. This is not to take away from the quality of either artist’s work in the comic, but the editorial decision to switch artists will be noticed. Additionally, it was disappointing to see a lack of dynamic activity in the second chapter, as Maleev’s ability to capture the shadow world of the streets of Gotham could have been put to better use in helping convey the emotional darkness in which Bruce Wayne/Batman found himself lost.

Then there's the response Batman has to Harper after she — once again — comes to his rescue. His physical aggression is no different from the way in which he responded to his argument with Dick in the Bat cave during the “Court of Owls” story line, which resulted in Batman backhanding Dick hard enough to knock out the tooth carrying the Owl’s dental implant. I’m unsure whether Snyder intends to provide a three-dimensional portrayal of an imperfect man who clearly is unable to maintain control over his temper and his violent outbursts at all times, or if these two physical assaults are simply being viewed as a minor offenses. Both Dick and Harper seemed to have written these outbursts off, but there does appear to be a disturbing pattern emerging. Given Snyder’s interest in moving beyond telling just an entertaining story, crafting fleshed-out characters, and really getting into to the man and myth behind Batman, I hope the former is something he will eventually address in a later issue.

Overall, this is an emotionally weighted issue that is less interested in exciting its reader with fast-pace action-thriller, as readers saw issues such as Batman #5 from the “Court of Owls” or Batman #16 with the battle into Arkham. Instead, it is heavier in exposition and dialogue as it favors an exploration of what Batman means to both Gotham and the superhero genre as a whole. Readers following the series will want to pick this issue up, and without a doubt, fans of Harper Row will find plenty to be excited about in this issue as she positions herself to play a greater role in the title down the road.

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