Batman and Robin #4
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Philip Tan and Jonathan Glapion
Coloring by Pete Pantazis
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
The blood-red, million-dollar question that's been on the minds of Bat-fans since they learned that frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely would be taking a hiatus from Batman and Robin after his first arc is: would DC put in his place an unworthy successor? Would the book lose its megaselling cache of tone and speed? Is the end of Batman and Robin?
The answer: No. The neon-lights and subtle craziness of Grant Morrison's first arc has become a whole other animal, a grungy and sick megalopolis christened in fire and scratchy decay by new art team Philip Tan and Jonathan Glapion. It all comes together with an ambitious story that reveals a theme that Morrison's been building: what is the future of urban crime? And how can Gotham's Dynamic Duo evolve to combat it?
Now, for those of you who are craving some hard-hitting action by Batman and Robin themselves, you might be disappointed: this issue is largely a spotlight on the Red Hood and Scarlet, who are taking the fight to crime and leaving no prisoners behind. They certainly steal the show in this issue, as Morrison paces their assaults like a horror flick, stabbing and striking and focusing on the terrified victims even more than the crimson cowled vigilantes themselves. While the Red Hood's unique approach to 21st century crime is thought-provoking, the most satisfying scene in the book has to be Dick and Damian, seen in their civilian identities. Needless to say, these sons of the Bat are each inheriting Bruce Wayne's personality in different ways, and it's a blast to see.
But the real question here is about Philip Tan. He has some large shoes to fill, but Morrison really bends over backwards to write a story that suits his particular kind of style. Yes, the art can occasionally be a bit cluttered or a bit too small, but the use of smaller panels sometimes leads to a sort of unconscious snapshot flow of action -- a scene of a criminal jumping off a building, trying to escape vigilante justice is especially nice to watch. Jonathan Glapion is also an effective collaborator here, as everything is drenched in shadows and lines, giving Tan's Alan Davis-like explosions a real grungy tone. Gotham may have been the city of twisted lights in Quitely's arc, but the criminal element and all its ugliness is back with a vengeance.
Is this a perfect issue? Certainly not -- the interaction between Batman and Robin comes off as a little bit of a wasted opportunity here, and Philip Tan doesn't always hit the mark he sets for himself -- but it's certainly ambitious, and thought-for-thought this book runs circles around much of its competition. This isn't the exact same book as it was last issue. And that's a good thing; Batman and Robin as a comic is changing and evolving just as much as the criminals it portrays -- and that's the sort of comic I'm happy to stand behind.