Written by: Grant Morrison
Art by: Philip Tan
So…Batman’s dead, his son is the NEW Robin, and the OLD Robin, Dick Grayson, is the NEW Batman. Confused? Well, if you’re anything like me, you sure as hell are…
Batman and Robin #5 starts in dramatic style—with patricide. A vigilante named Sasha (though for all intents and purposes she is Scarlet, sidekick to the Red Hood, who, by the way, is Jason Todd, who was himself once Robin) flashes back to the time she smothered her good-for-nothing father, an act that plunged herself into the depths of self-loathing, into a psychosis that ultimately finds meaning and perhaps validation in the form of Todd’s mentorship.
Series writer Grant Morrison, both hailed by critics and panned by readers for his run on New X-Men some years ago, gives us a wide variety of characters and plotlines that are inextricable from one another. The writing is everything that makes Morrison great—it’s tough, it’s terse, and it’s just damn good hard-boiled detective fiction.
Morrison’s action is frenetic, allowing its reader nary a moment to catch his breath. Even scenes of interlude are marked with a dynamic tension that simply will not subside. Through the course of the story we learn just how committed Jason Todd, the Red Hood, is to replacing the now-deceased Caped Crusader. Todd refuses to accept the old style of vigilantism, a style predicated on Batman’s desperate need to transcend the deep chasm of malevolence and misanthropy in which his combatants, classic villains like the Joker and Penguin, reside. Todd would have blood in the streets—the blood of evil-doers.
But this new Batman, whom Morrison pairs admirably and ironically with Bruce Wayne’s own son, picks up the Red Hood’s gauntlet, refusing to give up either on Wayne’s vision or the city of Gotham herself. Along the way, we meet old friends Alfred Pennyworth, Police Commissioner Jim Gordon, and Wayne Enterprises executive Lucius Fox.
I think this is an intentional play on Morrison’s part—he wants very much for his readers to associate new with old, to in a sense pick up right where they may have left off. And it works, though I can speak only from the perspective of a nascent reader. Grayson is new to the cowl, but he brings the same enthusiasm as Bruce Wayne; the same sense of justice and virtue; and indeed, the same ultimate faith in humanity—traits that are supremely negated in the characters of the Red Hood and Scarlet, who amount to misguided sociopaths no better than the criminals they hunt.
My one great criticism of this issue is Philip Tan’s artwork. It is dark, and it is disturbing, but I don’t think that necessarily means it is particularly good, or particularly appropriate.
Tan’s sprites are oddly shaped, rendered in an almost grotesque manner, and each character’s visage looks somehow warped, somehow surreally inhuman. Perhaps this is by design, but if so, then the design itself was poorly conceived and poorly executed. As such, a mixture of subpar artwork and supreme storytelling always makes for a difficult review—on the one hand, we must condemn; on the other, congratulate. But I do believe Morrison’s absolutely devastating narrative structure and technique ultimately make this issue worth reading, if not a particular pleasure to look at.