It's hard for me to judge BATMAN & ROBIN #13. I haven't been keeping up with Grant Morrison's Batman run, and I haven't been buying this new series or following what has happened to Bruce since RIP. So while reading this week's issue, I felt as though I was jumping into the middle of a very large story and not really catching the significance of each scene. That said, I still think it's a fun read and a worthwhile buy. Certainly, the book features all the action, suspense, and gore that you expect to see in a Joker story.
But while the action and villainy are entertaining, what I most like about this book has nothing to do with the Joker. Instead, what I like is the contrast that Morrison creates in his depictions of Dick and Damien. Each character seems to represent one side of Bruce's personality. In Dick, we see the calm, intelligent half of Bruce -- the man who places very clear limits on himself and who lives by a level of virtue and honor that even Superman has trouble matching. When Morrison has Dick saying "Commissioner Gordon" instead of "Jim," we know that Dick is the play-it-by-the-rules, uphold-the-traditional-values-of-society Batman. He's very much like Adam West, in other words, but minus the goofiness.
Of course, as any seasoned Bat-fan knows, there's also a dark, almost murderous side to Bruce -- the man who grows tired of the never-ending cycle of violence and corruption and who, in his weaker moments, resorts to brutal violence himself. Damien embodies this dimension of Bruce's character with great enthusiasm. We see this most vividly when he beats the Joker to a bloody pulp during an interrogation scene. Here, Damien is almost like Frank Miller's "Goddamn" Batman, but minus the three-day beard.
With these two contrasting depictions, Morrison is reminding us why Batman -- and Bruce, in particular -- is such an enduring character. He's a psychologically complex, almost twisted individual, who is constantly swinging between two extremes. And we fans love watching as he tries to balance, and often fails to balance, his holier-than-thou tendencies with his bad-ass impulses.
The art in this issue is atmospheric and strong, and it suits the nightmarish mood of the story. I love all the wrinkles and creases that Frazer Irving adds to the Joker's face. Those extra lines make him look like an old, decrepit vampire that should have crumbled to dust centuries ago. My only complaint with the art -- and, unfortunately, it's a fairly substantial complaint -- is that too many of the panels lack backgrounds. All too often, after the obligatory establishing shot, Irving does not bother to draw any details on the rest of the page. Many times the characters seem to float in an empty netherworld of rich browns and burnt oranges. This lack of background detail takes away from the sense of place and thus the overall story.
Still, BATMAN & ROBIN #13 is a fun issue and a big step up from the utter crap that the Review Group has had to endure for the last month or so.