Batman And Robin #13 - 'Batman And Robin Must Die! Part One: The Garden Of Death' - Morrison and Irving
Story - I'm of two minds about this issue of Batman And Robin. My first mind, is that this issue is one of the best Batman comics I've read in a long time, and up there with the excellent Quitely-drawn opening story of this issue. The other mind was reminded of the horrors of Batman RIP and was not pleased with what he saw.
Let's start with the positives. This issue was full of great surprising moments and character bits. I've really enjoyed how Grant Morrison has played with the idea of Batman and Robin, of the Dynamic Duo, and how in many ways he has inverted our expectations. Batman is level-headed, and Robin is a psycho. No better has that been expressed than in Damian Wayne's 'interrogation' of the Joker. It's unsettling to see a child act in such a way, but as fans of Kick-Ass will know, it's also pretty awesome. When Batman is worried about the Joker's health, you know things are serious.
And for once, the Joker is serious. I loved Morrison's portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime here, after previously not enjoying his take at all. Seeing the Joker as a broken man without his Batman was strange indeed, and it adds another edge to the character. I also loved Damian attacking head on all the contradictions within the Joker, he loves chaos but he plans meticulously. In many ways, Morrison's Batman run as a whole has been about attempting to resolve all of the contradictions in Batman's 60-year history. He hasn't really succeeded, but it's a noble attempt, and has lead to some awesome moments like this.
The crazy-mad plan of Doctor Hurt is also a plus here, addictions you can catch is just plausible and just ridiculous enough to fit both sides of Batman's contradictory nature, and added to that is the return of the magnificently odd Mister Pyg and his Dollotron's, you've got a perfect storm of weirdness. I've often felt that Batman And Robin is not just a Batman comic, but is more, a true pop-culture artifact. The bright primary colours of each cover, the short 3-issue stories. This is Batman as pop-art, and I love it.
But then there's my other mind, the mind that is confused as all hell by the opening three pages and couldn't give a fuck about who Doctor Hurt is or what the deal is with Thomas Wayne and hate, hate, hated Batman RIP. The opening of the book is certainly very well done, playing with some very famous Bat-iconography (the Year One cover) and expectations, and ending with Hurt shooting Batman right in his head. But I didn't understand it. We know Bruce Wayne wasn't killed then, so when did this happen? Did it happen? I don't particularly care, but it's annoying. I'm reading Batman for the pop-art fun and to see Dick and Damian interact, not for Morrison's mind-bending epic story that doesn't even really make sense. Maybe I should re-read RIP or something, but I don't want to do that, and any comic which makes me think of that has a black mark (or black glove) against it. Maybe I'm just unwilling to go beneath the surface, I'm appreciating The Return Of Bruce Wayne on the level of 'OMG! Cowboy Batman is awesome!' rather than all the time-travel and Darkseid gubbins. Am I shallow? Probably, but then Batman is shallow too.
I can't really complain though, even the parts of the issue that annoyed me were well done and cleverly written. After flagging a little with the Philip Tan arc, Batman and Robin has really picked itself up to once again become the only Batman title worth even considering, it's poppy and fun, but if you want to go deeper (unlike philistines like me), you certainly can. I'm just glad that for once a Morrison story is accessible to more casual readers like myself. Final Crisis was just as confusing, but it wasn't even fun. This is fun. Albeit not for the Joker.
Art - Frazer Irving is an artist I find it hard to be objective about, I've met him like 5 times and he's a really nice dude, so even when he puts out work that isn't his best, like Return Of Bruce Wayne #2 (OMG! Puritan Batman kicks ass!), I still love it. Luckily, he's back to his best here. The colour palette is still dark, but it's lighter, and boy... is his Joker creepy as hell, the texture used for his skin is... horrifying. I also loved how Batman's costume was almost a matte black, and his use of red in pages involving the new Batmobile. Irving really understands the importance of light and darkness. While in my heart of hearts I want Frank Quitely to draw every issue of B&R, Irving, along with Andy Clarke and Cameron Stewart, have proven themselves to be perfect for the book's tone and style.
Best Line - 'It's not him. It's the Joker I'm worried about'