Batman & Robin Omnibus
With the Super Sons Omnibus on the pile downstairs, now felt the right time to work my way through this 1,200 page behemoth of a book.
To say it has quite the reputation on MW would be an understatement, does it live up to it? Pretty much. To do a major Batman run in the shadow of - and to respond to - both the end of Morrison and start of Synder’s Bat-epics is one hell of an achievement. That it also carves out its own space apart from those two even more so. It only falters at one point and that’s in response to the Death of the Family arc. Who on earth thought it was a good idea to render the Joker as the Reaver 'fuckin Cleaver, complete with stapled on, carved off face, I have no clue. So I was never going to like those issues. On the other hand, it takes one of what I still consider to be one of Morrison’s nastiest moves in killing Damian and uses it to trigger an amazing arc.
The early stories, pre-death, are very effective. The idea that Zsaz has a brother who his depraved activities warps in turn, with that brother deciding to go after the relatives of Arkham inmates is one of those deceptively simple and elegant concepts that you can’t quite buy that no one has already done it, yet it is so. The arc with Nobody that follows is again well-executed but it’s in the aftermath of Damian’s death that the book shifts into high gear. #18 is an entirely silent issue. Unless you’ve a creative team that knows exactly what they are doing, silent issues are murder to pull off; even if you have the creative team, an entirely silent sequence of 20 odd pages is still very hard to successfully execute. This lot do it.
What follows is a five issue arc as Batman works his way through the five stages of grief, eventually - and after an awful lot of detours - accepting that Damian is dead. At that point the book plays another ace - Ra’s has nicked the corpses and Bats just ain’t having that. What follows is a chase around the globe that takes full advantage of the wider DC mythos, weaving in guest appearances and nods to other books, in a very skillful manner. And then, when you think it can’t go any further - the coffin heads to Apokolips! This is answered with Batman literally invading hell to get Damian’s body back, as along the way, he saw a means to resurrect him. It’s a barmy, gonzo and incredibly fun tale. Sure, you could just dismiss it as a resurrection arc and it is, but it has to be in the running for best ever. Damian’s death isn’t stripped of its meaning, he was still mourned, he was still missed and then, only much, much later got back.
The final piece of the story, where it is revealed that Damian has gained superpowers - that turn out to be time-limited - makes a fun finale and the final page is perfect.
Even in the grief issues where Batman is far more Batdick, even there Tomasi gets the balance right in not going too far. There’s also a neat follow-up to the encounter with Frankenstein that is very unusual, I mean how many times has Batman ever apologised? For anything? It’s rare, but it fits and it works. Similarly, Batman’s vengeance on the super-snipers, of taking them out by permanently crippling their hands is a great illustration of how to do a fate worse than death.
Gleason isn’t on all of the issues, but he’s done the great majority of them and it’s page after page of excellent work.
Binding and presentation is also excellent. This is a big, heavy book, but the curve of the pages to the spine never obscures the story and it never feels like it’ll fall apart under the strain.