Batman & Robin #9
Grant Morrison, writer
Cameron Stewart, artist
DC, February 2010
24 story pages
I’ve been a bit of a broken record on this score lately, but here is another comic I want to physically force the writers and artists of other action-dependent superhero comics to read, eyeballs propped open A Clockwork Orange-style. Consider if you will the care and attention paid to the page on which Batman and Batwoman pound the stuffing out of Zombie Batman. (Okay, first consider that this comic contains a page on which Batman and Batwoman pound the stuffing out of Zombie Batman. Then move on.) Look at the way the fight choreography flows from one panel to the next. It’s not just a series of random cutaways: The pivot you see Batwoman executing in the background as Batman punches Zombie Batman in the jaw of one panel leads into the kick you see her deliver in the foreground as Batman cocks his other fist in the next panel, which leads into the left hook you see him land in the panel after that. Or return to earlier in the issue, where a still-wounded Robin and out-of-his-league Alfred battle the Zombie Batman using the objects (a wireless computer mouse, a wheelchair) and environments (an elevator) available to them, each beat portrayed with crystal-clear visual logic and visceral impact. I could seriously reread that sequence where Zombie Batman gets choked with his own cape as Alfred snags it into the elevator and hits the Up button, until Zombie Batman cuts himself loose with a batarang, over and over again. God how it cleanses the palate of the umpteenth two-page melee spread.
What’s still more delightful about this issue is that Stewart brings these same chops to pretty much everything he draws. Look at the knowing Mona Lisa smile on Batwoman’s face as she tells the romantically interested Dick Grayson not to get his hopes up, sharing an inside joke with those of us beyond the fourth wall. Look at how Batwoman’s father looks like he wandered in from another comic as he pops up in street clothes among a gaggle of costumed crimefighters, emphasizing what a gonzo concept it is to have your dad be your sidekick more clearly than anything I’ve seen in Batwoman’s solo adventures to date. Look at Zombie Batman himself, as much a gift to the toy folks as the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh was and the Batmen of the Timestream are about to be. And I could definitely stand to see the double-punch panel become as much of a trademark element of Batman and friends as using “Bat” as a prefix.
Oh yeah Grant Morrison’s involved too. What I liked best about his work here is usually what I like least about Batman comics: His army of increasingly interchangeable crimefighting tagalongs. The real Batman isn’t even in the comic anymore, of course, so this book features no fewer than nine such characters, if you count Zombie Batman; four of them are direct riffs on Batman himself. But from Papa Batwoman’s military jargon (via a pretty effortless and kind of funny Greg Rucka impression on Morrison’s part) to Knight and Squire’s jocular “keep calm and carry on” comportment to Dick and Batwoman’s born-of-necessity ability to think and act on their feet and in tandem, each one seems not just like a different person, but a whole person, not just a one-dimensional reflection of some aspect of the real Batman that the writer wants to have walk around on its own for a while as these things frequently are.
I hate when people set themselves up against some largely imagined consensus, but I am going to go ahead and say that I do miss the sense of mounting mystery and menace of the Morrison material that culminated R.I.P, which I’m guessing is a minority position among the sorts of folks whose blogs you’re likely to read if you read this one. But Batman & Robin, and this issue perhaps more than all the others so far save #3, is a fine, fun superhero comic, set in the milieu of the only superhero I really love in and of himself. Who couldn’t use one of these now and then?