Batman and Robin 17 was originally solicited as a Peter Tomasi book, only to be changed somewhat last minute to a Paul Cornell and Scott McDaniel book. With Tomasi's work on Brightest Day, it only makes sense.
The issue opens a new story arc after the last issue's big reveal of Bruce Wayne incorporating Batman. Indeed, this story makes several references to that arc, including the Batman Inc. symbol on the cover.
The opening scene is set in a church, a crowd demanding to know what they are missing. It's a chant sprung from a crowd dressed for a dark mass of some sort. A minister of sorts stands in front of an altar, holding a man at gunpoint. As the chanting grows louder, Batman and Robin burst in the door, Damian asking if it's them the crowd is missing. Dick, meanwhile, calls for the crowd to stop the wedding.
The next page includes my personal favorite element in the current Batman and Robin series. As Dick and Damian fight their way through to rescue the imperiled prisoner, they argue about whether they should both have "lines" when they enter. Dick, ever the joker, claims he's always wanted to stop a wedding.
Damian chides him and reminds him, while punching a priest with an upside down cross, that what they do isn't meant to be fun. Finally, they've reached the hostage, only to grapple up to the roof beams of the church. From the relative safety of the beams, Dick reminds Damian that just because it isn't supposed to be fun, they are not precluded from having fun.
Reflecting, Damian asks Dick if the incorporation of the bat symbol and the return of the original has given everyone license to become their own sort of Batman. In Dick's case, Damian calls him a "worryingly jolly Batman."
Though Dick disagrees, he proves Damian right by telling him to drop smoke and stun gas while he does stand-up about the differences between men and women.
We then cut to three nights previous. We're treated to a full page of Dick, Damian and Commissioner Gordon examining the grave of one Una Nemo, a former girlfriend of Bruce Wayne. Since Bruce is Dick's boss, he assumed they'd want to look into this personally.
The facts presented at the scene are the grave was dug up in a frenzy, but the body was carefully taken away. Dick marvels at the lack of clues in the surrounding area and then requests to know the circumstances of Una's death.
In a further flashback, set six weeks previous, we see she'd been the victim of a jewel heist aboard a yacht party. When she fought back the thieves panicked and shot her in the head, the force throwing her from the boat. When the body was recovered three weeks later, the decomposition was accelerated due to pollution.
Gordon admits Bruce and Una hadn't been seen on the town together in the few weeks preceding her death, but the grave robbing and Bruce's announcement give him reason to want to investigate. They're momentarily interrupted by a call from Gotham Central.
Someone returned the body, moving too fast for the cameras to identify. Dick posits it may be a meta, trying to send a message. Trying to decipher the message, Dick and Damian speak with the medical examiner who informs them the ring finger of the left hand has been removed, recently, and the soil says it's the same body from the grave. They realize, however, it isn't the body of Una.
Back at the cave, Alfred, Damian, and Dick pore over autopsy photos and the case file. Alfred admits he's amazed no one has contacted Bruce to inform him of this, as he was quite fond of Ms. Nemo. Damian passes the buck and admits he was waiting for Dick to do it. Dick hesitates and admits he wanted to solve this before Bruce heard because he knew Bruce would feel responsible despite the absence.
Alfred fills the readers, and likely Damian, in on Bruce's romantic past. Women he brought home and women he did not. We're left to infer Bruce never brought Una home. Alfred indicates he hopes the recent change in Batman's demeanor will remind him that now he has friends and allies, he does and should love.
And like that, they're back to business. Dick runs through the witness reports and decides to rule out morgue duplicity for the moment. Whoever did this may be saying they know it wasn't Nemo in the grave and perhaps even taunting the police about it. They run through a few more clues, knowing the ring finger is significant because Una wasn't married and the slab shots didn't show a picture of a ring either.
They're interrupted by an email from Commissioner Gordon, letting them know this time the finger has been returned. The catch is, the finger has been returned without the nail. Following this pattern, they decide the nail polish is what the perpetrator was trying to get them to notice.
We cut to Dick and Damian at the morgue, where the body promptly blows up. They realize there was time delayed explosive nail polish on her fingernails, the same color as the corpses. All of this was done to take the body away from them. Dick then picks up what looks like a fingernail, no doubt for analysis, and tells Damian that what they leave behind is deliberate.
It appears they've traced the source of the chemical on the fingernails, as they end up at the home of a chemist. Inside, they find an invitation to a Night Wedding. According to the invitation, everything is ready but something is missing.
Cut back to the church where Dick, Damian, and the chemist are hiding in the roof beams while being shot at. Dick growls the man's history and his big mistake, a chemical engineer who specializes in flammables as a hobby advertising his services in Gotham. The man sputters out his explanation, how he was hired by a disguised voice on the phone, but it left words out of every sentence. Cash was exchanged for goods and services. As he's getting in to explaining his kidnapping, Damian interrupts to let them both know the trap is being sprung. Dick indicates they walked into it deliberately.
The chanting begins anew and the chemist demands to know why they're not trying to get out of there. Dick thinks it through again, with help from Damian. What's missing is the bride and that's not what the chemist does. Immediately, the man they saved turns squirrelly. He admits there was a chemist, but now he's missing too. He jumps down to the welcoming crowd, who immediately assimilate him into their numbers. Dick wonders who this new general could possibly be.
We're treated to a quick costume change by the villain, and when they reappear, we discover that it is none other than a villain named The Absence, maiden name Una Nemo. She has a large hole in her head, and a bouquet of deep red roses. And now, Batman and Robin see what they've been missing.
That brings us to the end of Paul Cornell's first issue in a three part arc. Overall, I don't think this is the best issue that I've seen come out of Batman and Robin. The writing felt a little ridiculous, the plot felt a lot ridiculous. Exploding nail polish? I suspended my disbelief for the issue, and stuck it out. There were some leaps I wasn't able to follow on the first read, but on the second read they made a bit more sense.
It's entirely possible I've been spoiled by Grant Morrison, but I'm sticking it out because it's a core Bat-book and one that is largely responsible for my current love for the DC universe as a whole.
I liked Alfred's voice in this, and I like how clear it is that he's such a trusted family friend. His presence is always comforting, always familiar. Damian is a little more relatable as a character these days, perhaps because he's no longer afraid of the mask being taken away from him by a father he doesn't know.
As for the art, it was a style I didn't particularly enjoy. The cover didn't seem to relate particularly to the issue, making it look like zombies were the main threat. Dick and Damian just looked a little off when they were out of the cowl and domino mask. I know it's the first issue of this arc, but I'm already waiting for it to end.
Batman and Robin #17:
Reviewed by Melinda