What can be said about Grant Morrison that hasn‘t already been said? I won’t bore you with quotes that praise not only his work, but his overall genius. What I will say though is that I think Morrison‘s work makes room for a larger critical debate both on the validity and the consciousness he presents within the pages he produces and the characterization on the psyche of the superhero. While people will agree with him, even more people will disagree. Where one person interprets the work as bunch of crap thrown onto the physical representation of nothingness, another person see’s the work of a genius and a need for a deeper understanding for the work presented. While he is sloppy, and inconsistent most times he strikes the vein of greatness, and when he does, he shines and you get a feel for what makes him so great. Batman and Robin #13 is a comic that not only pursues this thought, it is a comic that wholly represents it. Story-wise, the book has no faults. It’s a story that impresses, and leaves you to put the pieces together and find your own meaning, for now that is. The “detective story” never looked as good as it does here. The beginning of the book takes a moment of god-awful cruelty on a family and flips it on it’s side and turns it into an even crueler and shocking moment of a newly founded betrayal, of which we have never seen before in the Batman Universe. It not only punches you in the stomach, it lights a fire in the deepest recesses of your body for revenge and explanation, again drawing on your own mind to create a temporary answer. And that is exactly where things go from bad to worse.
We are not only forced to witness a brutal act of violence, we are also forced to peer into the mind of a madman via The Joker. Although it’s brevity needs to be taken into account; the back and forth between The Joker and Batman and Robin can only be described by the sane as scary, mad, and disturbing, and while those might not be the most grandest of words it serves it‘s used to the fullest. But what really shocked me more than anything was when The Joker breaks down and is crying when he admits that he is sorry for what he’s done, that he got shot in the face and was stitched up badly that’s why he’s always smiling, and that once he was a “little boy wonder and he didn’t set out to be this way. While it is a disturbing and a somewhat moving scene, there resides a thread of doubt in the back of my mind that this isn’t the real Joker, that this is an imposter, and that he is the true mastermind behind all the chaos that was sowed and will flower in this storyline only to make this world worse. The Joker interrogation scene is made even greater with the absence of Dick and the presence of Damian. Damian presented here is cold and remorseless stating that The Joker isn’t a force of chaos. That chaos is “needing someone to change your feeding tube” and that “chaos is not being able to go to the toilet without help” before producing a crowbar and beating The Joker over the head with it. It is a scene that is not for the light-hearted, it builds and builds on our emotions only to be released by a crowbar and a head. But that is only one part of the story, the other part shows Dick and Jim Gordon trying to piece together evidence to try and stop the release of a viral narcotic that Dick thinks has already been spread via an antidote that turns out to be a dormant version of the viral narcotic which is waiting for a viral trigger. The impending doom weighs heavy but is soon interrupted by Gordon’s phone, it is one of his cops stating that Damian is in a room alone with The Joker causing both men to rush back to the apartment when they are shot down by two men with rocket launchers. Dick and Gordon crash land in Blackgate penitentiary surrounded by Dollotrons who free Professor Pyg.
Brought on by forces temporarily unseen (as of this writing), things are even worse than before whether it’s the events that unfold in the first scene, or Dick and Gordon stuck in a very sticky situation, Damian acting on his killer instinct, or even the release of Professor Pyg, everything is falling apart in front of our eyes. But the worst part of all is Morrison’s brilliant use of the present and the past, using it, he is able to weave strands of inevitability and despair together to create a mat that is rough and uncomfortable, using against us, our barest of emotions and soft spots. The hopelessness Morrison evokes at the end of the issue only cements the fact that there is no redemption or salvation, that we must go down mentally with Dick and Damian and that there is a need to hit rock bottom before they get better if they ever fully do, as well as showing that with all the knowledge and strength Dick possesses he is powerless and helpless and so are we, we can’t stop it.
Even though I think this issue is the greatest thing (up to this point) Morrison has wrote for his run on Batman, the weak point of this issue, I’m sad to say, is Frazer Irving’s art. While it does have it’s brilliant and poignant moments, I just don‘t like it. Admittedly I have never been a big fan of his pencils or colors, I think his presentation of Batman and Robin are amateurish at best and are both bland and uninspiring, and that goes for the Frank Quitely/Frazer Irving cover also. But, that’s not to say the art doesn’t have high points. Irving’s Joker is the scariest and disturbing Joker I have seen in quite awhile, I mean The Joker smiling while he‘s crying, being beaten, and in peril is really disturbing and grotesque when it comes down to it, while the real Oberon Sexton laying dead next to his rotting wife is also of the same disturbing/grotesque quality. Overall though, the art does a good job when it comes to the story, and only enhances and creates a darker atmosphere even more so (in some cases) than the written word.
Batman and Robin #13 is a truly haunting piece both visually and story-wise. If I‘m being honest and if I‘m going to swallow my pride for a second I have to say that when I was reading this issue I found myself looking away and closing the book out of pure fear, shock, disgust, and horror more times than I care to admit, and that‘s what makes this issue so great. The refusal to compromise to the reader‘s needs and into a bold and new direction although it isn’t necessarily where you want to go is excellent. Throughout this issue there is an overall feeling of escalation into the depths of despair, and you do not want to be there. It is like being scared of roller coasters and being forced onto on that’s heading up to the biggest drop on the ride. It is constantly building and building and at its bursting point, the issue ends. But, it is not your typical Batman story, because it presents a state of weakness and suffering that hasn’t been presented before. It forces the reader to watch what we don’t want to watch, and overwhelms (in the best possible way) you with a sense of hopelessness, brutality, and shines a light on what makes you weak and brings those weaknesses to life.
Batman and Robin #13:
Reviewed by Dane