“He’s taken on some of the most frightening villains in the DC universe. Now Bruce Wayne is facing something truly scary: fatherhood”
That’s probably not the best way to sell this book but, that’s what the official description is and it sounds pretty corny. I mean it reads like the narration you would hear over a family film trailer. I can almost hear the record scratch after the word “scary” and then Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” play at the sentence’s end. In all seriousness though, “Batman & Robin Vol. 1: Born to Kill” is not corny and it’s not a lighthearted romp. Not. One. Bit. Author Peter Tomasi takes Bruce and his son’s relationship very seriously and it gets dark at times. The art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, Guy Major, and John Kalisz gives this personal tale just the right look. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, I think “Batman & Robin” has handled Alfred better than any other bat-title in the New 52.
All 8 issues of the Born to Kill Saga (issues 1-8 of the New 52 “Batman & Robin”) are here and their original covers have also been included as chapter breaks. Just like with “Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls” the book’s binding is a bit tight only here it was even more frustrating. Far too much of the text is getting lost into the spine. I felt like I was having to break-in a baseball glove just to get a good look at some of the splash pages. Still, with a little elbow grease you’ll be able to read the book just fine and the content within is pretty good. One of the series’ main criticisms is that it dragged on for far too long at 8 months. I never had a problem with it. Of course, had it gone on any longer I would have, but I think it was paced fine and it works even better as a trade than it did as a monthly title. I’ve reviewed these 8 issues individually from month to month and I’ve provided links to those articles below. Here’s the rundown.
Born to Kill
This was a great first chapter both in art as well as story, which gives both the saga’s 2 driving plots plenty of attention while still giving us a fun scene in which Batman and Robin must stop a heist and potential radioactive disaster. Kalisz’s colors really pop on every page and after 10 months I can say that it definitely holds up to repeat readings. I gave the monthly an 8/10.
I scored this the lowest of all 8 issues and it remains the weakest of all the chapters. As a monthly issue I stand by that 6/10 score. There simply isn’t enough content here and it retreads a lot of the ideas of the previous issue. Worst of all is the characterization of Damian which I think went too far. In the book’s supplemental material you’ll read Tomasi’s original pitch for this saga and in it he describes Damian as a 10-year-old Dexter which I don’t agree with (Though I do like that TV show). I would rather see him as an arrogant snot than be a creepy serial killer in the making. But I will say that the chapter’s final pages are integral to the plot and are a nice change of pace in art style. Savor the open, sunny countryside– it’s all gloom and doom from here on out.
Here is a chapter that worked better as a monthly because the cliffhanger ending was so good. It’s a wonderful chapter here of course, but you just can’t beat a monthly comic with a really great cliffhanger. The cliffhanger, of course is pretty overused in comics and is 99% of the time pretty ineffective or predictable but this is a great one. But the tight binding strikes again: there’s a very important 2-page spread that’s nearly ruined. I gave it an 8.5/10 a few months back. It’s pretty action packed but it doesn’t hold a candle to the following chapter which is the real highlight of the whole graphic novel.
Matter of Trust
This still stands as my favorite issue of the New 52 “Batman & Robin” to date. Not only is the art gorgeous (just look at that grass! The art team couldn’t have done a better job. A dilapidated drive-in under the stars is a brilliant set piece and it looks amazing) but there’s plenty of emotion, action, and one of my favorite Alfred moments of the year. It’s a 10/10 that totally holds up to repeat readings. In fact, you may find yourself picking this book up in years to come just to flip back and enjoy this chapter alone.
The book maintains a consistent level of quality from here on out and you’re going to fly through the final two chapters. “Mutineer” starts off weak with a shocking discovery in Damian’s room that comes off a bit more on the silly side and the unveiling of a new vehicle that’s more Tron-cycle than Batmobile didn’t do this book any favors either. However, the second the story dives into Bruce’s history with the villain Nobody, I was intrigued. And a two-page battle at the finale is laid out so brilliantly with tiny panels that it comes off as one big mosaic of pain. The last half was so good that it pulled the score all the way up to a 9/10 in my opinion.
The Real Me
After the last issue’s finale it’s clear that we are heading toward a big climax at full speed so Tomasi slows things down and diverts the narrative instead back to Bruce’s relationship with Nobody via flashback. I thoroughly enjoy any look back to Bruce’s training and globetrotting so I gave this a 9/10 when it was originally published.
“Driven” has two of my least favorite lines from this entire “Batman & Robin” run but it also has one of my favorite sound effects ever: POK-SLARK. The art is highly detailed and very dynamic, which it has to be for an action scene of this caliber and Gleason goes above and beyond the call of duty to give the reader a memorable brawl. Seeing Batman hold absolutely nothing back against an enemy who may be as experienced as he is makes for a great finale and a well deserved pay-off for the reader. But man, the dialogue leaves a lot to be desired and it dragged the score down to a still very respectable 8/10 but it could’ve been a 10.
Born to Kill: Black Dawn
It’s a very satisfying, heartfelt conclusion. The art’s just as good if not better than the previous chapter even if the moments are much, much quieter. I think you’ll close this book feeling fulfilled. 9/10
There’s more bonus stuff here than in the other New 52 graphic novels I’ve read so far and it’s not fluff, either. The sketches offer a look at some of the original page layouts by Gleason as well as some very funny doodles like one that shows Damian riding his pet dog over a road paved with skulls while Gotham explodes in a mushroom cloud in the background. Initial and final pencils of some of the book’s most memorable images are also found at the back as well as an alternate cover for issue #8 that was never published. Tomasi also contributes a few pages from the script for issue #7 and–perhaps the most fascinating bonus–his 2-page story proposal for “Born to Kill”.
Is it worth it? Yes. The cover price is $24. 99 but you can find it for $15.66 at Amazon. There’s some cool supplemental material (more than what is in “‘The Court of Owls”) and I think it’s something you’ll want to come back to in the future and re-read, however “Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls” is more layered and has the greater re-read value (but it isn’t a complete story. “Born to Kill” is here in its entirety). Eight $2.99 books is $23.92 before taxes and you can probably get a free trial of Amazon Prime with free 2-day shipping (just get Prime, it’s not a bad deal and you can go halfsies on it with a friend. Graphic novels and trade paperbacks are always cheaper on Amazon, but a week late. It’s worth it to save the $10 bucks.) so you’re actually saving money by purchasing these in hardback form. The only major drawback is the binding.
Here is a complete story in one book with consistently good artwork, a fair amount of interesting and funny bonus material, and it can be purchased at an affordable price. Although “Born to Kill” is unlikely to be celebrated as one of the best Batman stories of the decade or anything I think it’s without a doubt one of the best to come out of the New 52 so far and its narrative works better in the hardcover format. So, on the usual scale I use of 1-out-of-10 with 10 being “You’d be crazy to not buy this” and 1 being “This book is better burned than borrowed” I would have to give “Batman & Robin Vol. 1: Born to Kill” a solid 8/10 based on its content, price tag, supplemental material, and overall presentation. Go pick it up.