I had a hard time reviewing this one. Batman & Robin is not the same comic it was one year ago. The Born to Kill Saga was compelling stuff with pathos. It was a father and son story that even took the time to delve into Bruce’s past, but the tone of this series has changed dramatically over the past few months. Batman & Robin now focus more on Robin and the threats that are faced grow more and more absurd with each installment. The previous arc had an Ivan Ooze lookalike who transformed into what appeared to be The Juggernaut from X-Men. In that same arc they also faced a giant radioactive 3-headed worm-thing and various baddies with batarangs sticking out of their bodies. And even though it ended with Batman dawning an Iron Man suit and chasing down a rocket this latest arc might prove to be even more over the top!
With word that issue #13 would be about Batman and Robin vs. Zombies I thought that this would be a one-and-done issue. A filler episode before the Death of the Family. Well, as it turns out this issue is only the first part of a bigger zombie storyline.
Note that if you are going to pick up this comic that you should probably read Batman #13 first. Tomasi takes Snyder’s idea of bad omens coming before the arrival of the Joker and runs with it. And I mean Usain Bolt’s the **** out of it. There’s a solar eclipse and a zombie apocalypse for crying out loud. The whole thing begins when Batman takes Damian into outer space so that they can do a bit of maintenance on the Bat-communications satellite– which they will need to rely on now that the Joker is on the loose again. To put that another way, if Joker was to attack right now both Batman and Robin would be halfway to the moon and no help to Gotham whatsoever. Also, there is an enormous plume of rocket exhaust rising up from the backyard of Wayne Manor. Plus there’s an encounter with a rather amphibious mercenary out to kill Damian for the bounty that was placed on him in Morrison’s Batman Inc. Vol. 2! It’s touches like that which make Batman & Robin the most interconnected of all the bat-titles. All of the other series seem to have an impact on what happens to the characters in Tomasi’s book and that’s a nice bit of cohesion, but at the same time it illustrates the problem with having so many Batman books out there that supposedly take place in the same timeline. The thought of squeezing the events of Batman & Robin #13 into what happened off-screen (off-page) in Batman #13 could make your head explode.
As bizarre as the story is compared to what we saw in Born to Kill, the art by Patrick Gleason looks the same. It’s quite lovely but and he’s created some of the most memorable and highly underrated panels of the whole bat-year, but I still relate his art to the tone I saw in Born to Kill and that adds to my confusion as well. Still it looks fantastic and he has to have quite a lot of fun drawing this book. He’s given a wide variety of things to do from issue to issue. Outer space adventure? Check. Giant frog assassin? Check. Zombies? Why not! And its those elements that do make the book pretty fun and that’s what has me wondering if DC is trying to make this book geared more toward a younger audience. For a 7 year old this comic would probably be pretty awesome. You’re looking at a kid relatively the same age as you running around fighting frogmen and battling undead hordes and riding rocket ships. It just feels drastically different from what I loved about the book’s first 8 issues. Speaking of drastic changes, there is a fill-in artist on this issue. DC usually does a good job with picking their fill-ins and making the transition rather seamless, but that’s not the case here. Tomas Giorello has a much, much different art style than Gleason and it’s very noticeable. Jarring, even. The most obvious difference is that Gleason’s Robin appears to be 10 or 11 years old and Giorello’s looks to be upwards of 16 and features a rather square jaw when he’s shown emerging from the sewers of Gotham.
Again, I really have a hard time judging this book because I’m not sure what it wants to be anymore. I’m doubly amazed that it wasn’t a one-and-done issue and we’ll see even more zombies next month. In the end I just asked myself “Does it feel like a Batman story?” It doesn’t. “Do I care what happens next with Damian and the zombies?” I don’t. And I think that’s got a lot to do with how the book can’t decide if it wants to be taken seriously or if it wants to be the fun comic. The War of the Robins could have been a ton of fun but went nowhere. Damian fighting zombies could be a lot of fun as well, but the book needs to fully commit to a lighter tone if it wants me to care about something as ridiculous as this. A son asking if his mother was ever truly loved by his father is touching but its harder to connect with the material when they are wearing costumes and even harder when they are in costumes, in space. It can be Born to Kill or it can be Brave and the Bold, but I don’t think it can pull off both.