Batman & Robin: Dark Knight vs. White Knight collects issues #17-25 of the previous volume of Batman & Robin. Unlike the 2nd volume which began in September with the New 52, the stories found in this collection feature Dick Grayson as a lighthearted Batman paired with a grim Robin. While Grant Morrison, who started this series, was off writing Batman Inc., others had to step in and take over Batman & Robin and their comics are what you’ll find collected here. Which, if you’ve been enjoying Tomasi and Gleason’s current New 52 run (and who wouldn’t? It’s been great so far), the 3-part story arc of this novel’s namesake “Dark Knight vs. White Knight” will give you a glimpse at how they handled Dick and Damian’s partnership. Also featured here is the “Sum of Her Parts” arc by Paul Cornell and Scott McDaniel and “The Streets Run Red” by current Catwoman and Batwing writer Judd Winick with artist Greg Tocchini. Below you’ll find my opinions on these three tales and my final thoughts on the book as a whole.
The Sum of Her Parts
The first story in the Batman & Robin series not handled by Grant Morrison, “The Sum of Her Parts” acted as filler and stands as one of the worst examples of what a Batman story can be following the Batman Inc. initiative. It’s a disjointed, jarring, tale with inconsistent artwork and an absolutely terrible villain. Both Batman and Bruce are a little less cool after this issue. Batman is viewed as nothing more than an employee of Bruce Wayne and it’s heavily implied by the villain and other women that Bruce never sleeps with girls. Ever.
The villain, The Absence, is an ultra-feminist with a hole in her head (literally, it’s a giant hole in her forehead that exits out the back of her skull) who says terrible lines like “You don’t get to ‘mansplain’ to me!” She’s also heavily into advanced technology, has super-intelligence thanks to more oxygen reaching her brain due to the hole in her noggin, and she’s built an entire brainwashed cult just by paying some homeless folk to work for her. There are plenty of plot holes and moments that made me roll my eyes, but there I must say that there is a really cool death trap scene in the story’s final chapter (although I shouldn’t hype it up too much since it ending is a real copout) that’s worth noting. It’s the weakest story of the collection and a poor way to start off the book. Thankfully, it’s followed up by…
Dark Knight vs. White Knight
This was great. If this graphic novel was a candy, then “Dark Knight vs. White Knight” would be the rich, creamy center. Gleason’s art is spectacular and Alex Sinclair (who is doing a bang-up job on Justice League right now) knocks it out of the park. White Knight is a visually stunning villain and Sinclair’s colors do a brilliant job capturing the blinding light he uses to saturate the world around him. White Knight is a new villain and the foundation is clearly there for him to be a great villain in the future. His motives are understandable and unique and the character design sets him apart from the other rogues. The only thing that isn’t explained is how he came across so much advanced technology, but that can be overlooked for now. I really hope that he comes back again in future issues since this same writer/artist team is running the book right now. But look at me, I’m going on and on about how much I liked the foe and not mentioning the heroes! Unlike “The Sum of Her Parts” Dick and Damian aren’t easily outsmarted employees of a corporate brand. They are highly skilled, smart, their contrasting personalities perfectly complement each other, and we get that great banter that made the Dick/Damian stories such a joy to read. Speaking of interactions, the way Gordon and Damian treat each other was very interesting and I’d like to see that explored more in the future. Action, great characterization, detective work, and a worthy villain make this a stellar Batman adventure.
It’s the heart and soul of this collection and its title being on the cover is well deserved.
The Streets Run Red
Rounding out this trinity of Batman and Robin tales is one that has very little to do with Batman or Robin. They don’t really do anything and it could even be argued that had they stayed out of the conflict entirely it would’ve ended with the same outcome. They are basically there to just say words of stunned amazement as Jason Todd acts reckless.
Judd Winick, who is responsible for bringing Jason Todd back from the dead in the first place in “Under the Hood”, focuses almost entirely on Jason Todd here. The dynamic duo is hardly in the first chapter at all which takes place at prison where Jason Todd wreaks havoc on his fellow inmates in ways Rorschach could only imagine. Winick does a great job writing Jason…who both looks and sounds like Sawyer from LOST to me. Anybody else sense that? Anyway, this three-part arc showcases how cool of an anti-hero Jason Todd is. If you like Jason, you’ll love it. If you hate Jason, well, you get the idea.
Much like Batman and Robin, the villains are inconsequential. Their whole purpose as characters is to make Jason Todd look awesome by comparison. Their plot? The baddies have Jason’s old sidekick Scarlett held hostage for some unexplained reason and they want him to come get her so they use a team of mercenaries that look like the Thunder Cats (plus one guy who is a cigar chomping T-Rex) to bust him out of jail. As you can imagine from such reviews as Batman: Odyssey, I absolutely hated that part. What does the villain want with Jason? Why do they hate him so much? It’s never explained and it doesn’t matter. The whole point of this “story”, if you can call it that (it’s more of an infomercial for Red Hood) is Jason Todd is BAD-ASS.
Anybody who likes Jason and lots of action in their comics is going to get a kick out of “The Streets Run Red”.
Comic collections like this are always a wonderful purchase because they’re more affordable than buying individual issues, there aren’t any ads to disrupt the natural flow of the story, and if you’re lucky you’ll even see some nice supplementary material. This can be original character designs or page layouts, scenes that were cut from the final product, a nice forward by the creators, or a glimpse at the book’s script. In the case of Batman & Robin: Dark Knight vs. White Knight, the only bonus material is the inclusion of both standard and variant covers for each of the nine comics collected. What really should have been included in this collection that would have really rounded out the entire first volume of Batman & Robin is, of course, the series’ very final issue. Issue #26 is left out in the cold. It was a stand-alone adventure that now has no hardbound edition in which to join. Those who only buy TPBs and hardcover collections will likely be disappointed by this since they are the ones who already bought Batman Reborn, Batman vs. Robin, and Batman & Robin Must Die. Their collection of the original Batman & Robin volume 1 will be forever incomplete at 25/26.
Batman & Robin: Dark Knight vs. White Knight is an enjoyable read but since the three stories were written by three very different creative teams, one does not flow into the next very well, thus I doubt it’ll be the sort of book that you’ll re-read from beginning to end, but you’ll likely find a personal favorite to return to for repeated readings. As for my copy, I’ll likely never read “A Sum of Her Parts” again, “The Streets Run Red” will probably get another glance some day, and I’m sure I’ll read “Dark Knight vs. White Knight” again and again. It’s pretty unbalanced overall, but after I got over the obstacle that was “A Sum of Her Parts” I had a lot of fun reading this book and would recommend that anyone who is enjoying Tomasi and Gleason’s current run or who is a big fan of Red Hood & the Outlaws to pick this up next time they go to the comic shop.