Haven’t had enough Quilts or Condiments? Tom King’s begs the question of “The Better Man” in this one-shot that plays hard on nostalgia, is two-thirds tongue-in-cheek, and yet still serving up a big ol’ heaping help of Batman’s self-pitying drama-rama.

It works, though, for the most part, if you can just push to the back of your mind that Batman is losing his shoebuttons over the girl who dumped him.  Tonally, it’s a weird one: Dick’s impish chiding and relentless rah-rah pom-pom shaking feels both totally in-character and inappropriate from scene to scene. And the villains are distracting because they’re ridiculous while being simultaneously called out for their ridiculous while at the same time Batman attempts to contextualize their threat by reminding Dick (and us) that they are murderers.

Which makes Dick seem like a…well, you know.  Because why is he attempting to have this very painful personal conversation in the midst of the two of them trying to catch killers (while also being splattered with ketchup)?

Crazy Quilt is, like, crazy, yeah?

The best part of this book is the juxtaposition of past and present: once upon a time Dick Grayson was an angry and lost little boy, traumatized over the death of his parents, who needed guidance and comfort–and Bruce Wayne was there to provide it for him (with an assist from Alfred of course).  Once upon a time Batman and Robin raised each other up, they had laughs, they bonded and found a complement in their personalities that otherwise would appear to be in opposition.

King selects a few key moments in their past to illustrate the people they were and their becoming the men they are now: their mutual struggles, their mutual sorrows, and the understanding they have now. But does it land, ultimately? Are we satisfied with this abrupt conciliation? The story is already jigsawed together in a way that feels a bit disorienting (not helped by an art-style by Matt Wagner that really doesn’t do enough to distinguish past and present). The transitions are jarring, but there’s something in the attempt at fluidity of time that I enjoyed on the second read: the past is always with us and for Batman and his former Robin, that’s true as well: they live their relationship in every moment and I think King does a nice job of reminding us that they are aware of that.

But ultimately, I feel like the story actually ended in the Batcave, in that red-washed silhouette Dick and Bruce, but King had to fill another three pages and went on to painfully explain what we’d just seen happen in the previous 19.  We didn’t need any of it: the explanation of the meaning of the sandwiches, the penny, etc. It’s a heavy-handed band-aid over the wound we see Dick trying to treat in that Batcave moment: a moment for Batman which maybe should have been allowed to marinate. We know Batman and Nightwing are going to be fine: they’re going to hit the streets of Gotham and take down the bad guys again: that’s what they do. And while I appreciate that King maybe wanted to give us closure, he really needs to trust us as readers a little more perhaps.

Don’t mind the super sillyvillain while discussing one’s personal problems

As I mentioned before, Matt Wagner on art didn’t win me over with this one. Dick goes through so many weird facial expressions it’s hard to tell what he’s supposed to be feeling from one panel to the next. It works where his grimace and tears is supposed to melt into tears and laughter (a great transitional moment), but otherwise overall the expressions of the characters all feel too plastic and melty around the edges: bobble heads with mouths that are occasionally just gaping holes in their faces, and Dick’s eyes as a child looked plucked straight from the reels of a Disney cartoon. It’s distracting, unfortunately, from a story that deserves our attention.

All that said Batman looks good in the new/old suit, and I came away from my third read feeling like King is moving the narrative forward, even if only incrementally. This was an important step and it needed to be taken. More importantly King did it in an interesting and compelling way that actually brought the melodrama down a notch and ratcheted the empathy up. That said, I’m just still looking forward to the point at which we can officially declare that Batman has moved on.

Recommended If…

  • You love Batman and Robin like in the good ol’ days (or, in this case Batman and Nightwing).
  • You’ve been waiting for the Batfamily bonding we all deserve.
  • You never get tired of King’s obsession with the sillier villains.

Overall

Catharsis is on the menu tonight and it’s something I think we all need with the recent storylines. King gives us a one-shot that focuses on a more intimate aspect of Batman’s life in a way that’s less melodramatic than Bruce Wayne ranting at strangers, and more satisfying than the emotional shut-out I think we’re come to expect from the Dark Knight. It’s gratifying to see Batman’s humanity simmering on the surface, even though it still feels like a toss-up in terms of where King intends to go and even though the narrative feels almost as shaky and uncertain as Batman’s psyche. Still, for the moment, an emotional night out with Batman and Nightwing is probably just the balm we need.

SCORE: 7.5/10