For five months, Batman and Robin has been on the Must Read First list of Major Spoilers own Stephen Schleicher and Matthew Peterson. In what we hope to be a new feature on the site, the founder and second in command sit down to take a peek under the hood of the Batman and his possibly slightly insane sidekick.
Previously, on Batman and Robin:Â Dick Grayson is settling into his new role as protector of Gotham, and while his friction with new Boy Wonder Damian Wayne is not gone, it’s at least lessening.Â Of course, the new Bat has also had his share of new menaces, in the Crime Circus, Professor Pyg, and the mysterious new Red Hood.Â Last time around, we revealed that the man under the hood is indeed Jason Todd (the second Robin) and that Jason’s crusade is taking things a step further than either Bruce Wayne or Grayson did.Â “Let the punishment fit the crime” is his credo, but it’s clear that this approach won’t always lead to justice being served
STEPHEN: I gotta say, we’re now five issues in, and I’m not feeling the love for the series like I did the first two installments.Â While I like the somewhat over the top nature of the story, it seems like Morrison is intentionally upping the violence ante with each issue.Â While Pyg was pretty creepy, the blood and guts in this installment seemed like they were added in for shock value sake.
What is it with Morrison and cutting off people’s faces in this arc? First it was Pyg, then Sasha’s disfigurement, then it’s Jason Todd covering up his face as the Red Hood, and then Flamingo cuts off people’s faces and eats them.Â Â Without getting too meta, I’m wondering if Morrison is using this series mirror the “face change” that’s occurred with Batman and Robin.
MATTHEW: I absolutely agree with you here, Stephen.Â Morrison’s initial approach had an air of Silver Age to it, taking the Batman in what felt like a retro approach, with the smiling superhero finally overtaking the grim dark knight detective.Â I understand that a lot of Batman’s allure comes from his dark aura, there’s no reason that the character can’t occasionally have fun.Â Flamingo’s new gimmick would seem gruesome and out of place in a Bruce Wayne story, much less in this seemingly “kinder, gentler” Batman.Â I also noticed the face motif, which I took to be a less-and-less-subtle-each-issue meta statement on masked vigilantes, and the age-old question of whether Bruce Wayne or Batman is the REAL face of the character.)
STEPHEN: One of the over the top aspects of the story that really pulled me out of the story was how quickly Sasha became a fighter.Â Granted, there has never been a time indicator in this arc, but it seems everything is taking place over the course of a a month, which makes it rather hard to say Todd was able to train her, even on the most basic fighting skills that quickly.Â That could just be me…
MATTHEW: Mmm…Â You make good points here.Â Without knowing how much time takes place between issues (or if this takes place before or after Batman: Darkest Night, the Streets of Gotham, et al) that didn’t bother me so much.Â I would say that, since she hasn’t dealt with the question of her mask, a lot of time hasn’t passed, or else the urge to remove the false face would have become overwhelming.
STEPHEN: What did you think of Jason Todd going back to his original red locks?
MATTHEW: That was one of the elements that I really dug about this issue, honestly.Â It’s a bit of continuity that even *I* had forgotten about the character, and grounding Jason with a silly worry like a receding hairline reminds us that the character is human.Â Jason Todd’s dramatic potential as a PERSON who has been jerked around is far greater than his potential as the living symbol of Bruce Wayne’s (only?) failure.
STEPHEN: Even with my issues on the violence and the weird timeline going on, I thought the pacing was pretty good, and the dialogue was well written.Â I really like the exchange in the penthouse where Dick says he isn’t a businessman, and Damien responds, with, “It’s just numbers. I can do that.”Â I’m wondering if he’s just being his regular Damien self, of if in his current state of just having his butt handed to him, if he’s coming even further off his high-horse and we might actually seem him be the new businessman of the family.
MATTHEW: Damien should take on the role of head of Wayne Industries.Â It’d be absolutely wonderful to see this ten year old punk strong-arming the various and sundry mergers and acquisitions of Waynetech with the built in ruthlessness of someone who grew up in the presence of Ra’s Al Ghul.
One of the disappointments of this issue for me came in the visual interpretation of things.Â As one of the proponents of Frank Quitely, I liked his rounded old-school characters.Â Philip Tan did a good job last time, in my opinion, but this issue feels a lot less fully-formed.Â The opening sequence with Scarlet bothers me, as she looks barely deformed here save for some odd squiggly lines, whereas Quitely (and last issue) gave her features an almost amorphous blob effect.Â Tan’s Robin is effective, and Damien’s expressions were good, but his take on Dick, on Jason, and on Scarlet was inconsistent throughout.
STEPHEN: I think Philip Tan does a good job of trying to duplicate Frank Quitely’s art, but it seems like he’s trying to squeeze a whole lot into a small panel, and it causes the page to seem really claustrophobic and hard to read at times.Â Did any of the art remind you a bit of a toned down Kelly Jones?
MATTHEW: That’s exactly the tone that I got, especially in the use of spot blacks regarding Batman’s cape, and the hospital sequence with Jim Gordon and the maimed mobster.
STEPHEN: Overall, I wasn’t overly impressed with the issue.Â The art and writing is fine, but it just seems to be going down a much darker path than the series start.Â I still liking Morrison on this series much more than I did his previous attempt at telling a coherent and understandable Batman tale, but this just didn’t make me want to read it again.Â I will admit this was my top of the stack pick this week, but after finishing the issue, I found myself digging through my stack looking for something else.Â I’m giving the issue a 3 out of 5 Star rating.
MATTHEW: For me, the issue suffered mostly in comparison with what has come before.Â The first issues of this book were daring, but still had a tone that was less oppressive than I associate with Batman titles (a tone which, by the way, often keeps me away from said books.)Â Coming into this arc, all the pieces are still there, but I think Tan is much less intuitive in his understanding of what Morrison’s intent is, and the overall effect is one of dissonance.Â For my part, this was one of the books that I wanted to read first out of my little brown bag of comics, and one of the ones that left my expectations most dashed.Â For me, Batman and Robin #5 earns a slightly-less-than-I-wanted-to-like-it 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.