When it was announced that Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason would be taking over on Batman and Robin, the excitement was palpable. While the debate rages (pretty much between myself and everybody else) on the merits of where Grant Morrison took the series, the vote was unanimous that Paul Cornell’s run was less than spectacular. Tomasi and Gleason’s kick off issue of Batman and Robin is good, but a little strange. The way the comic is structured it feels like the start of one story arc and the conclusion of another. The intro is only three pages but it’s so completely different than the rest of the comic it feels out of place.
The issue opens with Bruce, Dick, Tim, Damien and Alfred organizing snacks, popping popcorn and sitting down to watch Zorro. At one point Bruce Wayne even says it feels like the right time to “watch it with the whole family”. Turn the page and suddenly Dick and Damien are standing over a beaten up criminal and the meat of the arc begins, sort of. I say that because the story jumps to a suicide by a man dressed like an angel and at the end of those few pages credits appear as if that was the start of the story. I’m not sure why Tomasi structured Batman and Robin #20 this way, but if you can get through that, the comic itself is first rate.
Tomasi doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel here, nor does he take this “launch” of his run as a way to change the feel of the series. Instead Tomasi takes cues from what other writers are doing with Dick Grayson and imbeds them into the slightly darker feel of Batman and Robin. As far as the story goes, not a lot happens outside of standard set up work but Tomasi throws some nice surprises to keep it moving. I particularly liked the exchange between Commissioner Gordon and Damien. With few words it reminded us that Gordon is a bad ass and humanized Damien with his response to the Commissioner. The winged surprise, the one that barrels down on Dick, is so well done you never see it coming. It also sets up the end for a nice, illuminating, cliffhanger.
The real star of Batman and Robin #20 is Patrick Gleason’s artwork. Gleason seems to try and establish every single panel as something unique. There is no filler here, no panels used to get to the big guns; everything is done with obvious and painstaking attention to detail. It’s, as if Gleason decided that Tomasi’s script didn’t exist and it was up to him to tell the story with pictures only. Don’t get me wrong, they work together extremely well, but I think Gleason wanted his contributions to be just as powerful as Tomasi’s. It could be argued the art overshadows the story, which is more due to it being a kick off story than anything else.
Even though I’m a long time Batman fan, I have to say the sheer amount of the Batman books that are being published is a little much. As time goes on some of these will have to fall by the wayside, it’s the only way the best of the series will survive. If Tomasi and Gleason continue to work together, Batman and Robin can only get better and will take a deserved place alongside Detective Comics and Batman.