Outside of the original brilliant cover by Frank Quitely, I wish this rebooted version of Batman & Robin really was the first of the series. For so long Batman & Robin had no voice, it had no sense of cohesion, it was usually just a mess of stories out to try and drive yet another Batman Universe book. Though only in the infant stages, writer Peter J. Tomasi has laid down some tremendous groundwork in twenty-two pages. There’s a certain style here, a deliberate darkness to the story of Batman & Robin that the series very much needed. Tomasi finds a steady pulse in this inaugural issue, one that centers as much on the story of father and son as it does superheroes.
There are four elements at work in this story, three of which work wonderfully; the other is not quite as effective. The first is how Tomasi addresses the Batman Inc. storyline, which bled over from pre-reboot days. Opening the book in Russia, we get a glimpse of the juggernaut style Batman who helps guard the streets of the Soviet Union. Tomasi is very smart here. He presents this Russkie Batman as a giant, a bigger than life hero that dominates the evildoers in his path. Without warning, a mysterious party crasher takes this bat behemoth down, and suddenly we all understand how badass this new villain is. Smart, Tomasi, very smart. I also like that this shadowy figure is as revolted as I am by the Batman Inc. idea,
Batman himself is the next element. Up until now, we’ve seen bits and pieces of his relationship with Damian, but nothing concrete. In the interest of the reboot being a sort of rebirth, Tomasi starts us off with Bruce Wayne, sitting in the chair he sat in when it came to him to become a bat. The bulk of this story is Bruce’s decision to stop remembering when his parents died and start focusing on how they lived. In an attempt to bond with his son, Bruce takes Damian to that fateful spot in crime alley where two shots created a legend. The tension between Bruce and Damian is very real. A father not sure how to treat the son who is also his partner and a son trying so hard to impress his father while attempting to pretend he doesn’t care at all.
All the tension comes to a head when a disturbance calls for Batman and Robin. Though dressed in costume, mostly we’ve seen Bruce and Damian trying to relate to each other. This action sequence is where Bruce gets some clarity on the situation. As much as he loves Damian, the fact that they are Batman and Robin must come before anything else and, in many ways, that relationship will be more trying than their father/son dynamic. Batman calls the shots, something Robin has trouble with. Batman can’t be understanding the way Bruce can, there’s too much on the line. Robin has to shut up and deal, something Damian finds impossible.
The third element, which doesn’t work, is Damian himself. So much time was spent watching him evolve from a petulant child to a skilled professional that watching him backslide reads as false. It feels like a cheap trick to create tension between the two characters. Granted, Damian feels like he's in the shadow of the other Robins, and they haven’t built a bond the way Damian had with Dick. Still, it’s too abrupt of a change, especially given the way the preboot final Batman issue played out. I cut Tomasi a lot of slack because the rest of the book is so good and this is a first issue, but he needs to make sure he works on the Damian aspect.
Patrick Gleason’s art is stellar. Following Frank Quietly is no easy task, but Gleason absolutely kills it. He takes his masterful execution and technique and combines it with an eye for the story. Gleason can see what Tomasi sees and he brings that to the page. The work is dark and barren, leaving us always focusing on the main characters until it’s time for action. Gleason has a serious knack for creating movement. Big props also to Mick Gray for some killer inks and John Kalisz who uses his color palette to gel together all the elements of the book. Batman & Robin #1 is, so far, one of the best of the New 52 releases.
CRAVEONLINE RATING: 9/10