Bruce Wayne both avoids and embraces the grief process as he puts himself through painful simulations trying to find ways he could have averted Damian’s death in Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s “Batman and Nightwing” #23.
The concept behind “Batman and Nightwing” #23 by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason — Bruce running countless “resurrection” simulations to see if there was a way he could have saved Damian — is great, and it feels true to Batman. It’s both tortured (reliving Damian’s death over and over again) and logical (trying to detective his way to a “solution”), and what is Batman if not both logical and tortured? However, the execution is a little heavy-handed and inconsistent. Sometimes it really works — Damian’s death scenes, even modified, are still powerful and particularly heartbreaking given his repeated pleas to his mother to save his life. Simlarly, Bruce’s reactions are equally as powerful and emotional given he knows the outcome they are destined for. It would take a cold heart to be unmoved by the moments that Tomasi and Gleason present. However, the non-simulated scenes between both Bruce and Dick and Bruce and Alfred are not as well written and feel clunky in comparison; almost like being force fed a lesson by lecture, after it’s already been learned the more organic and compelling way.
I don’t envy Tomasi the task of writing these issues. Dealing with grief of this size and importance in a 20-page comic book (or even several of them) is no easy feat. There is however, a feeling of a lack of trust between writer and artist in this issue. It’s odd, because Tomasi and Gleason are a strong team, and brought readers the brilliant “Batman and Robin” #18. That issue worked largely thanks to Tomasi stepping back and letting Gleason do the heavy lifting. However in this issue, Tomasi does not step back and at the same time, Gleason does not deliver visuals quite as powerful and consistent. It’s a little bit of a chicken or the egg — did Gleason not pull out all the stops because he didn’t need to, because Tomasi’s writing was there? Or did Tomasi step in after the fact and “over-write” those scenes because Gleason didn’t quite deliver the visual power that was needed to make them sing? It’s likely we’ll never know (maybe even they don’t know for sure) but the result is a solid comic book, that could have been much more potent had they found a better balance.
Gleason’s visuals are stronger in this issue than the last and far more consistent throughout. His Damian death scenes are absolutely devastating, as is the contrasting scene in which Alfred saves Damian by never letting him leave the cave. They’re emotional and full of energy and hope, only to have that hope cut down. The simulated scenes in which Bruce tries to save Damian the panels feel as if they will slide off the page they are so desperate and uncontrolled, while the reality scenes are staid and sometimes a bit thin. The contrast is clear, and well drawn, but it’s hard to deny that there’s more care, in general, in the simulated scenes. Perhaps it’s meant to be a commentary on the contrasts between the real world and the imagined (or desired?) fantasy world, but it doesn’t quite work. John Kalisz’s colors on the other hand, work perfectly. His evocative colors shift from a fiery red and orange palette for the frenetic battle scenes, to moody blues and sickly greens for the more reflective real world scenes. Kalisz more than pulls his weight in this issue with his color choices.
“Batman and Robin” has always been an interesting book, even when it wasn’t exceptional. Without Robin, its fate is unclear (though this issue continues to make the case that a Robin replacement will happen). Unfortunately, while Robin as a character may be replaceable, Damian is not. It’s good that readers get the full force of Bruce’s mourning in this title as it’s where the grief belongs and generally it’s being handled well, but I confess to a complete lack of interest once it’s time to “move on” to a new Batman and Robin.