This final issue for Grant Morrison on “Batman and Robin,” is part wrap-up, part celebration, and part artistic jam session. It concludes the Black Glove/Doctor Hurt saga and ties up a few of the loose ends on the mystery of Thomas Wayne (while leaving others dangling), and it launches into a new Bat-status-quo that we’ll see later this month in “Batman Inc.”
Morrison and friends pack a lot into this single issue.
It’s not an overly dense comic, but compared to the decompressed, deliberate-if-swift pace of the previous fifteen issues, this one seems like a hyperspeed rush of climax and conclusion and epilogue all in a single issue. At least it’s an oversized one, at 32 story pages, and it answers some of the questions that readers may have had.
First of all, in the opening scene, set in 1765, we see the origin of Dr. Hurt — this twisted Thomas Wayne from the past, who has been popping up in “Return of Bruce Wayne” — as he feasts on the flesh of a bat and his experiments with the occult grant him the longevity to screw up Batman’s life in the 21st century. If you haven’t been reading the “Return of Bruce Wayne” series, and haven’t connected the dots about Darkseid’s role in Batman’s troubles, this issue of “Batman and Robin” helps to explain some things. The “Barbatos” demon summoned by ye olde Thomas Wayne (aka Dr. Hurt, aka El Penitente) is an avatar of Darkseid who must have fallen back through time as he died at the end of “Final Crisis.”
Just as he fell back through time to cause the “Final Crisis” originally, after dying in battle with Orion in “Countdown” and/or “Death of the New Gods.”
Man, that’s a lot of comics to read just to understand why a dude gained a super-long life, but the truth is that you really didn’t have to read any of those comics to get it. It’s all basically shown here: Thomas Wayne, occult cabalist of early America, tapped into a demonic force, and now he’s still alive, and playing crazy head games with Batman today. The Darkseid stuff is just gravy, or maybe it’s essential, but either way it adds to the delicious flavor of the story.
There’s a lot more going on in this issue as well, but I won’t go into spoiler territory about what happens to the Joker, or how the immortal-but-tainted Thomas Wayne tries to get away, or what happens with Pyg’s big plan. Morrison gives us plenty of thrilling moments and great bits of dialogue in those parts, though. You’ll have to trust me on that.
And the art does have a kind of jam feeling, like one of those last of the “Invisibles” issues where the greatest-hits artists came back for one more victory lap. Only here it’s Cameron Stewart and Frazer Irving and a Chris Burnham who’s seemingly channeling his inner Frank Quitely. The art’s all pretty great looking, though it doesn’t blend well together at all. It’s like a series of funhouse mirrors of Batman’s return and the consequences of that, but even with the artistic fragmentation, it’s still a powerful tale.
Overall, “Batman and Robin” #16 provides the kind of closure that most readers were probably expecting from the end of “Batman R.I.P.” a couple of years back. But it doesn’t wrap up everything, and it still leaves plenty of story possibilities for Morrison to pursue in the rest of his Bat-run, wherever it’s headed. This is a pretty great comic, flawed by an imperfect production schedule and saved by the skill of the three individual artists. And it’s Bruce Wayne, back in Gotham, with a vengeance.