“Batman & Red Robin” #19, written by Peter J. Tomasi with art from Patrick Gleason with Mick Gray on inks, John Kalisz on colors and lettering from Taylor Esposito, kicks off the round robin matchups between the Dark Knight and would-be sidekicks/partners. While Red Robin shares the credits on the cover, the more prominent characters in this issue are Carrie Kelley and Frankenstein.
Working through KÃ¼bler-Ross’ five stages of grief, this first issue runs under the title, “Denial,” and focuses on Bruce Wayne refusing to accept that Damian is dead. A little ways into the issue, most likely after eagle-eyed readers have noticed, Alfred points out that Bruce keeps referring to Damian in present tense. Circumstances dictate that Bruce Wayne meets Carrie Kelley in a most unusual manner before the Dark Knight retreats farther into his quest to save his son. Inspired by Victor Frankenstein’s work in reanimating dead tissue and grasping at straws to return Damian to his side, Batman abducts the S.H.A.D.E. agent and begins his own set of experiments, proving how tenuous his grasp of reality is.
Carlos M. Mangual’s lettering pushes past the gruffness in Batman’s tenor and tints it with desperation and ferocity, italicizing the word balloons and adding borders to them as Batman gets more and more frustrated with his failing plan. Through it all, Tomasi’s Frankenstein is spot on with the character Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt have established in this relaunched DC Universe. Bold and determined, yet surprisingly compassionate, during his struggle with Batman, Frankenstein declares, “I am watching a man racked with pain look for light in a world gone dark!” and relates his own parental struggles to that of Batman. Like Frankenstein, this is not how I imagined the two characters meeting up for the first time, but I certainly am thrilled that it happened.
For her part, Carrie Kelley plays an ancillary role at this point, having made a personal connection to Damian Wayne through her work in theatre. It is that connection that brings her to meet Bruce Wayne, not some half-baked junior detective work. Kelley begins the issue with a bizarre (but not unlikely) confrontation, holds her own, and manages to gain the attention of Bruce enough to make a serious impression. There’s no need to assume she’ll be the next sidekick, but Tomasi and Gleason have enriched the Batman corner of the universe for bringing her into it.
Gleason is standard-issue brilliance. Having shared studio space with Doug Mahnke, who created the visuals for this modern interpretation of Frankenstein, Gleason seems like a natural to illustrate the world’s most famous monster. While I wouldn’t want to remove Gleason from this title, I sure wouldn’t mind if at some point in the grand experiment to find Batman’s new partner we were treated to an issue of “Batman and Frankenstein.” One scene in particular, as Red Robin scopes out Batman’s investigative surgery, plays to Gleason’s knack for the grotesque and shadowy as well as showcases the artist’s ability to creatively construct panels and pages as that scene is depicted in a twenty-one-panel spread that Gleason has stitched together, literally, with hand-drawn stitches connecting the panels.
The work between Batman and Red Robin is not very collaborative and does not end well. Tomasi reflects on the revelations from “Death of a Family” and leaves the rift between the duo growing wider and wider. “Denial” is a fitting title for “Batman and Red Robin” #19 on so many levels: Batman’s refusal to refer to Damian in the past tense; Batman’s embracing the twisted science that brought life to Frankenstein; the Dark Knight’s continued insistence that he does not need help; Red Robin’s solution to the problem; Bruce’s return of the discs from Carrie Kelley. So much heartbreak and disappointment that leads to an amazingly touching, entertaining story. Tomasi and Gleason continue to make on heck of a case for making “Batman and…” the must-read Bat-title. Lucky for us, we’re not limited to just one title and DC has found ways to make them all interesting.