"Batman & Robin" has the uniquely unfortunate task of following up a fantastic and unique #1 from barely a year ago by the all-star team of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. That was an incredible comic book. Sadly, this is not an incredible comic book, though it's by no means a bad one.
In this first issue, we're introduced to Bruce Wayne as Batman and his son Damian acting as his sidekick Robin. Bruce is apparently going through a phase where he wants to stop fetishizing his parents deaths and the anniversary of said deaths, and instead start celebrating their wedding anniversary. Hmmm. While I appreciate that this seems to be one of the few "New 52" books not going "as dark as humanly possible" I'm not sure that the sentiment fits Bruce, Batman, or his quest. The plot is pretty standard fare that mostly feels like an opportunity to give Bruce and Damian someone to pummel and that feels like a real wasted opportunity for a number one issue. The last page is a cutaway to Moscow, and an interesting sequence that, though compelling enough, will leave new readers completely at loose ends.
As mentioned, the plot by Peter Tomasi is pretty much absent, but since it seems absent in the hopes of trying to build characters and relationships, I don't mind as much as I probably should. There is some nice work here as Bruce tries to actively educate Damian, especially in the difference between right and wrong, but mostly the voices don't quite feel right. I can appreciate that their relationship is awkward and forced and will take time to develop but right now there's little enjoyment in seeing them together. Damian feels even more bratty than normal ("Impossible," you say? I wish.) and Bruce feels more touchy feel-y than normal. In the end, all you find yourself wishing for is the Dick Grayson/Damian Wayne dynamic that worked so beautifully (even when it was contentious) for the last year. Additionally, because we just went through a similar relationship development like this with Dick and Damian, a lot of this feels like a retread despite Tomasi's best efforts. There might be true greatness in store for Bruce and Damian, and I'll keep an eye out to see if Tomasi can deliver it, but so far I yearn for Dick and Damian and the begrudging mutual respect, genuine friendship, and surprising teamwork that they found together. Even though that kind of relationship took time, the chemistry between the two was instant, and here, it's not only not instant, it's painfully absent.
The art by Patrick Gleason is as good as always, but delivers nothing particularly exceptional. There are plenty of beautiful moments, and the storytelling is strong and clear, but there was nothing in these pages that made me sit up and take notice the way I hope all comics will, especially a number one issue. Mick Gray's inking work is nice and appropriately heavy and well-considered for a Bat-book, while John Kalisz's coloring work stands out nicely. Kalisz brings a great mood to this book; It's subtle when the book calls for it, and ka-pow when that is needed, instead.
Separate from all of this, I don't remotely understand how this book would be "new reader friendly." I can absorb it easily enough, but I read much of the previous "Batman and Robin" run, most of the "Batman Inc." run, not to mention a variety of other Bat-books. Much here seems to me like it would be entirely lost on a new reader, most especially the "exciting cliff-hanger" which will make literally no sense to people unfamiliar with the idea of Batman Incorporated.
As is becoming apparent with the New 52, some books are getting major makeovers and reconstructions, and others, like "Batman & Robin" feel like they got the most basic of touch ups - in this case switching out Dick for Bruce - and were set back on track without even a change of creative team. I'm sure more changes will emerge over time in this book, but for now, it seems like business as usual in "Batman & Robin." Unfortunately, this was just one okay issue from a sometimes brilliant run. Time will tell if it has more to offer down the line.