Robot reviews: Batman and Robin #1

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Batman and Robin #1by Grant Morrison and Frank QuitelyDC Comics, 32 pages, $2.99.

See, this is how it should have been from the start.

Much was made when Grant Morrison took over the writing reins for Batman, though few ultimately found merit in the confusing and at times even dull slog through canon and character that the book turned into (though, of course, the series does still have its fans. I also understand there are people who collect milk bottles).

Batman and Robin chucks all the excess baggage that hampered Batman R.I.P. -- the elbow in the ribs riffing on classic tales of yesteryear, the need to make an important statement about the character, Tony Daniel -- fills up the gas tank to its flying Batmobile with rocket fuel and proceeds to floor that puppy out of the cave with nary a glance backward. The result is a streamlined, but no less surreal or smart, tale that's one of the most satisfying superhero reads I've had so far this year. This is a really fun comic book.

Now, I haven't been following Battle for the Cowl at all, so I have no idea what has or hasn't been revealed up until this point and thus will probably unleash all manner of spoilers without meaning to. You've been warned.

That being said, I think everyone by this point is aware that Nightwing/Dick Grayson has assumed the Batman mantle of new Batman with Bruce Wayne's illegitimate and surly son, Damian, serving in the sidekick role.

One of Morrison's traits (or quirks, if you prefer) is that he tends to define his characters and their relationships to each other as quickly as possible. He's an economic writer when it comes to dialogue and not one for exposition; he'd rather cut to the chase. This can be a useful tool but also detrimental to the overall story and reader immersion (I think it ultimately hampered Final Crisis).

It works wonderfully well here though. One of the things that impressed me the most about this comic was how succinctly and effortlessly it set up the central relationship between the two characters. Halfway through the book we know just about everything we need to about Grayson (professional, dedicated, willing to assume the role, but far from eager) and Damian (cocky kid with violent past who's perhaps a bit too eager).

The comic kicks off with a thrilling car chase involving a frog-faced villain and doesn't really pause for a moment to catch its breath. Morrison has spoken in interviews about how he's wanted to create a "psychedelic noir" feel that evoked the 1960s TV show but still felt relevant and modern, not to mention occasionally creepy. He certainly delivers on that last part in the final two pages, a reminder, perhaps, of just how good Morrison can be at evoking horror and dread.

But none of this would have worked half as well if Morrison didn't have Quitely working with him. The artist's not-quite-caricature, not-quite-photorealistic style serves the material astoundingly well here, particularly in depicting some of the more gruesome and new additions to the rogues gallery. (Just imagine what Quitely could do with a war horse like Dick Tracy.) Beyond the pronounced jaws and hyper-detailed costumes, however, is a really smart and playful layout, that carries the reader through as speedily and effortlessly as possible yet still has time for a one-page sequence involving Alfred's trip to the Batcave that evokes those great schematic "a look inside" maps of yore.

Really, it's hard to imagine any of Morrison's critics, especially those who claim he's too "clever" or esoteric, finding something to complain about here. This is one of the most straightforward, economic and, as a result, immersive comics he's ever written.

OK, there were a few "Hey, wait a minute" moments, like: How have they attempted to explain Burce Wayne's disappearance? Has Grayson inherited the Wayne fortune as well? And didn't Damian kill somebody? Wouldn't that be a stain on his crimefighter resume?

Oh, but those are all questions for the future. This first issue is nothing but setup. And what a wonderful setup it is, tantalizing and immediate and fun in a way that doesn't neglect new readers or the party faithful. I can't wait for the second issue.

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