The Comic Book Club: Batman & Robin #16 and Strange Tales II #2

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DOUGLAS: Also noteworthy: Bruce uses the phrase “a man like Batman” twice in his speech–still implying that it’s only been one person so far, when we know from Gordon’s dialogue in the last few issue that the cops know otherwise perfectly well. And at some point this is going to have to connect up with Hush posing as Bruce over in the currently/formerly Paul Dini-written Bat-titles.

For an issue that seems to have been rushed through production and has three different artists trading off scenes, this is really good-looking. Frazer Irving kicks ass again, Cameron Stewart kicks ass again too (that fight scene with all the tiny panels is incredibly well-staged–I particularly love vicious little Damian immolating the Fiend with the flamethrower and setting off the sprinkler), and I hadn’t seen Chris Burnham’s work before, but now I have to go dig up Officer Downe and Nixon’s Pals–I really like the Frank Quitely/Paul Pope vibe of his pages.

MIKE: I picked up Officer Downe this summer and it was a terrific read. It came off a lot like Hard Boiled, but the amount of detail just packed into every page is amazing. I wonder how fast Burnham can work?

As far as the three artists in one issue go, I was impressed with how Bruce and Dick are effectively wearing identical costumes and all three artists did a good job of making both of them unique. Be it muscle mass, fighting style, or gruff tone, these two Batmen are unique and it showed through.

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GRAEME: The art this time around is really good. Irving initially took my attention, because he’s just that good, but the more time I spend with the book, it’s Cameron Stewart’s work I keep coming back to. I don’t know quite what he’s changed about his inking this time around, but there seems to be more depth and detail this time around, and I like it a lot.

Burnham’s work is great, as well, and like Douglas, this was the first time I was seeing it. I’ve seen people compare him to Quitely, but I think Mike’s right, I’m getting much more of a Geof Darrow vibe from the pages (which, of course, Quitely had himself in earlier days).

DOUGLAS: Tweet of the day, from the @grantmorrison account (which is apparently the man himself): “Bat-annotators! Big Mike – a special kind of banana. Doctors Ha(rry) Ha(rlow)& Johnny B. Damned (Calhoun)” Jesus. That is very high-level punning right there–various people had spotted the Harry Harlow connection to Prof. Pyg and his “mommy made of nails” and “pit of despair,” and suggested that Big Mike could also be a joke about the Archangel Michael, but the Gros Michel banana and John B. Calhoun connection… wow.

A few raggedy ends here–the mayor’s dead in that great Quitely-esque panel with Gordon bellowing orders in his minidress, alive and recovering in the wrap-up. But the great moments more than make up for them. I think my favorite is the Joker in his top hat, a grinning death’s head in his Oberon Sexton silhouette, literally being the Gravedigger and laying down the last of the “bones” (note the spots painted on the top of the coffin).

MIKE: Favorite moment? That’s easy. Later on in the issue when Bruce and Hurt face off and Hurt is bloodied and attempting to make his escape he actually fishhooks Bruce. He actually sticks a couple of fingers in Batman’s mouth and tries to claw himself away. Panel of the issue.

DOUGLAS: Yeah, Morrison is one of the few superhero comics writers right now who really make the violent moments have an emotional impact–that, the amazing “give me a sign” moment on the previous page, everything about the scene a few issues back with Damian and the Joker. I feel like a lot of mainstream comics take people hitting each other for granted; when this series does it, it’s always some kind of shock or dramatic beat.

EVAN: I would just like everyone to note that Bruce Wayne has one hell of a Kool-Aid grin when he’s holding an electric razor towards the end of this issue. Might be my favorite panel.

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I have a thing where I get easily manipulated with certain Batman stories. If we take as a given that being Batman (or around him) is a lonely, thankless, emotionally brittle existence, then stories where some semblance of emotional connection pops up all get me. “There Is No Hope in Crime Alley” (especially the animated version) mysteriously makes any room I’m in very, y’know, dusty. And the last few pages of James Robinson’s One Year Later story arc “Face the Face,” where Bruce says he’s going to adopt Tim and says everything’s going to be all right? Man, I get verklempt just thinking about it.

I always get mad at myself for these reactions–and it’s probably telling of something a little uncomfortable in my psychological make-up–but I just can’t help it.

All that said, this issue had a few of those “tender-heart Batman” moments. I love that they’re all very quick, too, uttered while loads of other stuff is happening. But, really, Batman saying “You made the right choices. I’m proud of you.” That’s just great. And I love that you can see the germ of the Batman, Inc. idea planted in Bruce’s head (“We need all the Batmen we can get, father” = Bat-inception) on that same two-page sequence.

GRAEME: What I liked most about this issue was that it felt like it really lived up to everything that’d come before. The scheduling problems kind of killed “Batman And Robin Must Die” for me, but I sat down and re-read #13-16 yesterday in one go, and it all holds together much better than I’d expected. I only wish that Return of Bruce Wayne #6 was out already, so I’d know exactly how Bruce ended up in the fireplace…

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