Batman & Robin, Vol. 1: Batman Reborn; By Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Philip Tan; DC Comics, 168 pages

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Batman & Robin is the current chapter in writer Grant Morrison’s planned five-act Batman epic. The series follows the recent death of Bruce Wayne, as his former protégé—Dick Grayson, the original Robin—takes over the mantle of the bat. Joining him is a new Robin, Bruce’s previously unknown, illegitimate son, who is kind of a shit.

For Batman & Robin, Morrison has moved away from the gonzo elements of his previous Batman run, and made the material much more accessible. Since he has two new characters in familiar roles, he flips the conventional Batman and Robin relationship, with a chipper, personable Batman and a borderline psychotic, eager-to-kill Robin.

This hardcover collects the series’ first two storylines, most of which introduce new threats for the new Caped Crusader. The sadistic Professor Pyg, the still-unseen Domino Killer, and the mysterious Oberon Sexton are worthy additions to Batman’s notorious, if overused, gallery of rogues. Morrison deserves credit for creating something new in an industry that seems happy to recycle characters and concepts until they wear out completely.

On the art front, Batman & Robin is a mixed bag. The first arc, penciled by frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely, is simply beautiful. Quitely regularly employs a highly detailed, fleshy style, and his work on Batman & Robin is no different. He infuses the proceedings with a real sense of energy, even when it’s something as creepy as Professor Pyg turning unwitting victims into his grotesque, pockmarked henchmen.

Unfortunately, the second arc—a sharp tale about Bruce’s second Robin, who has turned to extreme vigilantism—is drawn by Philip Tan, who nearly obliterates the story. Tan has had a string of high-profile comic assignments over the past few years, and I can’t understand why. His inconsistent style ranges from the mostly serviceable to the utterly unreadable, and his storytelling skills are atrocious.

Still, Batman & Robin is one of the best superhero books on the market, and this first hardcover collection is a good introduction to the story of the new Batman—or rather, the interim Batman. DC is bringing Bruce Wayne back this summer (turns out he wasn’t dead, merely lost in time). That’s unfortunate, because in Batman & Robin, the Dynamic Duo has never been more dynamic. 

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