Review by Ian Keogh
In 2011 DC rebooted their entire superhero line, rebranding everything as “The New 52”. The changes weren’t well received, and a desire to promote the entire event in preference to the few moments of genuine quality led to Batman and Robin not being as acclaimed as it ought to have been. It took until 2018 for Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s admirable run to be reissued in the Omnibus format.
It may not seem so to begin with, but in its entirety Batman and Robin is a fall and rise arc, with Robin actually absent for around half the content, but present in spirit. Despite the wonders of the DC universe, there may be a credibility issue with a ten year old who speaks as if having memorised the dictionary, and who’s additionally a match for almost any killer thrown at him. This doesn’t prevent insecurity issues, though, and there’s a constant need to prove himself over the early chapters of Tomasi’s psychologically inclined series. Batman believes he needs to protect Robin, spurring a constant need to break boundaries to prove he’s ready.
Gleason’s a real star turn on the art, although others step in from time to time. He begins by keeping things dark, the actors hidden in the shadows, and maintains that approach through the opening two-thirds of the book while investing considerable thought into the page layouts. The style, though, modifies as the series continues, particularly with the way Gleason draws people, which gradually becomes more angular until reaching an apogee, after which it’s discarded. Time and again you’ll stop to admire a stunning page, and the large Omnibus format accentuates the skill.
Tomasi may have always known that the intention was to provide a shock by killing Robin after establishing him, but if not then he’s due even greater admiration for the way it’s incorporated into his continuity. The most impressive individual chapter is titled ‘Requiem for Damian’, and the best sequence follows it, with Batman experiencing the five stages of emotional reaction to the death of a loved one, each stage reflected by someone who knows him very well.
Batman’s unwilling to accept Robin’s death, and Tomasi is tasked with rectifying the matter, taking Batman into some unpredictable places in the course of doing so. There are team-ups with other DC heroes, a visit to Apokalips and eventually a risen and super-powered Robin. These stories entertain, but are weaker than the earlier material, at times taking too long to make a point and possibly stretching plausibility too far. That depends on whether your version of Batman is someone canny enough to take on Darkseid or the one who believes Gotham’s criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot. To be fair, both versions are seen, the latter during an unrequired revision of Two-Face’s origin during an otherwise engaging gangster saga.
The abiding message of this version of Batman and Robin is that even if he can’t realise it himself, Batman works best when trusting others. It’s underlined by Tomasi’s fine treatment of Alfred all the way through. Originally presented over seven paperbacks beginning with Born to Kill, this value for money compilation provides the required thrills.