Batman and Robin has been largely a miss for me after Morrison’s first story arc. It did momentarily heat when the storyline dovetailed in with the Return of Bruce Wayne. Unfortunately, this title cooled off for me once the Batman, Inc. storyline kicked in. Will Batman and Robin #19 get me excited about the Batman, Inc. direction for the Batman franchise? Let’s hit this review for Batman and Robin #19 and find out.
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist: Scott McDaniel
Inks: Rob Hunter
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with Dick Grayson and Damian busting in on where Una Zemo is holding Vicki Vale hostage. Una turns over Vicki to the Bat boys. Una says that she does not believe in killing when to do so would be stupid. Una keeps talking to the point where Dick finally realizes that she is stalling for time. We see that Una had small plugs in her nostrils. Dick and Damian collapse to the floor. Una had knockout gas in the room.
We cut to Dick and Damian waking up. They are tied in chairs that are back to back to each other. Each Bat boy has a large drill positioned in from of their foreheads. Una is going to make them just like her by giving them large holes in their heads.
The chairs are on a circle that allow Dick and Damien to push the chairs forward and backward. That way one of them can save themselves by pushing their chair backwards and letting the other one die. Or they can both stay still and they both will die.
Una rants about how Bruce Wayne does not care about anyone. That Bruce uses everyone. Just like how Bruce is using all of his Batmen as pawns. Una says that Bruce used her as well.
We see Dick frantically trying to cut through the rope on his wrists with a small saw that he popped out of his gauntlet. Dick says that he is not telling Una his secret identity. Dick says that the rest of Batman, Inc is on their way.
The drills finally make contact with the Bat boy’s foreheads and Dick screams like a wuss. (Man up, dude. Bruce would have merely uttered “Hnh.” The drill bits then crumble apart.
Una reveals that the drill bits were just papier-mâché. Dick has his hands free and uses a small laser to cut the ropes around Damien’s wrists. Dick and Damien then stand up. Dick says that all of this was just a diversion.
Una admits that it was all a diversion. That she was hoping that the rest of the Batman, Inc. people would show up to save Dick and Damien. That she wanted to distract the Batmen so that she could finish off some of her criminal business of killing off the River Robbery Crew.
We cut to three prisoners (The River Robbery Crew. The criminals who robbed the yacht that Una was on and then shot her in the head.) who have been killed by Una’s men. They all had large holes drilled into their heads.
Una says that she wanted to distract Batman, Inc. while she got practical business done. That Dick and Damien came looking for a typical super villain and found the absence of one, instead.
Una then stands next to a window and puts her gun to her head. She then shoots herself and falls backward out the window. Dick and Damien race down the stairs and out of the building. Of course, Una’s body is nowhere to be found.
We slide back to the Batbunker with Alfred, Dick and Damien talking about Una and how she was different from many of the psychos that they deal with. Dick says that Una kind of had a point. That Bruce always took care of them but that he never had the most humane priorities.
Dick says look at who Bruce made: A Batman (Dick) who enjoys the thrill of being expendable and a Robin (Damien) who is willing to die for the cause. That Una looked into Bruce’s heart and maybe she found something missing.
We cut to the Gotham harbor and see Una standing on the end of a pier looking at downtown Gotham. End of issue.
The Good: Batman and Robin # 19 was a solid read. This issue was far more entertaining than I was expecting. This issue certainly did not win me over to the Batman, Inc. concept. But, it did offer up a good enough story with enough interesting character moments that kept my interest.
Cornell turns in a rather well plotted read. The story arc resolves itself in a pleasing fashion. The thematic elements are well played and come together with a poignant message at the end. Cornell has our heroes looking inward and examining themselves more than they are the villain.
I particularly enjoyed how Cornell placed a neat twist on the stereotypical villainous plot, deathtrap and the motivations for such actions. Unlike most of Batman’s rogues, Una is not a psychopathic killer. To be sure, Una is perfectly fine with killing people. However, she is not going to kill at random, without reason or when it would be foolish to do so.
I loved how Cornell took the cliched deathtrap and the standard issue soliloquy from the villain explaining in detail their plans and motivations when they could simply just shut up and kill the hero rather than giving the hero the time for the predictable last minute escape.
Instead, Una uses those two tired and well worn comic book themes to a different end result. All she wants is to delay our heroes from stopping her people from killing the robbers. Again, Una is fine with murder, ie the murder of the robbers who shot her, but is not going to needless kill Dick and Damien and incur the wraith of the Batman.
The brilliance of the cliched deathtrap was the reveal that they were fake paper drills. That the entire deathtrap was a joke. This effectively poked fun at the cliche of the deathtrap as being a literary device which has also lost any power on the modern day reader and is as ineffective of a literary tool as these fake drills were in this story.
Cornell impressed me with some excellent character work on Damian. Cornell simply nails Damian’s character perfectly in this issue. Damian is nothing more than a pit-bull. Cornell seizes upon this and uses the deathtrap scene to show Damian’s attitude and resolve of a hardcore soldier so committed to his war that he is unafraid of dying. Damian came off looking like he had balls of steel in this issue.
Cornell effectively harnessed Damian’s undying devotion to his father’s cause. Damian’s anger and intensity seemed to smolder in each panel he appeared in. You can see how similar Damian is to his father. This is the first time reading Batman that I found Robin to be scarier than Batman. Damian comes across as a far more intimidating foe than Dick does.
Cornell’s handling of Damian once again reminds me of how great Damian’s character can be when written properly. While I have zero interest in Dick Grayson as Batman, I have to admit that I would love to read some stories set in the future where Damian is Batman. Imagine what a bad-ass and frightening Batman Damian would make.
I liked the teamwork between Dick and Damian in this issue. Dick was firmly in control. It was nice to see Damian willingly subordinate himself to Dick’s command. However, Cornell was able to show that Damian still strains against the limitations placed upon him by Dick.
What impressed me most about Cornell’s character work in this issue was his handling of Bruce Wayne. I know what you all are thinking and you are correct, Bruce Wayne did not appear in this issue. However, despite that fact, Cornell did a masterful job making Bruce the main character in this story without Bruce ever appearing. That is an extremely difficult trick to pull off and Cornell deserves plenty of credit for having the writing chops to do it.
Cornell uses Una and Dick in order to give the reader more insight into Bruce’s character. Through Una, the reader is able to see the flaws in Bruce’s hardcore approach as Batman and how he treats his supposed loved ones and friends around him. Through Dick, Cornell is able to show that Bruce’s philosophy has damaged even those close to him in Dick and Damian.
This was played out masterfully in the final scene as Cornell has Dick take Una’s rantings about the loss she has sustained and how Bruce Wayne treats those around him and internalize them as he views his own relationship with Bruce. The realization that Bruce has created Dick to a be a Batman who loves the thrill of being expendable and created Damian to be a soldier willing to die for Bruce’s cause was absolutely chilling. And truthful.
Batman and Robin #19 has little in the way of action. Instead, Cornell uses suspense in order to create tension in the reader and to hold their interest until the very end. This will work for some readers, but may be a miss for readers who crave more action in their stories.
The Bad: Batman and Robin #19 suffered from poor pacing. This was a slow read. The story drags in the middle with the incessant ranting of Una. I know that the entire purpose of her plan in this issue was built around stalling our heroes. First, she stalled for time till the gas took out our heroes. Second, Una stalled for time with the death trap until her people could kill the robbers.
The problem with this is that the reader really noticed how much stalling was going on. While it was realistic, it does not make for fun reading. The result was that the story slowed down to a crawl and got a bit boring and repetitious in the middle of this issue.
I was unimpressed with Cornell’s handling of Dick’s character. I am a huge Dick Grayson fan. I loved him when he was Robin and with the original Teen Titans. I loved him as Nightwing with both the Outsiders and with his own title. However, Cornell gives us an incredibly generic version of Dick Grayson in this issue. And it is never good when Robin comes off tougher than Batman.
The artwork in this issue was average. It was not bad, but it certainly was not anything that caught my eye. I found the art a bit sloppy and messy in some panels. Much of the art looked rushed as if the artist was racing to beat a deadline. There was a lack of attention to detail. The colors were also a little dull. All in all, the art was serviceable and told the story, but it did not add anything to the reading experience.
Overall: Batman and Robin #19 was an enjoyable read. Cornell deserves credit for being able to deliver a story that even a reader like myself who dislikes the Batman, Inc. concept still be able to enjoy this story. If you enjoy an interesting character story then I would recommend giving Batman and Robin #19 a try.