Spoilers for Batman and Robin #18 through Batman and Nightwing #23 (formerly known as Batman and Robin) are contained in this review.
Scott Snyder’s run on Batman and Grant Morrison wrapping up his own run on Batman with Batman Incorporated have left Peter Tomasi’s run on Batman and Robin in the New 52 almost criminally underrated at times. The initial issues saw Bruce and Damian’s relationship develop as father and son, I admit I even grew to love the newest Robin after a period of time. Unfortunately, all things must pass and Damian met his demise in an issue of Batman Incorporated. This has led to what is arguably the greatest six issue run in not only the entire New 52 but in comics the last twelve months.
Tomasi wrote arguably his greatest issue of the New 52 with Batman and Robin #18, the requiem issue. The more impressive thing about that particular issue is that he and artist Patrick Gleason did such a wonderful job without using any words. It’s worth picking up on that basis alone. I can think of only a few comics that come close to having the same level of emotional impact and payoff for the reader. This led to the arc that has become known as the “Five Stages of Grief”, where essentially the next five issues are Batman going through each stage of one of the five stages of grief. The concept to take the book this direction was simply genius. The book would now take up the name of Batman And… of whoever is being featured.
Batman and Red Robin #19 saw the first issue (Denial) bring a number of surprises. It’s important to keep in mind that DC Comics that month had WTF side covers that would surprise readers similar to the comics of old. I know I was certainly not expecting Carrie Kelley, yes that Carrie Kelley to show up. I thought the inclusion of Frankenstein (a much underutilized character in the New 52 even if he is in Justice League Dark) was excellent as well. Despite Red Robin’s attempted at helping Bruce, one can feel the grief and rage resonating off the pages as Bruce is in anguish at the loss of his son.
Batman and Red Hood #20 saw the second issue (Rage) bring perhaps the most raw emotions of the entire arc. The reader is treated with Bruce’s spiral down a dark path interspersed with us learning more about Carrie Kelley and her friendship with Damian. One can quickly see how irrational that Batman is acting throughout the issue, which is only further made complicated with his desperation in continuing to try and bring back Damian. I thought Tomasi created a great scene when he had Batman bring Red Hood (Jason Todd) to the place where he died at the hands of the Joker and certainly creates a powerful scene between the two.
Before I move on with talking about Batman and Batgirl #21 (bargaining), one needs to look at this great cover. It’s one of my favorite covers of the New 52 and love the amount of symbolism it projects. The issue itself does a wonderful job of connecting the story going on alongside what’s currently going on in Batgirl’s own arc. Tomasi does a wonderful job of creating a wonderful issue, especially by having Batgirl provide the narration and seeing things from her point of view. It lets the reader be free of the bias of simply seeing things from Bruce’s point of view and allows us to see just how far his descent has gone.
The dialogue between Bruce and Barbara towards the end of the issue in the Batcave is some great stuff. I particularly love Barbara’s line “There is nothing for you to bargain with except your own pain, Bruce, and that’s only going to take you someplace darker.” One can’t help but sympathize with Barbara as she fails to try and get through to Bruce. I thought her offer to become Robin despite her own misgivings was touching and fantastically in line with the characterizations going on in her own book.
Batman and Catwoman #22 (depression) particularly showcased some of Gleason’s artistic talents as you can clearly see the physical changes in Bruce’s appearances. He looks more haggard and worse for wear. He looks like a man who’s gone through a great deal of grief and hasn’t reached the end of the line yet. It’s interesting to watch the interactions between Bruce and Carrie Kelley, I’m particularly curious if she’s going to end up being Robin down the road or at least some member of the Bat family.
Readers who have read Batman and Robin from the beginning will be treated to a nice reference to an earlier issue as Bruce listens to old tapes in the Batcave. I thought Tomasi did a great job in his team-up of Bruce and Selina in this issue. This particular panel made the issue for me. Also worth mentioning is the great teaser and slow build of Two-Face inclusion into the book.
Batman and Nightwing #23 (acceptance) is fitting due to it’s inclusion of Dick Grayson (Nightwing), Batman’s first son in the issue. The reader gets to see as Bruce attempts to keep trying to save Damian in his extremely real seeming simulation program. Alfred brings Nightwing into town to try and talk some sense into Bruce, instead he ends up joining Bruce in the simulation. The two are finally able to save him, and there is a wonderful conversation between the two towards the end of the issue.
The most important line of the issue that gives the reader a look into how Bruce feels has to be “I may have to live with Damian’s death, but I don’t ever have to accept it.” The most touching moment of the issue comes at the very end though, and it is provided by Alfred. He uses the simulation, and the reader is treated to his conversation with Damian from a previous issue when he escaped the Batcave of his death. In this simulation, Alfred tricks him and stops him from leaving. “I’ll never forgive myelf for letting you leave the cave that night”.
The last page of the issue remains the best of all. Bruce shows up, seeing everything that Alfred sees in the simulation and finally comes to an important realization. “I’m the one who’s sorry for not seeing how deep your pain goes, Alfred. I was too selfish to realize we both lost a son.” It is an important moment in Bruce’s growth as a character in the arc and coming to terms with Damian’s death that he recognizes the grief of others (as the reader also gets to see it at the same time). The arc is very much the five stages of grief for the reader who by the end of the arc will I believe come to better terms with Damian’s death, especially due to Tomasi’s masterful storytelling.
Overall, the five stages of grief arc has become one of my favorite Batman stories of all time and I hope it will be remembered as such. This is the kind of arc that doesn’t always come around too often, and when it does it often lacks the emotional depth and impact that this arc had. If you’re reading this review and haven’t read the issues yourself, do yourself a favor and pick them up. I’m extremely looking forward to seeing what Tomasi is going to do next involving Two-Face in the next arc.