So, I'm super stoked about this issue. As most of you probably know, it promises big, big, horrible things, and I'm game. Perhaps Death of the Family and its aftermath has wet my appetite for a game changing event, and that is exactly what we are going to get here. (watch as I dodge spoilers. It's a delicate dance full of love for the BatWatch community and the purists who have worked so hard not to ruin the reveal) I have a lot of speculation and theories, but I cannot voice them without revealing the story, so let's move on to the meat and potatoes of this review. Is Batman, Incorporated #8 a staggeringly triumph or a devastatingly disappointment?
In this issue, Robin flies in to save his father, Nightwing follows Damian to keep him safe, and Red Robin takes on the forces of Leviathan.
(Spoilers for entire section) Let's address the main question on everybody's mind first. Does Damian die?
Yes, and he dies hard, painfully, and brutally. I have a feeling some Damian Wayne haters will probably frame some of these panels on their bedroom walls...which is kind of a disturbing thought now that I've typed it out, but given the level of vitriol I've heard for some, my comment stands.
There is so much to say about this scene that I find it difficult to know where to start.
In comic book deaths, you know that the death itself is practically meaningless. At most, it means a character might be out of circulation for about a decade. I can think of no modern deaths that have lasted longer than that, so the significance is less about the death itself and more about the purpose the death served. You want a hero's death to be both heroic and tragic, and in that sense, Damian's death hit the right notes though it focused more on the tragedy than the heroism since his death did not serve any greater purpose.
The scene starts off with Damian partnering up with Nightwing which was a move I did not even realize was needed, but Morrison obviously did, and it was a smart move. When you think about it, Damian actually spent more time as Dick's Robin than Bruce's Robin, so seeing the two partner up right before the slaughter was a touching nod to their past. Couple this with the knowledge that Dick possibly watched Damian's death and will definitely see the immediate aftermath, and you can certainly see why Dick will be feeling troubled in the next several months of his own series.
The issue did a great job of making The Heretic look like a major threat by allowing him to shrug off a simultaneous strike from Dick and Damian on The Heretic's jaw. Looking at this panel, I feel confidant that I have seen it previously. I think this is an homage to a knockout blow in a Dick and Damian issue of Batman and Robin, so having The Heretic withstand the blow was a nice way to set up the “boss fight” vibe. However, Grayson is knocked back into a glass case almost immediately after and disappears for the rest of the issue. I understand that in reality, this could be a very serious blow which could render him unconscious or severely wounded, but by comic book standards, that is a pretty casual way to put a superhero of Dick's caliber out of commission, so I wish they had done something bigger to dismiss Dick.
In the fight, The Heretic grabbed a sword, and I fully expected Damian to do the same since that is his favorite weapon and it would make for a nice symmetrical scene between Damian and his “brother,” (more on that later) but instead Damian grabbed a spear which seems like an odd choice. I feel like there is some sort of significance to this which I have not deciphered; it feels like a very intentional move, yet I've come up with nothing to explain it other than the obvious fact that it extends his reach against a larger opponent. Still, I feel like this has some symbolic significance.
There is kind of an odd moment where Damian says, “Just stop! Fighting! Father!” It kind of sounds like he is calling The Heretic his father, but that does not track, so I'm guessing these two thoughts, “Just stop! Fighting!” and “Father!” were meant to be taken separately, and Damian is calling out for help when he realizes he is outclassed.
Damian breaks his vow not to kill once more, (what is this? The fourth time?) yet The Heretic keeps on fighting after getting an arrow through his heart which leads me once more to the conclusion that The Heretic is Damian from the future. I know the story has implied strongly that he is Damian's genetically engineered twin brother, but I just don't buy it. Has there ever been an explanation for how Damian's “brother” would be able to heal from the fatal blow of an arrow through the heart or the likely fatal blow of a stone through the eye? Why have we not seen this brother's face? What was the significance of issue #5 if future Damian plays no role in the story? Is it a coincidence that The Heretic chose to fight with a sword when that is Damian's favorite weapon or that he makes the “TT” sound of scoffing that Damian uses so often? I know on these latter two that you could say that The Heretic being a twin might develop the same preferences and mannerisms, but I still think it is more likely that The Heretic is future Damian. The only thing that makes me think this might not be the case is that The Heretic never says anything particularly intelligent. He seems a bit like a blunt object while future Damian seemed to be fully capable of deeper thought.
The final panel is of Bruce on his knees holding Damian which is very similar to Bruce's pose taking Jason from the wreckage after his death at the hands of Joker. I would have to reread the actual issues to be sure, but I think this one is actually a little different because Batman was not on his knees (I don't think) in Death in the Family, and he certainly did not look so upset. There are two different images I found for the famous Death in the Family pose. One has Bruce carrying Jason while walking out of the wreckage, and in that one, Bruce's face is simply resigned and sad. In the other image, Bruce is on his knees holding Jason's body and his face is in deep shadow, but I think this was just made for the cover of the trade. In terms of images in the actual comics, Bruce appears much more upset this time around, and he has fallen to his knees showing that this has lowered him even further than Jason's death.
Bad Fight Scene
Jason Masters (former artist for Legends of the Dark Knight and current artist for Batman, Incorporated) filled in for pages 6-9, and though I really enjoyed pages six and seven, I'm afraid he really messed up on pages 8-9.
As you guys probably know, I'm a huge pre-Flashpoint Tim Drake fan, so it was nice to see Red Robin actually look competent for a change as he takes on a group of Leviathan thugs. Granted, a mop was used in this scene as if it was an extremely sturdy object, and I personally think it would have cracked at first contact, but whatever. It still looked cool, and we got to see Tim fight with his bo staff in a manner of speaking. We also saw a really sick double kick move on page seven where Tim uses the mop to support himself, uses one leg to knock the guy in the back while using the other leg to smack him right in the nose. Really, really awesome.
Then Masters apparently smoked crack.
Okay, to be fair, these are not huge deals, but they totally took me out of the action and actually made me laugh, and in this otherwise great issue, these really hurt the book in my eyes.
First, Tim knocked somebody out by hitting them with the mop end of the mop at the top of page eight. I'm pretty sure you could hit someone about as hard as you want, and the soft cushy mop head would absorb most of the impact. After knocking this guy down a good three feet away from Tim, every Leviathan guard in the building decides to start shooting the dead body. I mean, I think the effect the artist wanted was that gunfire was going everywhere and some fire hit the body, but that is not what was rendered. Every single bullet hit directly on this body, so its as if all the other Leviathan guards were like, “Screw you for getting downed by a mop, dude!”
Tim then attaches a line to a museum plane overhead and swings out to kick a giant quarter into some stairs holding bad guys, and this move alone is really flawed. First, the amount that the quarter rotated before making contact with the stairs looks off to me, but that is a bit difficult to judge, so maybe I'm wrong. Second, Tim could have put enough force into his blow to cause the mass of the quarter to shatter the stairs. Third, while Tim is taking out eight thugs with this move, he exposed himself nearly point blank to another ten thugs.
The final travesty was the handling of the plane off which Tim was swinging. It is suspended in the air until something caused the line to snap. I do not buy that Tim's relatively insubstantial weight caused it to snap, and nobody was shown shooting at it, so what gives? Somehow, even though Tim was swinging beneath the plane, he is shown in the next panel as having stayed magically in the same place in the air as the plane crashes to the ground, and then in the next panel, Tim is shown to be trapped underneath the plane. How?!!?
Look, I've got that Libertarian thing going on, so I do not really care if you want to smoke crack as long as you do it away from anybody else who you might hurt with it, but I strongly suggest you don't try to sketch while smoking.
Just in case Masters reads this, I really like the look of these pages, and I loved your work in Haunted Arkham too, but...how does this scene make sense?
I'm just going to cover everything else in this issue as it pops into my head starting on page one and moving forward.
1. The Robin RIP cover looks really cool as do the different colored variants. I'm curious if this will become an iconic image of Batman comics like the Bruce/Jason pose.
2. The first page is really cool. Personally, it took me a second to figure out what was happening. My initial thought was that Batwing was flying in, but then I remembered Damian had the flight suit. Anyway, it was an interesting first page.
3. I read the scene on pages 2-3 in the preview for this issue, and I thought Damian was just speeding by over Nightwing and Commissioner Gordon's heads, but reading more slowly this time, I realized he hit a couple kids on the way by and dropped a lot of gas pellets. Nice work Damian, and he did not even have to break his stride. Also, a jet buzzing by this low causes a shell shock kind of effect on people underneath because of the surprise and sound pressure effect which can actually shatter glass and ear drums. The Air Force uses this in Afghanistan frequently.
4. The top of the Wayne building on page four is actually shaped like the Bat cowl.
5. I'm always glad to see real escape artist techniques used by Batman, but I've got to wonder, does Bruce swallow lock picks every time he goes into battle?
6. Red Robin uses some cool Frisbee sized discs though I do wonder where he stores them.
Spoilers Past Here Until Conclusion
7. Alfred is probably going to have some real guilt on this one having let Damian leave the Manor against orders.
8. It's cool to see Nightwing's escrima sticks double as a storage device. Also, the dialogue between Damian and Dick in this scene is pretty endearing.
9. Everybody has had some closure with Damian recently except for Tim. It really felt to me as if they needed a moment this issue, and I was disappointed to see they did not get one.
10. I though Damian's death was handled well, but I thought it would have possessed more emotional resonance if Talia had killed Damian directly. I mean, we really do not know anything about The Heretic, so in their battle, you really only have feelings on one side of the conflict. If Talia had done the deed, we would hate her even more.
11. At the same time, it was nice to see Talia is not completely without feeling.
This issue delivers some solid action, and the big event was handled pretty well. However, that one action scene with Red Robin literally made me bust out laughing, and in a comic that is supposed to be serious, that's a major failing. Considering that there is nothing really spectacular in this issue, I can't give it a huge endorsement, but for everybody who wants to see the big show and is considering buying it, go ahead and shell out the money. It is still a good comic thoughnot great, and obviously if you are interested in the series or already following it, pick it up and enjoy.