fantasy and science fiction book reviewsBatman and Robin (vol 4): Requiem for Damian (New 52) by Peter J. Tomasi

BATMAN AND ROBIN VOL 4 NEW 52DC did a soft reboot of their universe almost three years ago. It’s called the New 52, and Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi is one of my favorite books, particularly volume one, which I liked so much I taught it in my college English class. Overall, the entire series has been incredibly consistent. Even if you didn’t know that Batman has a son named Damian who is the most recent Robin, you can still read and enjoy this series because it deals with significant themes and not just with superhero action. Volume one deals with Damian’s coming of age in his rebellion against his father, as well as Bruce Wayne’s trying to figure out how to be a loving authority figure to his young son. In events just previous to volume four, unfortunately, poor Damian died, so Batman and Robin: Requiem for Damian is about Bruce Wayne’s going through the grieving process.

This trade collection is as good as it is precisely because it’s an incredibly moving and serious book about losing a loved one. The first twenty pages are some of the most emotionally touching ones I’ve ever read: There are no words at all in those twenty pages until the final letter from Damian that Bruce finds at the end of the first comic in the collection. The visual story is powerful because we can see Bruce batman-and-robin image 2undergo the emotions any father would feel: Mainly, Bruce is just extremely angry, and he expresses that anger through a more extreme violence than we are used to seeing in a Batman comic. Batman, who has an ethical code that prevents him from killing, starts pushing the limits of that code so much, one wonders if he’s following only the letter and not the spirit of his own vigilante law. However, even though there’s much anger, there’s also a clear sense of loss expressed. My favorite sequence of pages shows Batman swinging through the streets of Gotham. First, he is shown with Damian as Batman and Robin patrol the streets of the city. On the following page, Batman turns to look at his reflection in the windows of a skyscraper. The windows reflect only Batman looking back at himself, an odd pose for the Dark Knight since he usually doesn’t gaze at his own image. But since Damian was shown as Robin swinging through the air right by his side on the previous page, we now know that we were witnessing the visual thoughts running through Bruce’s mind. This single panel communicates the interior emotions of the main character so fully it would take ten to twenty pages of a prose novel to create an equivalent effect in a reader. Such moments are repeated throughout the comic: Another touching moment is when Batman is in his car with Robin in the passenger’s seat. However, when Batman turns to his right for a quick glance, the seat is empty. These scenes show how comics can create emotional effects not possible in prose fiction.

The rest of the trade collection may not be up to the level of that perfect, five-star first issue, but it’s still well-written, and if a reader is new to comics, she’ll meet a large cast of key characters in the world of Batman. This collection includes Red Robin, or Tim Drake, a previous Robin; Red Hood, another previous Robin named Jason Todd; and Nightwing, or Richard Grayson, the original Robin. Why include so many previous Robins? It’s not merely to fill pages. Richard, Jason, and Tim were all like sons to Bruce (Richard is his son since he was adopted by Bruce), and they all must interact with their father now that he’s lost his only flesh-and-blood son, Damian Wayne. We also are introduced to the rehabilitated Barbara Gordon as Batgirl (for years she was in a wheelchair after being shot by the Joker in an excellent story by Alan Moore: The Killing Joke), as well as Catwoman. We even meet a fascinating character adapted from canonical literature: Agent Frankenstein. Frankenstein has one of the most insightful lines in his observing Batman: “I am watching a man racked with pain look for light in a world gone dark!”

batman and robin image 1Overall, I highly recommend the entire Batman and Robin series, including this volume, and you’ll want to read the first three volumes before reading Requiem for Damian, which includes issues 18-23 of the still ongoing series. I hear word that Robin’s on his way back somehow, which might explain why this series continues to come out even since Robin’s death. I’m behind in my monthly reading, so I don’t know yet how that’s going to turn out. However, I’m not worried, because the point in killing off a character and bringing him back, as long as it takes some time, is to give a major character like Batman a chance to actually grieve in a real and convincing manner. I don’t even care how they bring Damian back; they waited long enough to write the issues in this fantastic trade collection. I do want Damian back, though. His relationship with Bruce Wayne reveals much about the Dark Knight’s personal side that we’ve never seen before in his seventy-five years of literary life.


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.