In this, the sixth installment of the iconic Batman, we examine the artwork of Patrick Gleason from the issue of Batman and Robin #5. To add a little context to this particular frame, Batman has been struggling with his relationship with his son Damian who is also the current Robin. Batman and Robin have been battling with someone called Morgan Ducard who, seemingly at this point, is their equal in all departments. Ducard has managed to lure Robin away from Batman with promises of unfettered grandeur as Robin has been frustrated with Batman’s short leash.
In the above frame we witness Batman ruminating over his failure as a parent. He hasn’t been totally honest with Robin and he hasn’t shared many of the stories and experiences of his own youth. Batman has sought to shield Damian in order to bring him along slowly (if that is possible in the world they travel in.) Now Batman finds himself alone.
We see Batman is full silhouette framed by the full of the moon. Even though it is night the sky runs red. As we have discussed before, red is the color of passion. Only this time the passion is far from the one of love. It is more sorrowful here and seems to conjure thoughts of loss rather than the close knit bond that should connect father and son.
It also portends a certain amount of violence for the future of this father and son team. Violence is not a stranger to this duo, but the blood red of this particular night foreshadows what could be a profound amount of loss that neither may able to get back. The loss of trust is the greatest of them all.
It’s notable that Batman is balanced on an outcrop of architecture high above his city. Gleason seems to want to convey how Batman’s future hangs in the balance and any decision from here on will have dramatic effect on the lives of Batman and his son.
What I also found compelling about this image is how Batman is holding a spare cowl from his uniform. He seems to be looking at himself and asking, or rather, confronting the questions he should have faced long ago. The cowl is an empty vessel however and the answers to Batman’s questions come from within. A place where they have always been.
What is also fascinating about this image of Batman is how much it resembles that of Hamlet holding the skull of the long passed Yorick (Laurence Olivier as Hamlet above.). Hamlet also ruminates over what was lost. Yorick was jester to the King and someone who bore the young Hamlet “on his back a thousand times”. Hamlet wishes for better days and a time when life was simpler and he wasn’t burdened with the pressure of his adult responsibilities. Now Hamlet finds his adult life consumed with thoughts of vengeance over the murder of his father the King and has set his life on a course that is irreversible; a course that is beset with loneliness, retribution and a touch of madness.
Batman also feels the pressure of his lonely struggle to avenge crime. In Robin, his son, you’d think he’d found the perfect person to share his burden with. Yet Batman, like Hamlet, is consumed by the fires of revenge and quite often can’t see beyond the breadth of his own designs.
Hamlet is known to be one of the greatest tragedies written by Shakespeare. In his pursuit of justice Hamlet lent his hand to the death to his many his enemies and sadly to those he loved as well. Let’s hope Batman does not follow the same path as the Prince of Denmark did. Many have suffered and many have been lost in Batman’s quest. But to lose the life and love of the son would be the greatest tragedy of them all.
If there is one thing I can appreciate it is continuity. Not just in story, which is expected, but in art form. Many times in serialized tales we will pick up the story line where we left off and if not there then shortly into the future and then flashing back to where we were. But to see this in art form is special. When we last left Batman and Robin #5 Robin was prepared to shoot his prisoner for Ducard and fittingly that is where we pick up for issue #6. But as we see from the frame at the very top, we left Batman earlier in deep contemplation sitting atop a Gothic outcrop.
What Tomasi and Gleason have done for us is a real treat and I love it. Instead of static reflection, Batman now swings into action. Beyond is the same full moon with its yellow sun like glow. The same blood red sky highlights Batman but instead of a sorrowful mood it courses with dynamic action literally flowing through the arteries of this story.
Batman is no longer in silhouette, we now get the full grey classic costume with the ominous bat symbol across the chest. Instead of the quietude of somber thought we get the ripples of musculature as Batman now has purpose, direction and command. He pulls a his Bat-a-rang line with control instead of swinging from it passively.
This is the Batman we love. This is the Dark Knight that is ultimately vengeful and victoriuos.