Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Batman: Still in Denial over Damien?

I thought it would be interesting to see how the rest of the Bat family of writers are handling the aftermath of Damien's death.  If we take a quick look at James Tynion's effort we'll see he's following Peters Tomasi's line of thinking that Batman is still in denial.

Tynion got a short feature and the end of Scot Snyder's Batman #19.  At first I thought it just another tacked on story to justify the added dollar for the issue (that and the fold out cover) but I thrilled to see it explored the world of Batman and Superman in real time.  I'm eagerly anticipating the return of the Batman/Superman comic for early this summer and here we get a sneak peek into that dynamic.  The added bonus here is that Superman and Batman are not only allies but friends.

It seems Superman has been trying to contact the Caped Crusader and accusing Batman of ignoring his calls.  From there we get to see the world's greatest superheroes together in the panel we see above.  Call me a geek but I thought it was pretty exciting.  Yes, we've seen them together in the Justice League but this seems a lot more organic to their relationship.

Tynion and artist Alex Maleev depict the two in the natural state.  Superman regally floating above the city, stock still but impressively powerful.  Batman, haunched over in the shadows using binoculars, ever the detective.  (Also not surprised to find Superman floating nearby.)

Superman shows his concern for Batman by asking about Damien.  Batman, emotions still raw from Damien's demise cuts him off with typical impatience.  Well, not so typical in this case.  Even an intervention from Superman isn't enough to break down the wall.

Batman, still in denial.

Our next set of frames comes from the greater part of Batman #19.  Snyder and artist Capullo continue to explore Batman's denial.  We find Batman in the depths of the Bat Cave.  He had just been ruminating over a recent case with Robin and a close scrape with death.  As was his want, Damien teases Batman about his fallibility.  Now Batman stands over a pool of water deep in thought.  Alfred tries to shake Batman out of his gloom by voicing concern over recent events and how Batman reacted to the "death" of Jason Todd.  As Batman did in Tynion's story he cuts of Alfred with a curt, "enough".  Alfred can only look on with a mixture of shock and dismay.

Batman, still in denial.

Soon Tomasi will move on from the "denial" storyline and explore the next step of the five stages of grief and that is "anger".  I'll continue to seek out clues that his fellow writers are following his lead.  (Then again, it'll hard to tell Batman's regular anger from the anger over Damien's death but I'm game.)

(p.s., Did anyone else get the impression that Batman was standing over a water filled Lazarus pit?)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Do You Believe in Batman and the Red Hood's New Beginning?

The above illustration was taken from "Red Hood and the Outlaws" #18.  In that particular issue Jason Todd, who was the second Robin in line behind Dick Grayson, was just recovering from a dream filled fugue state after he was poisoned by the Joker.  When he awoke from his trance he found himself in Wayne Manor and in the arms of Bruce Wayne.

The issue was one of redemption and forgiveness and it occurs in the aftermath of Damien Wayne's death.  (Although it isn't entirely clear that Jason knows of Damien's death at this point.) What is known is that this story comes in the wake of the "Death of the Family" series and it appears that Bruce Wayne wants to start the healing process and it begins with Jason Todd.

So why would I ask if this scenario is believable?

Running parallel to these events is Peter Tomasi's examination into Batman's  five stages of grief in the Batman and Robin series.  Tomasi has just finished the first stage, Denial, and the second stage is Anger.  The third Robin in line, Tim Drake, had to deal with Batman's issues with denial and in the next issue Jason Todd will be featured as the "guest Robin" in "Batman and Red Hood #20"

Jason Todd is known to have a few anger issues of his own so I wonder if he is the right partner for Batman.  Todd has also undergone some recent transformations in Red Hood and the Outlaws # 19 although I won't spoil them here.

The immediate above illustration come from the solicitation for the May 8th issue of Batman and Red Hood #20 (or Batman and Robin #20 if you prefer).  It depicts the angry visage of Batman bursting through the  Red Hood of Jason Todd.  So what can we derive from this?
  • Will Batman's anger issues be so great that it will shatter the identity of Jason Todd both new and old?
  • Does this illustration suggest Todd's influence will be futile and Batman's anger cannot be contained?
  • Are we being given a clue into the fate of Todd as his own story progresses?

Adding fuel to the fire of a rapprochement between the figures of Batman and Jason's Todd's Red Hood we get these events as depicted in Justice League #19.  Here, it is obvious there is an element of trust between the two as Todd has continued access to the Batcave.  It's also clear Todd has forged a tight alliance with Alfred and more importantly, Batman, despite having his lair invaded with Todd on duty.  Instead of being disappointed with Todd, Batman voices his concern that Jason Todd is okay and trusts him to watch over the fallen Alfred.

I'd like to think that Batman and the Red Hood can start a new beginning.  Seemingly, the ground work is being laid for such a thing.  But like the cover of Red Hood #17, seen above, things aren't always as they seem and a little misdirection is usually employed.

Batman and "Red Hood" #20 comes out May 8th and we are sure to get more answers at that time.

Until then, can we believe Batman and the Red Hood's new beginning?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Batman and Red Robin #19 In Denial?

Peter Tomasi and Pat Gleason follow up their masterwork that was Batman and Robin #18 with Batman and Red Robin #19 and it is a somewhat more muted affair.  

Yes, I am aware of the irony of calling a dialog heavy sequel to the totally wordless issue that was  number 18 "muted" but I do so because it lacked the depth of its predecessor.  Batman and Red Robin 19 is a different cat altogether and it threw its readership for a loop with the reintroduction of Carrie Kelley to the Batman universe.

I'll get to that later.  What I really wanted to focus on was Tomasi's deliberate follow up to 18 and how he was going to explore the five stages of grief as originally outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

As noted by Wikipedia the stage of Denial can be explained as, "Conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, or the reality of the situation. Denial is a defense mechanism and some people can become locked in this stage."

I don't see Batman as "locked in this stage" because, A, Tomasi is going to move him through all 5 stages and B, Batman has to move on to "anger" because if Batman is anything it's angry!

The first glimpse of "Denial" we get from Batman is from his alter ego Bruce Wayne.  Wayne has sought out Carrie Kelly to pay off her fees as charged to Damien for what I can only assume are lessons in theater.  (Whether acting or history or both.)  Wayne is referring to Damien as if he is still alive which is classic denial and at this stage of grief almost reflexive.  Alfred (callously?) points this out to Wayne and he retorts with a sardonic thank you.  Wayne's rebuttal can also be seen a symptom of denial as it is a slap at his closet ally and friend, Alfred, and intended to sting.  Lashing out at ones closest to you keeps you from facing the truth they wish to impart.

Paying Carrie Kelly off is also a form of denial as Wayne intends to close that chapter that involved her and Damien.  Thus, he no longer has to deal with it.

From here I sensed that Tomasi drifted a little from the theme of denial and drifted into the second stage of "Anger" and added a touch of the third stage, "Bargaining".  Batman goes on a mad caper to capture "Agent of S.H.A.D.E." Frankenstein with the hopes of incorporating "Frankie's" insight and abilities of reanimation.  

 In doing so Batman is effectively admitting that his son is dead.  This is in contretemps to the stated definition of denial.  I suppose Tomasi is to be forgiven for this drift of thematic narrative.  I really don't know anything of his educational background nor would it be fair of labeling him a psychologist.  I'm only pointing out that if you are going to entitle your book, "In Denail" you'd be better served to sticking with that theme and plumb the depths of that particular issue.

In the above set of two frames we get Batman admitting Robin is dead ("Not for long") and denying it has any permanence when he recounts his own "death" and that of Superman's.  Again, a bit of a mixed message for the stated theme of denial by Tomasi but who said Batman was anything but complicated.

I suppose it fortunate that Batman isn't into full on "Anger" or he may well have dismantled Tim Drake.  Here we can make a case for a solid return to the denial theme.  If Batman had been in full use of his capabilities instead of being in the thrall of denial he would have anticipated all of Red Robins tactical moves.  Instead, the tables are turned on Batman as the former pupil outmaneuvered the master catching him when his judgement is clouded and his plans for a grisly re-animation are foiled.

While this issue doesn't measure up to the greatness that was issue 18 and I think it drifted from its stated theme, we still get a look at Batman while he begins his descent into grief.  "Anger" is the next step and we certainly got a glimpse at the rage that is engulfing Batman.  The next issues is to be entitled "Batman and Red Hood in Rage."  The Jason Todd character of Red Hood has visited death before and as a former protege of Batman this pairing should unearth some deeply buried resentments and sublimated issues that were never successfully resolved.  If that isn't a recipe for anger then nothing is.

As for the introduction of the Carrie Kelley character, the fictional non-canon character that is now inserted as a fictional canon character, so what!  I know it has the resolute fan-boys' knickers in  a twist but if it was intended as a publicity stunt it worked as the first printing of Batman and Robin #19 was completely sold out.

 Kelley will add a new dimension to world of Batman as she seems determined or at least the type to be determined to find out what happened to Damien.  A thorn in Batman's side is always good theater.

Next up:  Do you believe Batman and "A New Beginning?"

Monday, April 1, 2013

Batman & Robin 18: The 5 Stages of Grief

As promised in my last blog post I've decided to take a look at the bereavement period for Batman following the stunning events of Batman Incorporated #8 where the Damien Wayne Robin dies.  I feel this is a singular event in the annals of Batman comics because it provides us with an in depth look at one of DC comics most iconic heroes and how he handles a death so close to his heart.

Not just any death, like the death of an adopted Robin such as Jason Todd, but the death of Batman's biological son.  A young boy of ten whose issues and shortcomings were well known to all the readers and provided Batman with much angst. A Robin whose foibles made him all that much more human to us all and gave Batman a true son.

Peter Tomasi, who has authored the series of Batman and Robin comics, has stated that he will follow Batman in the Five Stages of Grief, as originally delineated by Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler, by examining each stage in the pages of the Batman and Robin issues starting with Batman  and Robin #19.  You can read that very informative article here.

I thought I might take a closer look this bereavement period and the 5 stages of grief and see how much they apply to a single issue, Batman and Robin #18.  Tomasi, with artist Pat Gleason has authored an extraordinary work of art and it is a must read for all fans of Batman. 

First of all let's tkae a look at the Five Stages of Grief.

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining 
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Denial:  "Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of possessions and individuals that will be left behind after death. Denial can be conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, or the reality of the situation. Denial is a defense mechanism and some people can become locked in this stage."

In this wordless issue Batman first exhibits the signs of denial by the covering and disposal of the family portrait.  With grim visage Batman takes a last look at Damien before he drapes the face of Damien and carries off the portrait for storage.  Batman can't bear to look at Damien and the setting of Batman with his other Robins is too much to deal with.  Covering Damien's face is both a symbolic and literal act.  The drape acts as a death shroud adding a finality to Damiens passing but the storage of the painting dismisses this finality by keeping this act temporary.  For Batman it's better to remove the obvious reminders of Damien so he doesn't have to deal with pain of his passing.

Anger"Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Anger can manifest itself in different ways. People can be angry with themselves, or with others, and especially those who are close to them. It is important to remain detached and nonjudgmental when dealing with a person experiencing anger from grief."

No doubt it would be difficult to remain "detached and nonjudgmental" in a world populated by Batman.  The Caped Crusader goes into an utter rage over the loss of Robin and at the end of the issue he lashes out at the loss of Damien by smashing the his locker and tossing the lifeless garments across the floor.

 Batman exhibits the classic signs of anger when he vents his pain at the empty accoutrements.  How Could Robin leave him?  Why isn't he here and by his side?

Bargaining :  The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand I will die, but if I could just do something to buy more time..." People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example "Can we still be friends?.." when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it's a matter of life or death. Not much noted, but common, bargaining can also include guilt, including survivors guilt.

How does someone bargain with the death of a loved one after they have passed?  By rewinding the memories of that loved one over and over.  That way, the person that still lives, in this case Batman, can handle their survivors guilt by imagining that their loved one is still with them. 

The series of panels that depict Batman descending to the Batcave  is most poignant in this regard.  Riding the Batpoles is something Batman has done a thousand times and with Damien hundred and hundreds of times.  It may have been something that he took for granted in the past but now it is a cherished memory.  The sheer repetition of events keeps Damien alive to Bruce, only the thud of the end of the descent brings Batman back to the reality of Damien's absence.  Better to live the bargain of better memories than deal with the void left by death.

Depression: During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed. Depression could be referred to as the dress rehearsal for the 'aftermath'. It is a kind of acceptance with emotional attachment. It's natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty when going through this stage. Feeling those emotions shows that the person has begun to accept the situation.

Does Batman get depressed?  Heck, isn't he always depressed? Batman carries the weight of his parent's loss heavily on his shoulders.  Instead of being consumed by it, he uses that sorrow as a point of strength.  Instead of turning inward he lashes outward, especially against those who would do harm against the innocent.

Things could be different this time.  This is one of the aspects of grief I hope Tomasi and Gleason really get to explore.  In the above illustration, Batman returns to the Cave to wash away the stains of a grim night.  In a way this could be seen as a form of denial.  Letting the pain roll off you without having to deal with it.  I see this image differently however.  Batman's head is bowed, his shoulder slumped in sad resignation.  The picture is mostly in black and white as if to accent the starkness of Batman's plight.  Only the red of blood marks Batman.  The pain and loss that infuses that blood is a lot more difficult to wash away.

Acceptance:   "In this last stage, individuals begin to come to terms with their mortality, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. This stage varies according to the person's situation. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief."

Peter Tomasi and Pat Gleason end their wordless masterwork with an image of Batman clutching the empty garments of the now dead Robin.  Bruce had strewn the accoutrements of Damien in a fit of rage but he now mournfully embraces them.  See how his anguished face presses up against the shoulder of the uniform as if Damien was still within.  His left hand holds out the mask of Robin as if waiting for him to fill it again.  By purposely showing us this, Gleason demonstrates the nature of Robins life. The duality of being a ten year old and the guise of being a crime fighter and the heavy responsibility it carries.  Displaying the mask adds emotional heft to an already grief stricken tableau.

We also see Damien's Batarangs buried into the surface of the floor.  Even after death they find their mark with purpose.  To the left lie the empty gauntlets that can no longer throw a punch with anger.  To the right stand the empty boots that will no longer trod the face of this earth with Damien in them.  Very large shoes to fill indeed.

Damien's Robin badge sits detached near Batman's legs as if has been stripped of ownership now that Robin has passed.  It now waits for someone else to fill that role.  Someone deserving.

The most poignant thing about this image is how Bruce has dropped to his knees to embrace the now empty uniform.  How else would you lovingly hold your child? 

I eagerly await Batman and "Robin" number 19.  Tomasi has said he plans to explore the five stages of grief in each successive issue.  What I attempted to do here was divine his approach to that series and suss out the clues in a single issue.  I think Tomasi and Gleason have just scratched the surface of the depth of their storytelling.  There is fertile ground ahead.  Hallowed ground where one one soldier gave his last measure of devotion.

(Each "Stage of Grief" comes courtesy of Wikipedia.)