Batman and Robin #4

You are warned, here be spoilers.

How can I review this issue? Batman and Robin #4 was a terrible read, but a pretty good re-read. On the first read-through I was confused by Philip Tan’s busy, confusing art; on the reread I was fascinated. Initially, I was disappointed by how little screen time Batman and Robin got; re-reading, I was fascinated by the villains, glad of their coverage.

Seriously, Philip Tan’s art. On first read, it made me want Quitely back. Quitely. Sure, Quitely’s characters are ugly, scribbly deformities, but with his work you can tell what’s going on in a shot. With Tan, many panels are more like those online colour-blindness tests, except with him it’s hard to pick out shapes because there are too many colours, not too few. On re-read, I’m appreciating the art – because I’m not still figuring out what the Hell is going on.

And there is a lot to appreciate about the art. Take the two-page spread that comprises pages 2 and 3. A villain, the Lightning Bug, is fleeing Batman and Robin. He darts through an alley, up a fire escape, leaps across from one building to another, crashes into an apartment, then flees out into the hall.

This two-page spread is a masterpiece of construction. The panels are all small, oddly-sized, and jumbled together, like cards dropped on a table. However, the pre-jump panels are all clustered on the left, and the post-jump panels are all on the right; the background behind them – most clearly visible through the gap down the middle of the page – is a distant shot of the Lightning Bug in mid-air, making the jump, money streaming from his loot-bag like down from a shredded pillow. The image is both graceful and frantic.

Tan’s character work is good, but uneven. There’s a shot of a villainess – one of Gran Morrison’s new creations – running toward the camera, and the angles at which her body tilts and twists as she runs hints at a bit of Liefelding of the spine. And there’s a shot of Batman looking like he has a tremendous gut. But on the whole, it works. Characters are chiseled and strong without being ridiculously bulky.

I mentioned Batman and Robin don’t get much screen time in this issue – most of it the attention is on the Red Hood and Scarlett, the villains of the piece. The Red Hood is an interesting piece of work. He talks about being a “grown up” form a crime-fighting – which, near as I can tell, involves doing the Batman thing but also killing his villains at the end. When he first shows up, he and his sidekick Scarlett are shown executing a criminal in the street, then making a point of advertising their actions. The Red Hood photographs the crook’s death throes with what appears to be an iPhone, and posts the pictures on Twitter. He leaves calling cards. When Scarlett debates risking removing the doll-mask that’s fused to her face, the Red Hood talks about the pros and cons in terms of what’s cool and edgy. It all appears to be about image.

And Batman – Dick Grayson Batman – has a guess at who the Red Hood really is.

This issue was off-putting at first, but became more satisfying once I got a sense of what Morrison was about. I’m intensely curious as to where he’s going with this, though. I most definitely want to know what happens next.