Comic Books

The New 52 Series: Requiem Review

Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor

First off, let me apologize to my readers: due to unforeseen circumstances and poor time judgments, the interview with Chris Burnham and the accompanying article will not be posted until next weekend.

Last month in Batman Inc #8, Grant Morrison killed Damian Wayne. This month, each of the Batman titles paid homage in some way to the fallen bird in the Requiem issues. These issues include: Batman, Batman and Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Teen Titans, Catwoman, World’s Finest, Detective Comics and Batman Incorporated. Below is my own ranking of the Requiem titles and accompanying reviews when looking at how they tie into Requiem itself, not as standalone, individual issues.

Red Hood

10. Red Hood and the Outlaws

Although I thought this was one of the best issues of Red Hood to date, this none the less ranks worst for the Requiem issues. Unfortunately, looking at this issue through the lens of Requiem, this issue is the least relevant. The Requiem arc was marketed as dealing with the aftermath of Damian’s death; however, this deals more with the aftermath of Death in the Family, specifically the disfigurement of Jason’s face and his relationship with Bruce.

The characterization of Jason and insight into his character is the highlight of this issue. Through an induced coma, Jason must deal with issues wracking his psyche and the reader gets a glimpse into what’s really going on with him. Initially, we see Jason fighting a mental manifestation of the Joker and we’re led to believe the Joker is the cause of Jason’s issues. The artist creates the Joker as larger than life—Jason is forced to kill the Joker using the bomb that killed Jason. Rather poetic, when you think about it. However, we see that Jason himself is really the cause of his issues. Writer Scott Lobdell draws a parallel between Jason and Damian, as they both fear they’ll destroy the ones they love; he also gives Jason a life lesson through his dead teacher. As Ducra says, Jason “continues to let his life be defined [by the Joker]”. This gives the reader massive insight into Jason’s character because Death of the Family really pushed the point that the Joker made Jason who he was.

The artwork by Tyler Kirkham is also a highlight of this issue. Because Jason is down to his skivvies for the majority of the issue, Kirkham has to pay attention to muscular structure and fluidity, especially because poorly drawn bodies can make the artwork look static. Fighting should be dynamic, and Kirkham definitely hits the mark with this issue.

For the purposes of Requiem, this issue gets a 2/10; overall, standing as its own issue, 9/10.

Teen Titans

9. Teen Titans

Raise of hands for anyone who knows what’s going on in Teen Titans these days? If you’re raising your hand, please leave a comment and enlighten me, because I for one am having trouble understanding what writer Scott Lobdell is doing with this title. Lobdell has warped Tim’s character and made him into something he’s not, and this concept really makes its presence known in this issue.

From Damian’s entrance into the Batman mythos, he and Tim have had a longstanding rivalry, borderline hatred of each other. In response to Damian’s death, we see Tim break down, hallucinating Damian in an effort to reconcile with his character. As readers, we must analyze Damian’s presence and answer the question of why Tim’s psyche manifested someone so anathema to Tim. We see Tim regretful of Damian’s death, saying, “That’s why I started the Teen Titans… to protect you, to protect all of us kids!” He feels guilty that Damian didn’t survive. Tim’s comments perpetuate Morrison’s thematic goal for Batman Incorporated that fighting adults lose sight of kids; however, I feel that Tim’s guilt is misplaced.

I believe Tim should feel guilty for not being sad. Tim had seen Damian as a nuisance, but a capable nuisance due to his training as Robin and a member of the League of Assassins. Damian has proven time and again that he’s capable of defending himself; Tim should recognize Damian’s lack of finesse and skill when dealing with Heretic and hold the mindset that Damian died because he wasn’t emulating the skills that made him a rival for Tim. Guilt is an emotion associated with responsibility, but Tim is the member of the Batfamily least responsible for Damian’s death and had no responsibility for his safety; however, Tim is responsible for his feelings, which is why it would make more sense for him to feel guilty about not feeling sad. The lack of sorry, again, would fit with his character. I will say, though, Lobdell was right to include Alfred as the moral cornerstone comforting Tim. That’s Alfred’s role in the family and Lobdell properly used Alfred to assuage Tim’s guilt. No matter how much that guilt was misplaced, Alfred still fulfilled his character’s role.

One of the highlights of this issue comes from this scene, when Tim admits his reasons for bringing the Teen Titans together. Protecting kids is a noble cause, and fits with this iteration of Tim’s character, because he had to go undercover to protect his parents. It’s in his nature to protect and to lead, and it was nice to see that aspect of his character shine through.

However, the issue overall suffers from poor writing and un-illuminating storylines. Lobdell seems to be taking a leaf out of Young Justice’s book, as Connor references his TK abilities yet again when he says, “If not for my tactile telekinesis, I would never have found you.” We get it, Superboy, you have tactile telekinesis—you don’t have to bring it up every issue. Moreover, the issue ends on an ominous note with Trigon’s appearance. Raven’s absence in Teen Titans, and her inclusion in Shazam’s story in Justice League as her role as the Avatar of Pride, is confusing because her and Trigon are so tightly woven together. Because I have no idea what’s going on at the moment in Teen Titans and I have no way to anticipate what’s going to happen next, I’m not compelled to read any further. But I will anyway in hopes that this title will get better.

For the above reasons, this issue gets 3/10.

Batgirl

8. Batgirl

In similar respects to Red Hood, Batgirl barely covered the aftermath of Batman Incorporated #8; however, it gets a higher mark due to its direct relatability.

Writer Ray Fawkes chose to rely heavily of close relationships, familial and otherwise, when dealing with the loss of Damian. Batman tells Gordon and Gordon tells Barbara, who reaches out to Dick. It’s a domino effect, really, but it’s one that works. It’s the subtleties in this issue that earn Fawkes the right to this domino effect.

Bruce knows Batgirl is Baraba and is aware of her relation to Gordon. That much is obvious; however, Fawkes portrays the close ties between Batman and Gordon with just his text message: “Roof. –B.” The only other person who calls Batman “B” is Superman, and to have Batman refer to himself as “B” to Gordon shows the level of trust between the two. Gordon, on a professional level, is equal to Superman. This makes me believe that Batman would go to Gordon first. It would also make sense for Gordon to go to Barbara. Moreover, Fawkes uses this as a spring board to have Barbara reconnect with Dick—they’re having relationship issues!—and he does it rather well. Instead of taking a detour from the issue at hand, Dick insists that he “wants to talk with [Barbara] about this… just not right this minute.” This is also congruent with Dick’s personality: focusing on what’s at hand and looking towards the future without the past bogging him down.
However well Fawkes handled this issue, the emotional impact is lost because the “requiem” of the title is only four pages and doesn’t delve into anything substantial. As the narrator puts it, Barbara “can’t allow herself to think or feel. The problem at hand takes hold, and she focuses herself for now.” By including “for now,” Fawkes admits he’s passing over the emotional issues at the moment and continuing with his own storyline; although I agree with him as a writer, artist Daniel Sampere illustrated a grieving and crying Batgirl on the cover. That emotional intensity just doesn’t shine through this issue.
Because of Fawkes’ decision to minimally include the “requiem,” this issue only receives a 4/10 with respect to Requiem.

World's FinestDetective Comics

7. World’s Finest; Detective Comics

This issue, by far, evoked the second-most intense anger I’ve felt concerning The New 52—number one being Batman Incorporate #8. Here, writer Paul Levitz has himself a rich set of characters to explore in situations that just haven’t happened in mainstream comics yet. He has Helena Wayne, daughter of Bruce Wayne from a different reality, and Karen, the analgous of Kara Zor-El in Earth-2. And in their reality, Batman and Superman have died. These two young adults have been thrust into a different world with similar people from their lives running about; logically, they decide to establish themselves before confronting their alternate selves and family.

Helena had previously met Damian after he caught her siphoning several million dollars from the Wayne Foundation, and they developed a pseudo-brother-sister bond since they both come from Bruce Wayne’s DNA. In the issue, Helena and Karen continue to pursue information based on a missing person, but Helena—in her investigation—gets interrupted by Karen to tell her Damian didn’t meet at their rendezvous location, which led Helena to find out about Damian’s death.

It was then I figured that Helena would have to confront Batman at that point, for several reasons. At Damian’s grave, Helena laments, asking, “Is everyone I’ve ever cared about going to be taken away from me?” This shows how deeply Damian’s death has affected her: she’s now lost her father, mother, and pseudo-brother. When Helena asked Karen to leave her alone with Damian, the reader knows that Helena feels pretty alone at the moment, like she’s lost her family all over again. Her character needs some light to counteract all the darkness she’s going through, to keep her character dynamic and growing; moreover, she’s at Damian’s grave, so it’s expected Batman would notice intruders and unknown presences immediately.

In fact, he does come. And Helena decides she’s not ready to meet him, having Karen whisk her away before Bruce can find out who’s trespassing on Damian’s grave. At this point, I threw my hands up into the air stopped reading for a couple minutes. That was the perfect moment to have them meet. Both Helena and Batman are vulnerable at the moment; Batman has lost not only Damian, but his entire family: Dick has gone to Chicago, Jason is recovering, Tim is off with the Teen Titans, and Damian is dead. They need each other. Bruce would gain a daughter and Helena a father.

However, Levitz passed on this opportunity. I’m still hopeful that Helena and Bruce will meet, in addition to Karen and Superman, but at the moment that just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen in the near future. Levitz does a great job characterizing Helena’s grief, and Kevin Maguire, the artist, interprets Helena’s grief well: showing her visibly shaking and breaking down, having her address her dead father—whose silhouette is next to Damian’s grave (and oddly, that costume looks eerily similar to Damian’s Batman suit), and Helena’s deadpan face on page twelve conveyed the disparity in her soul clearly to the reader.

Likewise, Detective Comics only barely touches upon Damian’s death. Although we see Bruce and Alfred—and should Alfred be “taking a vacation” as in Batman Incorporated #9—at Damian’s grave, we don’t see anything else than his grief and purpose: perspectives we’ve already seen. However, the issue does have its strengths with its portrayal of Zsaz and Ogily. They’re shaping up to be effective villains; moreover, the Zsaz story at the end of the issue added backstory to the current plot and enriched the issue altogether, so writer John Layman deserves credit for that.

However, Laymen also missed an opportunity to explore Bruce’s grief and how it relates to Cobblepot. Cobblepot is Bruce’s antithesis, to a certain extent: both are sons of Gotham, both come from rich families, and Penguin is in the process of losing everything. I think that last part, at the very least, would strike a chord in Batman and let him show his softer side; it’d give Batman a good reason to empathize and show readers a different perspective. But Layman decided not to go that route.

As effective as Levitz and Maguire’s techniques were at conveying emotion, I cannot let go of the fact Levitz decided Helena wouldn’t confront Bruce; and as interesting at Layman’s story for Detective Comics was, we didn’t get to see anything new or unique pertaining to Requiem. For passing up excellent moments that had the potential for character, plot, and emotional growth, these issues only get a 5/10.

NightwingBatman Inc

5. Nightwing; Batman Incorporated

With respect to Requiem, these titles deserve their place at number four; overall, however, each book suffers from severe issues regarding content and continuity, which negatively impacted the reading of these issues overall.

Let’s take a look at Nightwing. Overall, this issue’s strength comes from its middle. The plot revolves around Dick attempting to get back one of his father’s costumes back when the Flying Graysons were still in business. Bruce, acting like a father, brings Dick out of his depression to go out. This was significant with respect to Batman’s character: acting like a father only after his real son died; this shows the profound impact Damian’s death has on Bruce not only from an emotive standpoint, but also from a perspective standpoint where Bruce changes how he interacts with the rest of the family. At least for the moment.

The issue begins with a continuity error: Dick saying, “This is the first time I’ve been out here [at Damian’s grave] since Damian saved the city,” when in Batman Incorporated #9, Dick is clearly there when they bury Damian. Although this is a minor detail, I feel like this simple mistake represents how integrated continuity errors have become in The New 52. At this point, after about a year of publication, I’d have thought DC would get their bearings and move forward without fail, especially after the mistake about Tim Drake being Robin/Red Robin in the beginning.

The end shifts focus away from Requiem and towards Dick personally by revealing that Tony Zucco is still alive. Although this poses an interesting plot line to explore Dick’s ability to “keep moving forward” and let the past be the past, this plot seems rather contrived, simply because it’s been well established that Tony Zucco is dead. There doesn’t seem to be a reason to bring Zucco back other than to give Dick something to do and avoid his grief. The entire reason Batman brought Dick in as Robin—pre-52—was to make sure that Zucco was brought to justice. With Zucco alive, this brings implications on Dick’s future and how his character will change in response. Bringing back Zucco was a bold move, but I felt it was contrived due to the un-believability of it actually happening, which is why this issue receives a 6/10.

Batman Incorporated’s strong point this week came from the art. Burnham effectively balanced his realistic artistic style with the melancholy that’s come about after Damian’s death. Three specific sections come to mind. The first is when Alfred is told to take a vacation. The rain in the middleground is blended between Bruce in the foreground and Alfred in the background, with Alfred’s body continually getting more and more blurry. One can interpret the rain as Bruce’s sadness, which is getting between him and his family—we see this later when Dick mentions that Batman doesn’t want anyone involved anymore.

The second is during the fight scene between Dick and Heretic. Burnham, in only a couple panels, effectively showed us the acrobatic qualities of Nightwing. The challenge with Nightwing with respect to art is to capture him in a fluid motion; the original artist of Nightwing was criticized for making art that appeared static, quite contradictory to Nightwing’s fighting style. Burham, however, keeps the fluidity by showing Dick in jumps, rolls—on Heretic’s back, crouching down low and attacking high. This showcases Dick’s incredible ability to adapt his body to almost any fighting situation.

The final is the last three pages. We see Bruce’s body broken and beaten; we see Gotham in a state of disarray with Batman’s back to the monitors; and we see Batman’s fury and anguish at the very last page, a colony of bats coming up from the darkness. The pacing in these three pages was incredible: as we went through the first two, I felt like we were going slower and slower, until all that tension exploded on the last page. Although there’s no text, I could have sworn I heard Bruce roar.

The piece really falls when looking at the writing aspect of it. Several questions arise from the sequence of events: Where is Ellie after the events that night? How was Nightwing able to fight toe-to-toe with Heretic right after getting thrown into a wall that kept him out of Damian’s fight? Where was Tim during the fight that he suddenly got access to the tank to cover Bruce and stop Heretic from killing Batman? Why couldn’t they do anything during Damian’s fight to save him? How does the British government know about the Lazarus Pits? Why isn’t the national guard doing anything now that Leviathan has come out in the open and labeled as terrorists?

So many questions in this issue without a lot of answers. This kind of writing is frustrating, because the author clearly knows more about what’s going on than the reader and purposefully withholds information to build up to a “big reveal.” For many authors, this can backfire because readers weren’t given enough information to keep them interested. At this rate, Morrison might be going down this road. Although the story deserves a 4, because of the splendid art this issue gets a 6/10.

 

Batman

3. Batman

Resolve. Resolve to stay strong, resolve to be better, resolve to be something more. That’s exactly what this issue of Batman does. Scott Snyder continues to manipulate his characters in a way that makes sense and allows the reader to anticipate what’s coming next.

In only a few issues, we’ve come to know Harper for her strength and moral fiber. This gumption of hers reminds us what it’s like to be strong with darkness all around you, similar to how Bruce was when his parents died; however, one could argue that Harper is stronger than Bruce in that regard, because—although she was in Bruce’s position by losing her mother—she became Cullen’s Alfred, so to speak. We see her take on that Alfred role, but also that Damian role as well.

In Batman and Robin, we saw that Damian was becoming a guiding light for Bruce—we saw him pull Bruce up out of the water in his dream. Harper relates her mother’s wisdom—that Alfred quality—to Bruce through the lights on Wayne Tower—bringing him back with that unconventional Damian quality. This parallel between the two books is nice, because The New 52 has been marketed as a DC Universe. We’ve gotten that through the various crossovers—characters making appearances in different titles and continually meeting different heroes and villains—so it’s nice to see that happening on a more character-based level.

The shortcomings of this issue come from Harper’s interactions with her brother and father. Their portrayal feels overdone—with Harper’s father asking to hear from “both of his daughters” and Cullen talking about he’s on a literary magazine. Snyder has gone the more stereotypical outsider gay route—not tan and Adonis-like, but a social outcast that finds himself through literature. Referencing Supernatural seemed out of place, but because these interactions were rather minimal compared to the Harper-Batman time, the issue didn’t suffer too much. Also, I’d really like for someone to tell us how Bruce and Harper are having a conversation in Wayne Towers when it’s currently being held by Leviathan, as shown in Batman Incorporated #9.

With everything considered, I’ll resolve to give Batman #18 a 7/10.

Catwoman

2. Catwoman

Some of you may be wondering why I’ve ranked Catwoman so high. Actually, I’m willing to be all of you are going to wonder why. The reason is, this issue handled Bruce grief from both Damian’s death and the Joker’s machinations while tying in previous information from not on Catwoman books, but also from Catwoman’s part in Justice League of America.

Although Batman has told Catwoman before she should refrain from stealing in Gotham city because it’s his city, he’s taken a different turn in his motives. He cites his reasons for going after Catwoman—who stole precious Gotham paintings—as, “You know how much Gotham cares about them” on page five. Although his main concern has always been the city, addressing “Gotham” in this case pertains to its people: this important in so far as noting that Batman is more concerned on a personal level about crime. We can infer this is because of Damian’s death.

Moreover, we see Batman getting overly aggressive with Catwoman on page three. He puts her in a dangerous situation by kicking over her motorcycle—this appeared to be overly aggressive to me because it seemed life-threatening. Batman, while an aggressive fighter, doesn’t normally put people in harm’s way like that—especially not Catwoman. This shows us how far Damian’s death has impacted him: he’s lost judgment and reason and control.

However, Batman takes out all his anger on Catwoman’s tiger helmet. This made sense because it gave him an outlet for his anger and helped him restrain himself from hurting Catwoman. The art on the previous page gave the reader a sense that he might actually hit Catwoman full force in the face, but we realize he’s just punching the helmet. Once his rage is done, Batman tries to fix the helmet for Catwoman—this shows he still cares about her and recognizes he lost control. He’s back in control because he’s holding himself accountable for his actions. She even brings up their past romance with some details we learned in Justice League. Writer Ann Nocenti then seamlessly integrates the Joker into the narrative, because, due to Batman’s actions, the helmet now appears to have the Joker’s wide smile. This was an awesome way to reference the Joker without actually having him present, especially since the Joker is still fresh in their minds.

The ending tied it together, when we find that Batman has been watching Catwoman from the Bat Cave since their meeting—he was feeling guilty and the issue ends with him wondering if they can make amends. For directly dealing with Damian’s death, Death of the Family, and integrating details across books and arcs, this receives an 8/10.

Batman and Robin

1. Batman and Robin

There aren’t many words to describe the brilliance writer Peter Tomasi and artist Pat Gleason have created, most likely because the issue itself doesn’t have words. Tomasi has crafted a story that relies solely on Gleason’s ability to create dynamic art and colorer Mick Gray’s ability to artistically convey emotion through color. These three have woven together one of the best issues of The New 52 by far.

We see the impact, clearly, Damian’s death has had on Bruce and Alfred. We see Bruce alone, in the dark, in Damian’s room. He’s staring at Damian’s empty bed with a fire roaring next to him and Titus dutifully lying next to the bed as well. It’s evident that Bruce has been there for quite some time, reflecting how deep this wound goes.

We see Alfred crying in front of the unfinished portrait started back at the beginning of Batman and Robin, with Damian as the only one left unfinished. This represents the short amount of time Damian had to live. Bruce feels compelled to cover the painting and take it away; he can’t bear this sadness and that’s clearly evident in his actions.

We see Batman’s night on Gotham. Continually, we’re shown Damian doing his normal routine with Batman; however, once we get to a mirror or later in the page, we realize that Bruce is just remembering Damian and that he’s really alone. This creates a sense of yearning in Bruce, something inescapable and tormenting. We can see how painful it is for him because he crashes the Bat Mobile into a lamppost and rounds up what appears to be thirty people.

All of this builds up to the climax of the issue, when Bruce reads Damian’s note. The note, with only 74 words, packs such an emotional wallop I couldn’t help but start to tear up. Damian says, “I will always be at your side” and we know that’s not true because he’s dead; Bruce’s already fresh wound gets another dig. He also says, “Mother may have given me life, but you taught me how to live” and we know that Talia is the indirect cause of Damian’s death; moreover, Bruce knows how much progress Damian was making and how much of an impact Damian started to have on Bruce’s life—Bruce knows all of that is gone now. And that realization, when reading that letter, moved me to tears.

The ending is perfect: Bruce hugging the empty Robin uniform, tying it back to a previously used image in a previous issue. Batman and Robin #18 exemplify everything that should go into a good comic book: rich story, characterization, unity between writing, art, and color, and an overall sense of “fullness.” For their great work, I give them a 10/10 to round out this article.

Thanks for reading! And good news! The interview with Chris Burnham is transcribed! It will be up this Saturday. Check back for it and future weekly updates from The New 52 Series of Emertainment Monthly!

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