I don’t mind admitting it – I was concerned. After three issues that marked it out as the most exciting comic of 2009, Batman & Robin took a major misstep with the underwhelming #4, leading us to wonder whether its previous quality was solely down to the majestic art of Frank Quitely, and if it could possibly survive without him.
Thankfully, it isn’t – and it can. Philip Tan is excused, ironically enough, because his art in this issue isn’t much cop either (although it benefits from a vastly improved colouring job this time out, with the return of Alex Sinclair). But where Morrison’s script felt lacklustre last time, it positively sparkles here. The idea of Jason Todd as a murderous vigilante is finally made to fly – in such a way that you almost feel like this was the plan all along, and all those horrendous Winick and Daniel-penned false starts were just a means towards getting to this point. And it’s with typically Morrisonian bravura that, once again, an in-continuity explanation is given for something that had previously been editorially-scrubbed – in this case, a return to Jason’s red hair a glorious reconciling of his pre- and post-Crisis selves.
A unifying theme for the run (by which I mean the twelve – or fifteen, whatever – issues of B&R rather than MozzaBats as a whole) emerges, too – one of identities, and masks. With new incumbents of both capes, an antagonist obsessed with branding, a sidekick with a distorted face, a mysterious dual-identitied “amateur sleuth” and a villain who eats faces, this feels like a book with purpose, an idea to explore, rather than simply an amusing diversion in the middle of the “proper” Bruce Wayne stories. And the ominous arrival of the Flamingo, meanwhile, is genuinely chilling.
If there’s one aspect that doesn’t hugely work, it’s having the issue narrated from Sasha’s point of view – simply put, I don’t find her hugely interesting – and without someone with the lightness of touch of Quitely (or, say… Cameron Stewart?) the “fun” factor that’s defined the book so far is still lacking, hair colour jokes aside. But it’s at least clear that last issue was an “off” month for Morrison – the unique ideas are very much still flowing in an almost effortless way. It’s just a shame that he’s so rarely paired with artists that are worthy of him for an entire run.