So Batman comes to England in a Morrison and Stewart comic that turns out to be far more relevant than expected to both the overarching longform storyarc of the last few years and (by way of Blackest Night) the wider DCU? It’s impossible not to love this, really, isn’t it? While admittedly lacking the giddy thrills of watching Dick Grayson free-running over boats on the Thames and parking the Batplane outside the Tower of London, the second part – going on recent form, usually the weaker chapter of these three-part stories – of “Blackest Knight” takes place almost entirely underground, concentrating on the devastating effects of Dick’s really rather bonkers decision to dunk something that may-or-may-not be the corpse of Bruce Wayne in a Lazarus Pit.
But Batman & Robin has, in its short run, always been about striking a balance between the darker side of the Bat-verse and a 60s-esque sense of glorious, adventurous whimsy – which is, presumably, why Morrison has seen fit to include a Geordie villain named King Coal (with chimney sweep henchmen whom I’d called “Dick van Dyke-esque” were it not for assuming that a Tyneside-based villain would surely never call on the iconography of Southern softies) and frequent phonetic representations of his accent that can’t fail to amuse. Or an amusingly witty little exchange between Alfred and Damian, who are fast becoming the book’s best double-act (the rehabilitation of Damian continues apace, and I’m particularly amused by the way he calls the butler “Pennyworth” in an oddly respectful way).
Despite the basic core of the story – the aforementioned Lazarus-pit-related failure and revelation concerning the corpse, complete with brief Final Crisis flashback – there are elements that are slightly tricky to get a handle on, and that I suspect will make more sense when reading the arc as a whole, with the benefit of the final issue. It’s also hard to know what to make of the apparent fate of a certain character – if it’s designed to surprise then it does, considering the known publication plans for said character; but on the other hand, in a story that’s specifically about resurrection, the obvious resolution would seem to nullify the impact of the moment.
It’s been a masterstroke having Cameron Stewart around for this arc, too – I’d still maintain that he’s not quite at Quitely’s level, but what his presence has done is to help restore the book to the thrilling glory of those first few issues. His chameleonic style when it comes to successfully presenting the Quitely version of GraysonBatman and the Williams version of Batwoman help root this in the high-quality corner of the recent Bat-verse, and his choreography when asked to draw what might be something of an action comics holy grail – Batman fighting Batman (even though neither of them are actually Bruce Wayne) – superb. As this often simplistically thrilling yet beautifully esoteric series rattles on towards its conclusion, it’s pleasing that there are only a couple of weeks to wait for another issue. And while The Return of Bruce Wayne is doubtless an exciting prospect of a comic, it’s honestly true that Batman & Robin isn’t really missing him.