It is a truth universally acknowledged that in each of Batman and Robin‘s three-part arcs, the middle issue is slightly weaker compared to its brethren. Issue #8 – part two of Blackest Knight – reviewed here but a fortnight ago, certainly wasn’t a bad comic by any stretch of the imagination; but the concluding part of what might just be the series’ best arc so far makes it look positively Liefeldian in comparison.
This is a stormingly good comic. For one thing, it reveals the truth behind #8’s feint – the suggestion that, having had one issue of a mindless Batman clonezombiething wordlessly fighting our heroes, we were going to get more of the same this time out. Not a bit of it. The creature coming to terms with the scraps and remnants of Bruce’s own memory being eaten away by the physical collapse of its brain is an inspired bit of writing, and if certain stretches of “dialogue” are perhaps retreads of the same sort-of-but-not-quite-speak that Morrison has used before in the likes of We3 or All Star Superman (“AAA. HEER. U. RRRR.”), it nevertheless makes for a compelling – and somewhat terrifying – menace.
Not that the monster gets all the best lines, you understand. That this is an issue running on the pure unabashed joy of comicsness is clear even as the protagonists are fighting the rotting cloned corpse of their beloved father. The Damian and Alfred Show continues apace, and it’s startling just how much the former has become a three-dimensional and entertaining character since his father’s death; while the latter has always been a three-dimensional and entertaining character, and gets the line of the series (“Your delirious rampage is at an end, sir!”) while wielding a cricket bat. At the tail end of our jaunt to the UK, there’s even time to fit in a little bit of character work with the Knight and Squire (can we have their miniseries yet?), and Morrison also seems to have remembered to write Dick Grayson a bit more, with a couple of lovely moments here and there.
More than anything, though, this issue (and this series as a whole; and, come to think of it, Morrison’s entire tenure) is a comic about Batman – the idea, the legend, the icon – even though the character of Bruce Wayne doesn’t appear in it. Whether it’s the clone’s half-constructed memories (in a really quite excellent spread by Stewart that merges and splices various famed Bat-characters and imagery), or Dick growing into the role (a proper smile on his face as he swings in to rescue Damian and simply enjoys his team-up with Batwoman) even as he’s acknowledging that the time is near for him to hand it back, this is about Morrison finding putting the core elements of the mythos through a new and exciting – and ever-so-slightly cracked – looking-glass. And yet, that it’s still so purely and unashamedly enjoyable entirely on its own merits – and entirely devoid of any external context or prior knowledge – is probably its greatest strength of all.