Grant Morrison’s Batman work is always compelling, but never so much so as when he’s gearing up for a big story. With “The Return of Bruce Wayne” in full swing in its own mini-series, “Batman and Robin” has been becoming more and more compelling and addicting with each issue. Last issue revealed the identity of Oberon Sexton to be none other than the Joker, and this issue deals with the fall-out of that revelation, while also teasing a large scale attack with the return of Simon Hurt, the main villain of “Batman R.I.P.” and Morrison’s run in general.
From the first page of “Batman and Robin” #13, the duo of Morrison and Frazer Irving instill a sense of dread in the comic, like something bad is going to happen before this storyarc is over. With the Joker in custody, Batman and Robin question him in the hopes of figuring out what he’s up to and why he’s been impersonating Oberon Sexton to get close to them. Irving’s Joker is grotesque and creepy, partly because his clown face stands out so much when he’s wearing a solid black outfit in a drab cell (http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=preview&id=5683). His forced, giant smile is a constant throughout the issue and Irving manages to make it look unpleasant for the Joker who claims he’s changed and the smile is permanent after being shot through the jaw at the beginning of Morrison’s run on “Batman.”
Dick Grayson’s skills as Batman stand out in this issue as he continues to work out what’s been going on with the dominoes and Professor Pyg from the first arc of “Batman and Robin.” Despite each story arc seeming relatively self-contained, Morrison has reached the point where everything that’s come before is beginning to add up to something greater and more sinister. The question is quickly becoming if Dick is good enough to handle it. The question of Dick’s ability to step into Bruce’s cowl has been raised before, but it’s looking like this is where it will be answered. And, if this issue is any indication, the answer may be no.
While “Batman and Robin” has featured a new artist with each story arc, Frazer Irving’s approach is probably the most unique since he also colors his art. Irving’s colors are essential to the feeling and mood of his pages with dark, ominous colors that shift to bright, overpowering tones that infect everything. Each scene and location has its own feeling because of the colors, while his drawings provide a visual baseline. His characters are exaggerations, their faces often contorted to the extremes of emotion or simplified to the point where they lose all personal identity.
He also uses the space of the page well. Characters’ faces often take up the entire panel, showcasing their emotions, but he’s not afraid to go in the opposite direction and pull back, allowing the negative space to inform the composition.
The first issue in “Batman and Robin Must Die!” has a similar feeling to the beginning of “Batman R.I.P.” where everything is starting to fall apart and you just have to know what happens next. Paired with an artist as talented as Frazer Irving, Grant Morrison’s writing takes on an even more ominous and depressing feeling, like, this time, maybe the bad guys may have a chance. I can’t wait until issue 14 to find out.