Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Tintin and Captain Haddock. The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Batman and Robin.
In this first volume of Batman and Robin from the New 52, the father-son pairing of Bruce Wayne and ten year old Damian Wayne team up on a long term basis for the first time. This version of the Dynamic Duo, however, is fraught with conflict. Bruce may be the World's Greatest Detective, but he's not exactly the world's greatest dad. Damian is also a handful, to say the least. He struggles daily with the killer instincts drummed into him by his training from birth from the League of Assassins, and disdains his father's attempts at curbing his deadly habits. Things go from bad to worse, however, when a murderous fiend going by the moniker NoBody, a.k.a. Morgan Ducard, arrives in Gotham City, intent on bringing down Batman, Inc. (For those of you who don't know, Batman, Inc. is a company founded by Batman to place Batmen-like figures in various cities and countries around the world. For instance, Nightrunner is the Batman of Paris) But he may do more than that. He may turn Damian against his own father.
The one thing that makes this book so outstanding -and that's without mentioning the art, character dynamics, and the villain- is the character development of Bruce. Bruce Wayne/Batman is a 75-year old character, so it must be something when he of all people gets developed. How does he get developed? By showing him as a father struggling to make an impact on his son's life. And not just his adopted son, like Dick or Jason, but Damian, his true, biological offspring. We see Bruce fail, we see him make mistakes with handling Damian, and we see him, like every parent, worry for his child's well being. He's certainly entitled to do so, especially in these far from mundane circumstances.
Bruce isn't the only one who gets character development in this book. Damian gets some too, showing us that there's more to him than the entitled jerkhole that we're used to. It helps that Peter J. Tomasi writes him very well, being one of the few writers who can pull off Damian's voice, others being Brian Q. Miller and Grant Morrison, his creator. I wrote about how Damian has gone from aforementioned entitled jerkhole to a more selfless, heroic figure in my review of Volume 2: Pearl over at Primary Ignition, but it begins here. He does some bad thing in this book, and we're really given the impression of just what kind of person he is. That is, at the bottom of his heart, he's a kid who wants to do good and please the father, even if he won't acknowledge that sometimes.
And the character dynamics, oh man, the character dynamics. The Dynamic Duo should, obviously, have an awesome dynamic between them. Tomasi pulls this off perfectly, showing a more mellow Batman contrasting with his extremely cynical son. Then you've got Alfred, who with these guys, and you've practically got a three-man band of good characterization. Alfred serves as the conscience to Damian and the guiding light to Bruce, and is a great foil to both. The villain of the piece, NoBody, is also done solidly. He's not the best villain, being a ninja-version of the Punisher with a chip on his shoulder, and I can't say I'm a huge fan of the way he's designed. His helmet thing seems too bulky when stuck on top of his more streamlined body, which would look a lot better with a heavier tactical boot look instead of the leather flatfooted sock things that we wears. His character design seems more suited for a stealth based scenario than the smash-fests that he's featured in here. But in spite of all this, Morgan Ducard is a well rounded villain, with a clear cut motivation, which is strangely reminiscent of Sinestro, but with a personal vibe against Bruce which is revealed later.
Combine all that with the fantastic art, and you've got a phenomenal story with great leads, terrific dynamics, well plotted action, and a cool villain. In addition, it presents the most sensible and original explanation of the no-kill rule I've yet to see in comics. The only thing I have a problem with is some particularly gruesome violence involving knives and vats of acid, plus a little nitpick; how does Nobody fit that aforementioned vat of acid, plus chains which dangle people high in the air, in his little "safe-house" - a boat? Oh well. I'll say that this is the best Batman stuff I've yet seen from the New 52, which in the landscape of mostly average comics, is saying something.
Image courtesy of dccomics.com