Comfort Food Comics of Zur-En-Arrh: Batman and Robin #1 by Jason Jeffords Jr

Man, I honestly don’t know how to start this, personally I’ve always wanted to write for Dave since I saw his amazing website here. So, between my astonishment that I finally can and being rusty at writing since it’s been a while, I feel like I don’t know how to start. I guess we’ll go with my name.

Hello, my name is Jason Jeffords Jr, a pleasure to meet you. Well, with names out of the way, I want to thank Dave. Thanks, Dave! Okay, shall we begin? With those pleasantries out of the way let me speak upon Batman and Robin #1 by Grant Morrison (Writing), Frank Quitely (Art/Inks), Alex Sinclair (Colors), and Pat Brosseau (Letters). However before I go into why this issue means so much to me specifically and just how amazing it is, let me briefly speak about Morrison’s Batman run beforehand. I promise it won’t be too long.

Much like Dave, this is one of my top runs ever, hell I’ve owned it in most formats and recently reread it in the omnibus format. This run means so much to me that it honestly ruined most future Batman stories for me. See, I don’t have a set favorite Batman type. I know people like to say what their favorite era or attitude Batman is. But, I’m lucky enough to find enjoyment in each different version. Enter Morrison’s run that made all of Batman canon in some manner and showed us Batman in varying degrees. Honestly, they showed us the best and Worst of Batman.

Morrison’s Batman run meant so much to me and still does. Not only do I love the story, art, and other bits, but I love their respect for Batman’s history. Look at The Black Casebook just to see some of the deep dives. On that subject, I have a tattoo of Batman and Bat-Mite! This is due to them being my favorite characters, but also as the tattoo is a reference to the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, with him wearing that suit. I find this to be his best suit. Yeah, the poses come from a Silver-Age page, but it looks as if Morrison and team were referencing that; just compare the two, they don’t look identical but feel like an evolution of one another.

Tattoos aside, I had a poster from Batman R.I.P. that I still own to this day. But, please excuse my long-windedness, I don’t get to talk much about things I love. 

Now Batman and Robin #1!

My history with Batman and Robin #1 starts with a bike ride. Well, not really. I guess you could say it started with me visiting a local video rental shop behind my house that had a spinner rack. On that rack was Batman #681, the final issue of Batman R.I.P., my first introduction to Morrison’s Batman. I fucking loved this issue, I had no idea what was going on (at all), but Batman breaking out of the coffin and the rest of the issue impressed the hell out of younger me. Thing is, comics weren’t a big part of my then life, I wasn’t keeping up as I am now, as I had just started out in high school, but nonetheless I loved that issue, and later bought the R.I.P. trade. Having only read the R.I.P. trade, it was my favorite story at the time,  just like my Ultimate Spider-Man Vol 1, I read it until I had to tape the spine.

Then I saw an ad for Batman and Robin.

Now, I’ll be honest, I don’t remember where I saw the ad. It could’ve been in a single issue, or at my LCS. All I remember is it showed the first issues cover. The cover alone was so drastically different and just gorgeous in its design, yet other things caught my eye as well. However, let’s get back to the biking story first.

As I mentioned there weren’t a lot of comics I was following at the time, plus I didn’t have much knowledge on Morrison’s Batman run at all. It didn’t matter. On the day of release, I hopped on my bike and sped over to the mall as soon as possible. After biking probably faster than I ever had, I finally made it to my LCS inside of the mall. Once there, I bought the newly released issue and went down to the cafeteria to crack it open. To say this memory is a great one doesn’t do it justice, I can’t think of many other times I was this excited for a first issue. For a fan of Batman that read it on and off again, Batman and Robin was a BIG deal. Before I say why, let me inform you that yes I bag and boarded it, then placed it in my backpack before biking home.

So what was it that caught my eye and why was this issue such a big deal to me? Well, as I said the cover first off. Damn did those colors pop! Yeah, some Batman covers were bright and colorful, but the colors on Batman and Robin #1 felt like they were telling us that this series would feel drastically different than the other recent Batman stories. The colors made it feel fun, inviting, and like a comic, it didn’t feel sad or gloomy like the other issues surrounding it. Granted I have no problem with “doom and gloom”, I just also enjoy a color-filled “fun” comic. Then Batman and Robin’s placement on the cover. There was nothing “special” going on other than them standing, but that’s what Morrison wanted; a simple cover. Just by showing the image of the two standing, it showed a clean back to basics approach, yet in a new style with the fresh suits and the new Batmobile.

Just the manner in how each stand is a big deal. With Bruce Wayne’s “Death”, original Boy Wonder Dick Grayson takes over as Batman and Damian Wayne becomes Robin. This was a huge dynamic change we’ll cover more of later. But, when looking at the duo, Batman looks somewhat relaxed, while Robin is jonesing for a fight, a dramatic difference from the usual. I mean a literal swap of personalities! Lastly, there is still one other amazing aspect of the cover – the new logo. I’m a huge fan of logos and can be sold on a series by the logo alone (case in point Coffin Bound).

A good logo can live in your brain for a long time and remind you of good times, whereas a bad logo may make you never touch the book again. Batman and Robin’s logo looks classic while staying new, all while having a fun, Saturday cartoon feeling. It could be due to the bat logo behind the words, but whatever it is, it all just WORKS. Yet, the logo didn’t just come out of nowhere, as the Batman by Grant Morrison Omnibus VOL. 2 shows us, Rian Hughes went through multiple stages in this design before settling on what we got. I think it works perfectly.

Before we move on, Morrison states yellow is a hard sell for covers as it’s a “taboo” color that doesn’t sell well, and was almost swapped out. Well, this issue had multiple prints, so I guess that’s wrong huh?

Now, onto a big part of Batman & Robin, Bruce Wayne is “dead” so someone has to fill in his bat-shoes. Who better than Dick Grayson? Now we all know deaths in comics don’t matter, but for me, this was a big deal even if I didn’t follow the series before that much. But, it wasn’t only a big deal for me, it seemed like the same for others. I mean, everyone knew Bruce was “dead” and gone, but to relaunch a series with someone else wearing the mantle was a big deal. That could be one reason the first issue sold so damn well. I mean, how could someone take on such a big role? Thing is, why make the replacement act the same as the original? Dick’s Batman was vastly different than Bruce. Not only in his more relaxed manner, but in the way he talks, walks, flips, fights, and just about everything else. As much as Dick is like Bruce, he is completely different, so to make him the new Batman was a ballsy choice. With that in mind, I was hooked after reading.

Morrison put a lot on the line with this. Dick’s Batman is so different that it makes you surprised he would even be picked. But look at their history, why wouldn’t he be Bruce’s first choice? However, he wasn’t the only huge change, Damian’s Robin was vastly different as well. Hell, he is reminiscent of Jason Todd’s Robin, plus people hated him just like Todd was hated. I personally knew a few people who despised him. Damian’s Robin was more akin to Batman than Robin. He was grumpy, ready to fight, and quite broody. Yet, these characteristics were what made me love this first issue and dynamic. The dynamic of Batman and Robin had been the same for multiple years; Batman was the serious type, and Robin the fun, go-lucky kid. That finally changed in Batman and Robin #1.

That’s where Morrison had put their job on the line. To change the dynamic between two of the most famous characters out there and make it a canon flagship title is momentous. So much could go wrong, yet it didn’t; Morrison knew what they were doing. This could be seen in our next part – the story. I’ll only talk about the first issue here, so no need to stress about too many spoilers. Yet, if you haven’t read the series, you seriously need to.

Batman and Robin #1 opens up at breakneck speed. Morrison and team drop us in the middle of a high-speed chase between Batman and Robin, and a member of the Circus of Strange – a team we’ll meet later in the series. By putting the reader right in the middle of a fast paced conflict, Morrison grabs your attention to make sure you are ready for this new age of weird, and trust me, it could get WEIRD. However, it’s not only their writing of the scene and characters but the art that really sells this scene. During this high-speed chase, we get some critical information from our new character Mister Toad; Batman is presumably dead. Well, this wouldn’t be a Batman and Robin title if he was dead as Mister Toad learns on the next page with a glorious double-page spread.

Towards the end of this encounter Morrison gives us a great moment that shows how Dick will use Bruce’s tactics, but differently. Much like the original Batman, Dick does the “dangle the villain over the edge and threaten them”. I get heights are scary but don’t the villains realize Batman never kills them? Nonetheless, Mister Toad is blindfolded and the frog (well, the “Toad”) croaks. Dick drops him, but it turns out he was barely off the ground, whereas Bruce would usually dangle them over a tall ledge for them to see the street far below and feel the fear. But Dick changes it up in a less drastic manner. This simple difference shows a lot of similarities, while demonstrating how Dick will be different. We then get another hint at the mastermind, whose name is Pyg. This opening chase works great in not only introducing new characters, plot, gadgets, the series’ aesthetics, and the team’s new dynamic, but the art, colors, sound effects, and lettering are a sight to behold.

Morrison stops the break-neck speed with a moment we all knew would be coming; Dick wondering what he got himself into. The team is able to portray this in just two fantastic pages with Alfred exclaiming that “Master Bruce” was always proud of him. It’s nice to see a character that is so headstrong feel this sort of way and question if he is really good enough to live up to his mentor. This does become a running theme, and works elegantly. This is similar to what they did with Wally West trying to live up to Barry in the past when he took on the Flash mantle. Much like the Flash, these pages come fast.

To focus on each scene would take all day, especially since we still have so much left to talk about, so let’s talk my favorite bits throughout and what’s great about them, huh? Morrison and Quitely utilize the technique of showing the building on one side, with x-rays of the insides and panels of the plot to help formalize the readers with the new HQ. During this, we get a great Alfred moment, while showcasing the fantastic new dynamic at play between Damian and Dick. Following those pages is a sequence of the duo making their way to the Gotham City Police Department (G.C.P.D. hereafter) continuing with dialogue that shows how great these two work off of each other all while Dick tries to teach Damian throughout, which is a nice touch. Sprinkled into these pages is the set up to our future issues with a man running into G.C.P.D. with his hands and head on fire. Not only is this chaotic and fascinating, but by including this, Morrison is teasing you to buy the next issue with this intriguing setup. The last few pages are even more page-turning with the introduction of a character that is both terrifying and enchanting with his uniqueness – Professor Pyg. It’s always interesting to see characters debut throughout the years and how readers react to them, and Pyg is a great example. I’ve met people that love him due to the weirdness, and others that hate him because of the same reason. But, it’s hard to deny how big the character was after this. He hit the scene so hard that he is still used today (2021) and was in media adaptations like Batman: Arkham Knight six years after his creation. When new characters are created a lot of times they don’t stick around for long, yet Pyg has.

Now, I won’t go too deep in talking about Pyg, as I’m willing to bet another will write on him, and I haven’t read every comic he shows up in. But, I will speak a little about his appearance here. First off, his design is simple, yet gets the idea across perfectly and works so damn well. His introduction is nothing short of spellbinding. The scene is horrific and does an emphatic job to showcase who he is, why he is terrifying, and his unique machinations – that his masks seem to control people while gruesomely ruining their faces. There is one line he says that stands out to me: “Strange how the worst place in the world can be…anywhere.” Not only is this line haunting, but it feels like the Joker’s famous, “one bad day” line. For the record, I like Pyg more than Joker. With that scene wrapping up we end the first issue, and damn, what a high note to end on.

The crazy part of Batman and Robin #1 is the whole issue feels like a high note. We start fast on the action with dialogue that explains quite a lot without being too wordy. We have some slow parts that show the new dynamic. We get scenes that set the ongoing tone and future plot threads. And then end on the reveal of a new unique villain with staying power that excites you for the next installment. The structure of issue one is fantastic and keeps you engaged with everything you’d want in a comic. Yet that’s not all folks! Morrison makes this first case of Dick Grayson’s Batman a personal one, as it involves a circus. Then they add in the feeling of not living up to a mentor/father figure while training someone who is still new at crime-fighting. That’s all without even acknowledging the weirdness ingrained, and all the other new characters introduced. For a 20 something page first issue A LOT happens. 

As much as I love the first issue’s writing, there is just something spectacular about the visual aspect. Trust me, if you thought Morrison’s writing was amazing, the art will literally blow you away. Let’s dig in more closely to the art team’s work throughout.

Now, that isn’t a diss on Morrison’s story, because as you can tell from all the words above; I love it. No, it’s just everything visual about Batman and Robin #1 is a (Bat)godsend. Much like the writing, I’ll be going in order, but since this involves art, colors, and lettering expect it to be far denser. I mean, look at the first panel alone (above this)! There are already multiple things that can be said. For the first panel on the first page, it starts the issue with such energy you can’t help but read on, even though you want to soak up all the detail. Let’s start with the panel itself. Quitely’s POV, or “camera angle” is amazing here. 

By making us view this from inside the tunnel we are forced to put all of our attention to what’s transpiring inside, not only that but he breaks the “rule of thirds” composition of photography. That’s because he puts the focus on the middle of the “frame.” But like all rules, they are meant to be broken, as in this scene it makes sense because your eyes are drawn there from the leading lines surrounding the car. There are a number of other great panels where he focuses the subject in the middle that we will get to as well.

Helping guide our eyes is the upturned G.C.P.D. car on the left that fades into the big sound effect. Quitely does a lot of his own sound effects in this issue, and damn do they enhance the scene. Not only does the “BOOMBOOM” look deadly, but by making it a part of the explosion you feel the weight of it, plus you have to admit it’s gorgeous. It also serves another story purpose and that’s at the final “M”. Following it we see a car swerving out of the way, indicating that Mister Toad may be driving into oncoming traffic. Not only does this single small panel have a lot going on, but it also sets the pace and scene for the chase! But, where is Batman?

The following three panels (seen above) help keep the pace while explaining some of the plot. For this Quitely shows us the characters in the car with the first panel introducing them in a cramped panel that helps create focus. Here we also get our first glimpse of Batman chasing them, look closely to the middle and you see a small black outline. For the next panel, Quitely widens the frame to help show the car traveling while waiting to reveal Batman. Brosseau’s lettering helps in this panel by making your eyes flow as if the car is moving and in the next panel Brosseau’s lettering of “No. No. No. No.” works fantastically. This is due to the stacking of it, but most importantly he makes sure it doesn’t cover the important bits. In this final panel, Quitely fully teases the new batmobile with an interesting shadow descending upon the bullet-riddled car.

Damn, what a first page. But, we can’t forget about the coloring of Sinclair. The first panel does contain the most color, especially the sound effect, but the following pages make clear sense for what is transpiring. For the moment these characters and the car don’t seem very special in their muted, normal colors(besides Mister Toad, who Sinclair does color differently as he is a literal toad). He doesn’t overdo it to take away from the scene. Again, where is Batman???

On page two of course! Damn, is this is a stunning introduction to Batman’s return. Throughout the first page we are teased with Batman’s possible death and seeming return, so this two-page spread makes the wait all worth it. Honestly not much else here other than how badass it is and the colors of the Batmobile looking fantastic.

Above is the following page with panel three and four missing, as we’ll focus on these two panels, plus I don’t want to give away the whole comic ya’ll. We finally see our dynamic duo flying in their new airborne Batmobile through the red windshield. Seeing the duo through the window with some red adds a lot of detail to what could’ve just been a boring old scene, especially since this is the first we’ve seen them, and how they act towards one another. However, panel two is magnificent in many facets. The feeling of the chase is ever-present with the Batmobile coming from the left, with the car far right shooting at it. It looks like the duo shoots a small explosive towards the car, all conveyed through sound effect. This is yet another example of Quitely doing a great visual sound effect that amps up the panel, but also helps the eye movement and speed of the chase.

For the capture of Mister Toad and crew, Quitely returns with the middle focus of the page, putting the most important parts in the center. But it’s not only his figure placement that works so well here, it’s again Brosseau’s lettering. On the first panel, he places the important lettering in the middle so you are drawn there, then the next panel Mister Toad’s words matter most so they follow this trend. But, even more beautiful is with this placement you may miss the guy in the back whimpering, “Now We Die.” This was deliberate as he says it so faintly that Mister Toad is supposed to over power his words. The following panel completes the middle focus with the important capture taking place. Another great detail is how the top three panels are smaller keeping the focus, then the final one with the escape from the tunnel is the Batmobile literally breaking loose from the paneling to fly off with the bad guys.

Page five features what we all love, MORE QUITELY SOUND EFFECTS!!! Not only does it look gorgeous here, but Sinclair’s blue tones between the sound and water help show their difference and make it pop more.

Page six is amazing due to two factors; the iconic punch of Batman and Robin, and the beginning of page seven’s moment. At the end of page six Quitely features Batman dangling Mister Toad above what seems like a skyline to scare the answer from him like I discussed above. On panels one through four he keeps the shots close so we don’t know the fake-out until it happens on panel four. Yet in each panel leading to that, he closes the verticality to make it feel more claustrophobic. However, the part that really sells this scene is Sinclair’s lettering going long and getting cut off on panel three that makes it seem as if he did fall a great height.

When Dick and Alfred pass by Bruce’s grave two pages later we are treated to yet another great use of paneling and POV. Through panel two we see Dick seated in the back of the car looking back at the grave. Not only does looking through the car window help with the negative space, it really helps convey the emotional turmoil Dick is feeling, especially with Sinclair’s fantastic shadowing. Not only that but Brosseau’s lettering following Dick’s head helps the flow and scene.

I bet you’re feeling like you may have read this whole issue by now, so let’s fast forward to the end. There is one thing to note leading to our final pages, Quitely uses panel sizing and placement so effectively to help emphasize moments while constantly pushing the scene to the next page. That as well as the continual use the middle placement within said panels for important parts to guide the eye.

Now, as we wrap up this section we take a look at the final two pages and its gruesomeness. On the page seen above, we are finally introduced to Pyg, his Dolls, and his masks. A lot is going on on this page, but luckily Quitely keeps everything in the middle to help your focus. Although this page and moment is grotesque, the location matches with Pyg’s “worst place” statement. This is happening in the man’s house which is quite colorful. Visually we are treated (that word used lightly) to a truly messed-up introduction, however the colors surrounding them make you feel otherwise. The tone mismatch in art and coloring enhances the scene.

Batman and Robin #1’s final page is a technique I love to see. Yeah, Quietly uses the middle focus, but for some reason, I’ve always been a fan of slow zoom-ins in comic panels. He does this phenomenally here. Showing Sasha’s pain by zooming in on her as Pyg’s speech goes on.

Well, that was a wild ride.  As seen from ALL of the above, the team behind Batman and Robin #1 absolutely brought their A game, and that is just one reason I love and cherish this issue. I feel like that could be said on Morrison’s whole entire run on Batman, but this issue just hits me differently. Every page is a masterclass in visual and written storytelling that you could spend hours on the content alone and feel like there is still more to say and dig into. Honestly, I feel like I could write a short novel on the first arc of this series alone. I always wanted this dynamic between the two to last longer. I would have loved several more years of this team.

Not only does Batman and Robin #1 mean a lot (seriously, so damn much) to me, but it is a damn fine read. That being said I’d keep writing on this forever, but with all we’ve been through here, I do believe it’s time for the dynamic duo (Dave and I) to take a rest. As a great Poet once said, “BATMAN AND ROBIN WILL NEVER DIE!”

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