I’m not sure if we would have pegged Batman & Robin as a potential top comic of 2010 at the start of the year – its first six issues had started extremely well (thanks in no small part to Frank Quitely’s art), but tailed off a touch (thanks in no small part to Philip Tan’s art). The book still held a lot of promise, but there remained plenty of questions unanswered as to just how significant the whole thing was going to be as regards Grant Morrison’s overall Bat-Epic (compared with the then-upcoming Return of Bruce Wayne), and whether or not the series was going to be an unmissable comic.
As it happened, the second half of the series turned out to be probably the most entertaining chapter of the entire four-year MozBats run so far – and perhaps, too, the most accessible, given that even longtime DC-sceptic James was prepared to vote for it as this site’s Comic of the Year to boot. And while RoBW had some strong moments, that miniseries almost ended up fading into insignificance – the real Batman comic worth reading this year continued to be the adventures of Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, to the extent that although Bruce’s return cast a shadow over the final handful of issues, we weren’t really missing him by the time he finally showed up.
The arc that began the year, “Blackest Knight”, gave us the mouthwatering prospect of Batman and Robin visiting London – and was spectacularly entertaining, introducing the Knight and Squire in more detailed fashion (paving the way for the excellent Knight and Squire miniseries later in the year) as well as an array of UK-based villains (never’s the day I thought I’d see a line like “The broon‘s on me!” in an American comic), and also providing some surprising twists and turns in the tale of the thought-to-be-Bruce’s corpse from Final Crisis being resurrected via Lazarus pit. It was more of a stop-off than a significant chapter in the whole thing, but it struck absolutely the tone of humour and thrilling adventure we’d been hoping for from the series.
The development of Damian’s character had started to kick off in earnest with that UK-set arc, but it was with the following “Batman vs. Robin” that it came to the fore. Although the arc saw a less spectacular artist than Stewart and Quitely on the book, Andy Clarke’s work was at least solid, and consistent with the series’ general look in a way that Tan’s “gritty” style hadn’t been. An arc largely concerned with character movement, “Batman vs. Robin” – in addition to confirming Damian’s longer-term status as a fully-settled member of the Bat-family with some superb scenes as he renounced his links with the al-Ghuls – had as its final page perhaps the single greatest comics moment of the year, with the twist reveal of the identity of Oberon Sexton (and although it was largely guessable from publicity material for subsequent issues, I’m not going to spoil it in case anyone’s reading the book in trade). It was the sort of perfectly-seeded-in-advance moment that has been characteristic of Morrison’s run, and once again taught the reader not to take anything for granted.
With the third artist of the year, Frazer Irving, came perhaps the book’s highlight as a whole, as “Batman & Robin Must Die!” brought to a head not only the storylines of Batman & Robin itself, but – complete with its fourth coda issue – arguably marked the end of the story that had begun with the very first issue of “Batman & Son” back in 2006. While we thought that “Batman RIP” had done all that was going to be done with Dr Hurt, it was Batman & Robin – along with one of the subplots of Return of Bruce Wayne – that went so far as to finally uncover his true identity, show his final attempt to bring down the Waynes, and (one would suspect) do away with him once and for all. As such, the whole thing would have been a perfect end to Morrison’s run as a whole – were it not for that brilliant final page that launched us into the Batman Inc status quo, and instead confirmed that those first four years marked the first self-contained “chapter”, both narratively and thematically.
The question, of course, is whether the second chapter can in any way live up to the first – or whether Morrison should have left on the undoubted high that Batman & Robin presented. What’s not in any doubt, however, is that these ten issues were pretty much uniformly the standout superhero comics of the year – and that they can have offered a satisfactory resolution for a long-time Batman reader like myself, and entertained a newcomer like James, shows just how well they succeeded in being the best kind of monthly comics. We may have thought that earlier years had belonged to Morrison’s Batman – but it turns out that they were all just the warmup; 2010 is where we saw writer and characters at their very best.