The Weekly Pull (3/13/13) – BATMAN #18

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Damian Wayne – the fourth Robin (fifth if you count Stephenie Brown) – is now dead as a result of events in Batman Incorporated. In BATMAN #18, we see how his father reacts to losing yet another of his boys. But not from his perspective, but from the perspective of his biggest fan, Harper Row.

Indeed, it’s another between arc Harper Row episode. Not that I’m complaining.

So for those who didn’t read Batman Incorporated #8 (or haven’t already had it spoiled somehow), at the end Bruce Wayne’s son Damian, the current Robin, dies. It’s a whole thing, and I suggest you go read that if you’re curious. From what I hear it’s a good read. For our purposes, Robin is dead and the entire Batman family of books is getting in on the action to mourn the lad’s loss. A kind of miniature crossover under the header “Requiem”.

That’s Requiem with a strong, Robin-y “R”.

Not that BATMAN #18 comes out and states this. Damian’s death was pretty recent, so I imagine Scott Snyder wanted to avoid outright telling readers this, especially if they wanted to read Batman Incorporated for themselves. But it’s definitely on the tip of this issue’s tongue, owing perhaps to the fact that this is, like the last issue to come between a major story arc, a Harper Row focused installment. We see how Batman deals with his loss through her distant observing eyes. He’s driven himself to frenzy and taking it out on any petty thug he can find, and Harper has to find a way to get to him. Even though she doesn’t know what he’s going through, she knows enough of personal loss to identify, and we learn much of what loss she’s experienced.

Not that it makes any sense for her not to know what’s got Batman mad. After all, the press apparently knows about Robin’s death. We see it ourselves. Kind of.

(Sigh) I didn’t know how long I would be able to go without broaching the subject, and even if I did I didn’t know how to go about doing it. But I guess this is as good a time as any to talk about Channel 52. In a bid to further maximize their ability to draw new readers onto various books, DC began a side feature to be included in all or most of their titles. In the same way they might devote extra pages to a preview for a new ongoing title (such as the recently advertised Constantine ongoing), most titles these days end with two pages from an in-universe news program put out by “Channel 52”, because DC loves their 52 motif.

Honestly, I’m still unsure why DC hasn’t put out their own card deck to run with said motif. Fifty-two cards plus two for the Joker.

The feature has a host, as well as three people she works with that cover their bases when it comes to the goings on of the DC universe, including Calendar Man (a reformed supervillain), Vartox (the resident expert on space/Sean-Connery-circa-Zardoz impersonator), and freaking Ambush Bug. It’s kind of like what Marvel does with some of their books, by starting an issue off with a page from the Daily Bugle that gets readers up to date on the story so far, but also having little headlines about what’s going on in other books. Except those are concise and fold into a far more useful aspect of Marvel’s publishing practices, whereas this is a solid block tacked onto the end and integrates in no way whatsoever.

Frankly these segments have been hit or miss – like the advertisement for DC’s romance title having stupid people reference Twilight of all things in their “teaming” between two characters who aren’t in conflict, but rather are the two people in a relationship. Yes I know Calender Man agrees it’s stupid and misses the point of why Twilight created “teams” in the first place, but it still annoys me that anyone could be so idiotic. It’s like the writers tried too hard to parody the Twilight fandom, and ended up making said fandom look dignified and rational by comparison. And ended up infuriating me because of it.

What was I talking about? Oh right, Robin dying. In a move I think was heavily ill-advised, the week Batman Incorporated #8 came out (or maybe the week after, I forget), the segment of Channel 52 blatantly spoiled it by having the host, Bethany Snow, announce said death on the air. Then she spent the following week’s segment on leave, leaving Ambush Bug to carry the show, much to my irritation.

Forgetting for a moment how little sense it makes from a meta-fictional standpoint, shouldn’t this mean Harper Row ought to know what’s bothering Batman? Even if she doesn’t know Damian was his biological son, the Robins have always been Batman’s de facto children, and common people ought to be at least aware of how the death of one would affect their “father”. Are we to believe Harper doesn’t watch the news? Even if she didn’t, she’d probably hear from some other source if Robin, her idol’s sidekick, died. She tracks Batman himself through the city with advanced technology, but doesn’t check his Twitter tag?

How legitimate of a news program is Channel 52 in-universe anyway? The only way Harper realistically wouldn’t know about something like this – assuming it was Channel 52 that broke the story – would be if Channel 52 wasn’t taken seriously by the world it lives in. Not a terrible stretch, given that their reporters are, in order: a (reformed) supervillain whose gimmick was committing crimes on holidays, a humanoid man who claims to be an alien and able to speak for what’s going on in the universe, and Ambush Bug.

Upon further reflection, it would make much more sense if Channel 52 were a podcast or YouTube news program with an immense negative public perception. As I said, not to be taken seriously. The idea of seeing how the news media would react to the bizarre goings on of the DCU sounds promising. But in the execution, you start to get the impression that most people would see Channel 52 as a huge joke.

I’ve gotten way off track, so suffice to say I liked BATMAN #18. It’s heavily reminiscent of the period immediately following the death of Jason Todd, with Batman going more grimdark than usual and fighting himself to destruction. Even if there wasn’t a special occasion for this story, I just like seeing Harper and her problems, which are mostly family in nature.

It’s too bad we only ever get to see her for one issue every six months, the rest of the time spent on huge story arcs. While most other ongoing series have tackled four to six main plots after a year and a half, this one has done two major ones, though one that can be crudely divided into two pieces. They’re very good stories, but you pretty much have to the in it for the long haul.

Lastly and to be brief, one of the fights Batman gets into is against a participant in Gotham’s underground, super-science dog-fighting ring. Reminds me a lot of an episode of Batman Beyond. Turns out Gotham never really changes.

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