The Batman and Robin relationship is meant to be reflected in Knight And Squire. But the Batman and Robin relationship isn't even in Batman And Robin these days, thanks to having a different Batman and a very different Robin. And it's been much more entertaining as a result. But who does the better twisted take on the Dynamic Duo?
Batman And Robin #20 by Peter J Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray throws it out of the window at the top, giving us Batman and Batman and Robin and Red Robin. And we juxtapose the jollity of enacting grievous bodily harm upon presumed street thugs (seriously, you're a street thug, move out of Gotham) straight into high society functions that, naturally get disrupted by naughty people by a visually striking death, a man dressed as an angel, blood drained through his wings, with everything pointing to a suicide save for the fact that you just know it won't be. Which makes it handy to have a Bat on hand.
Oh and there's a scene between Commissioner Gordon and Damien that you'll love – but also the realisation that under Tomasi, they're not going to let Damien get away with some of the antics and attitudes who showed under Morrison and Cornwell. Oh, he'll still do them, but there's a more paternalistic attitude here. I don't think "one wrist" will replace "one punch" but those of a less anarchic streak will probably cheer at that moment.
Oh and then we get another Bat at the very end. They really are bringing the family together with this one, save for a Bat hound.. Say, is a Batman Family book in the offing at all? If so, Peter seems to be pitching to write it. But for all that, this is a traditional Batman comic with a couple of wrinkles in the telling.
And then there's Knight And Squire. Who discover that Jarvis Poker, The British Joker, a far more harmless version of the Gotham psychopath – and indeed he has more in common with earlier portrayals of the Joker, is dying.
And so the pair entertain him, recognise what's happening and play along with his one last game, knowing that it will all end up well enough, no one will die, it's all very bright and breezy. We get Jonathan Ross, we get references to the songs of Paul Gascoigne, Chas And Dave, The Worzels, Abba, Cliff Richard, we get clips from earlier British comic books portraying Jarvis Poker that give us gags from classic 1950 radio shows, and straight into current reality TV talent events…
…and then we get death. Another main cast character death.
And the realisation that if you play at being something dark, even in jest, that darkness has a habit of visiting you. And Paul Cornell and James Hodgkins Jimmy Broxton's mission to introduce a hundred or more new characters is suddenly at risk when their numbers drop, and threaten to drop even more.
And, yes, Knight And Squire has been seen, rightly, as a rather silly book. A fun book, sure, but ephemeral, frippy, a laugh, to be read to raise a smile. And then it goes and does this. Been building up to it since the beginning.
It's an interesting lesson, acknowledging the dangers that could come with playing in the shallow end, if the deep end is shark infested. But it's one that a writer like Cornell plays with every day. He writes crime, he writes torture, he writes peril for entertainment. Is he afraid that something equally dark will ever visit him as a result?
For all the new cast Batman And Robin gives us a traditional take, in fitting with the last few decades. Knight And Squire seems to go back to the sixties, before suddenly bringing it bang up to date, and making far more of an impact when it does so than Batman And Robin.
Death death death death death. Seriously, stop it, people. Too much this week.
This week's comics courtesy of Orbital Comics in London.