When does a silent comic (that is, a comic without dialogue or captions) take just as long to read as a comic full of text? When it’s filled with images as emotional and powerful as Batman and Robin #18.
I know some people who are extremely dismissive of “wordless” comics, complaining that, for something that costs at least $2.99, these issues are over and done in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. While there are certainly silent issues that can be breezed through at such a rapid pace (Marvel’s 2001 “‘Nuff Said” event offered a trove of examples both good and bad), these comics, when done correctly, tell a story just as rich and rewarding as one filled with word balloons. These examples are meant not to be “read” slowly, but observed slowly, giving each image time to sink in and convey its message. Batman and Robin #18 is a shining example of just how effective this technique can be, painting a striking portrait of a Batman, of a father, working through his grief. It’s a story in which necessity dictates form. There are no words in the issue because, well, there are no words. What can be said to/by a man that has just lost his son?
While the recent death of Damian Wayne was only briefly touched upon in last week’s Detective Comics #18, this issue appropriately devotes its entire story to dealing with the emotional impact of the loss of Bruce Wayne’s son. Bruce thumbs through Damian’s possessions, discovering things about his child that perhaps he never knew, and relives some of the joys he experienced in their all-too-brief time together. We see a Bruce who is brooding, yet aimless, driven, yet somehow devoid of true purpose. He is clearly a man filling his time with something, anything, to take his mind off of Robin’s death.
And yet, it is increasingly obvious that Batman is only fighting back the inevitable. As he swings through the city, he imagines Robin at his side, only to be reminded of his reality in the reflection of a passing window. The weight of a silent issue rests almost squarely on the shoulders of the artist, and Patrick Gleason delivers image after wrenching image, showing a Batman who is running the full gamut of emotions. It’s almost like Batman is trying to show the reader that he’s too strong to break down and just “let it come”. By the end of the issue, as Bruce falls to his knees clutching Robin’s uniform, we almost want to put a hand on the guy’s shoulder. We’re feeling it just as much as he is.
Peter Tomasi has, in his time on this series, given Damian a presence in the DCU beyond Grant Morrison’s insular Batman storyline, doing much to mold the character into the true fan favorite he is (er, was, I suppose). Tomasi’s last few issues in particular have been absolutely fantastic, and that makes this issue all the more heartbreaking. As Bruce laments his loss, so, too, do we. This book will be a whole lot different moving forward.