The New Boy Wonders – Establishing Robin in a world without Batman

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I don’t envy writers who have to try to separate Robin from Batman. From his very first appearances in the 1940s, Robin’s relationship with Batman has always been characterized as one of a father and his sons. Even under the best of circumstances, separating a Robin from the Caped Crusader, leaves a character in the shadow of the more known hero. The most successful reestablishments of Robin without Batman usually dramatically alter the status quo and forcibly separate the two characters. The recent Grayson did a fantastic job turning former-Robin-turned-Nightwing-turned-Batman-turned-Nightwing-turned-spy Dick Grayson into a character on his own, in over his head and having to depend on his own strengths to deal with unique character-specific challenges, much like how the successful Chuck Dixon Nightwing relaunch relocated Dick into a crime-infested Bludhaven.

The post-Endgame status quo gives DC an open palate to put a new spin on Robin by taking the Batman readers have known for decades off the table. With the world believing Batman has died in a final battle with the Joker, the very idea of Robin can be given an entirely different characterization. Robin’s not a son anymore. He’s a standard-bearer and DC’s two new Robin-centric titles give very different interpretations on what carrying a legacy means.

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Patrick Gleason’s Robin: Son of Batman is the most straight forward approach but it’s one that also doesn’t directly address the absence of Batman. After his resurrection, Damian Wayne is taking a new look at his life. He’s continuously confronted by death and he’s no longer able to shove down his guilt and regret over his own bloody past. It’s a natural growth for the character. In the Peter Tomasi run on Batman and Robin, Damian slowly came to terms with his tortured, traumatic past by seeing the future his father was trying to build. With the tragic end of Batman Incorporated, Grant Morrison showed Damian’s final turn away from Ra’s and Talia’s plans for him and embrace of his father’s path and this issue’s focus on Damian’s guilt and rejection of the League of Assassin’s tenants is a clear way to pick up what that story established.

Robin: Son of Batman #1 puts Damian on a Herculean quest. He’s writing the wrongs of his past, trying to clean up the years of spilled blood, trying to do his best to honor both his father as well as his surrogate father, Dick Grayson. Gleason sells the hell out of Damian’s guilt and uncertainty in a wonderful, haunting nightmare sequence where the child continuously is forced to relive his guilt and his own death and when he finally chooses to begin a year of atonement, it feels earned, like Damian is doing more than just choosing to follow in his father’s shadow. He’s creating a new path.

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We are Robin #1 is a more ambitious approach to the relationship between Batman and Robin and more directly addresses a Gotham City without Bruce Wayne as Batman. The issue centers around Duke Thomas, a minor character who has appeared twice in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, whose parents disappeared following one particularly traumatic scene in Batman #37, which echoed Batman’s origin. Since then, Duke has bounced around Gotham orphanages, searching for his family and increasingly depending on himself over all others. Lee Bermejo gives Thomas’s dialogue and running internal monologue an endearing nerdiness and Jorge Corona infuses the issue’s action sequences with a nervy, confident style that brings readers directly into its protagonist’s head. He’s a relatable hero, trying to do his best but still making the wrong choice as often as he makes the right one.

Duke’s characterized throughout We are Robin #1 with elements reminiscent of almost all of the former Robins. His acrobatic combat during a schoolyard bout recall the graceful dangerous dance of Dick Grayson, his over-confident defiance of authority bears more than a little resemblance to Jason Todd and there are peaks of what made Tim Drake such a memorable sidekick. What most establishes Duke’s place in the issue, however, is his connection to Batman. When the mysterious new Robins arrive on the scene at issue’s end, they’re not interested in what Duke is capable of or what he’s been through. They just know he’s “hung with the bat” and that’s all he needs to get in.

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We are Robin establishes less than Robin: Son of Batman does but it does so in a particularly engaging way. Much like how Gotham Academy took its time to establish the mysteries around Olive Silvermane, the issue doesn’t answer much about the nature of the new Robins but their presence speaks volumes. In a story haunted by the Joker’s actions during Endgame, the establishment of a group of teens keeping Batman’s memory alive is a wonderful homage to ideas like online activism and inspiration through sacrifice. It’s a smart, thoughtful way to connect Bruce’s final fateful actions in Batman #40 to the new status quo.

We are Robin and Robin: Son of Batman both highlight what I love best about one of my favorite concepts in comics. Both boldly showcase the way Batman can change the future through inspiration, how he can prevent the next child from losing everything to one terrible day. More importantly though, both establish characters separate from a greater hero, giving writers and readers a whole new perspective on Gotham and its young protectors in a bold, exciting new world.

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Are we overrating “Night of the Owls?”

HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE RECENTLY RELEASED “BATMAN #10.” SERIOUSLY, WE’RE DISCUSSING THE CONCLUSION OF “NIGHT OF THE OWLS”

I don’t want to really shit on Scott Snyder’s “Batman.” On the whole, its been a rightfully celebrated run on a landmark title. Snyder’s first arc, “The Court of the Owls,” is reaching its conclusion in the pages of his title and for many, this is the first exposure to a Batman monthly.

And that’s where I think the problem is. I can say with confidence that “Batman” is without a doubt one of the most consistent, impressive and well constructed books of the New 52. Its managed an impressively long and in depth storyline and has managed to be both a great entry point for new fans, as well as a great series for longtime readers.

I really think that this is part of why this run has been so critically beloved. The release of today’s issue #10 has received unanimous praise, with IGN giving it a rare 9.5 score. Much of their praise is heaped on the book’s big twist, which is the moment that really prompted me to write all of this.

To get it out of the way, Snyder reintroduces Earth 3’s Owlamn, a classic DC character who has long claimed to be Thomas Wayne Jr. Now, Bruce finds the court destroyed and a man, who once claimed to be mayoral candidate Lincoln March, in the metallic owl costume and claiming to be the long lost brother of Bruce Wayne.

In one way, I really love what Snyder did here (and I’m hardly mentioning what a great job penciller Greg Capullo did in visually setting up the revelation). Reintroducing long lost characters is one of the things that I love about comics because it rewards fans so much and allows for great revelations. Hell, its one of the few high points of “Blackest Night.” That being said, for new readers, the targets of the New 52 relaunch, this is just hopelessly hackneyed twist.

Now, I think that the twist does work both ways, its surprising but well designed and based in the plot rather than coming from nowhere and the conversation that Thomas and Bruce has is great, perfectly meshing with the art. My problem is it seems people are conditioned to be alright with the twist simply because the earlier issues of the series set the bar so high.

Like I said, I liked Batman #10 and I’ve liked the series as a whole. I’m just curious to see what y’all think. Are we giving this series far too much credit based on earlier content or is the twist even more well done than I assumed (it bears mentioning that Snyder has hinted that Thomas may not be telling the truth and that more twists are in store)? Sound off in the comments about issue 10, the mass suicide of the court or the Bat-family titles after Night of the Owls.