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.

The Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 4

WolverineXmen17It’s all wrapping up and it’s time to award the single best series of 2012. There was some fierce competition and some of the best titles of the year are left out in the cold but this is the second biggest award of the year. Let’s get to it.

The Next Generations – Awarded to the finest series of pictorials of the year.

Honorable MentionsBatman-Robin-Zone-001

There are really too many to count but a couple of series nearly cracked the top five. Uncanny X-ForceAnimal Man and FF all were in the running but for one reason or another, were left behind. Peter Tomasi’s Batman and Robin recovered from a brief Night of the Owls crossover misstep and focused on Damian’s need to prove himself to Dick, Jason and Tim led to one of the best moments of 2012 as the Robins join together in their own beautiful way. Jason Aaron’s exceptional Wolverine and the X-Men was just beat out for fifth place, mostly on the strength of three issues that defined the X-franchise, both pre- and post- Avengers vs. X-Men.

Fifth Placescan0007Saucer Country

In an election year which inevitably focused on broken promises, preconceptions and verbal badger baiting on both sides of the aisle, Saucer Country focused on an idealistic candidate with a past but the series’ focus on politics all serves the overarching narrative. While Arcadia lets her alien abduction become the focus of her presidential campaign, Professor Kidd focuses on the mythology, a complex series of contradicting narratives that form the body of not only UFO lore, but also of how we understand all stories. In the fantastic issue #6, Kidd’s speech on the way missing time impacts memory is fragmented, broken into increasingly smaller panels, showing the way readers are forced to fill in the blanks themselves through memory, knowledge, intuition and drawing on common myth. It’s an excellent series that showed it’s hand brilliantly in the first issue and continues to be one of Vertigo’s best.

Fourth Placeinc-bannerBatman Incorporated: Volume 2

Grant Morrison’s epic, gripping, poetic magnum opus has been a propulsive, incredibly readable take on Batman’s struggle for the souls of Gotham, his son and himself. It’s a book with a sense of pace that few, even Scott Snyder’s vaunted run on Batman, can’t match and each issue is another incredibly powerful look at a man who cannot and will not be stopped. This is the Batman book of 2012 and when it ends in 2013, I’m sure it will have a chance to hold that title again.

Third Place2719154-hawkeye4_03Hawkeye

Matt Fraction has become one of Marvel’s premier talents and his take on the Avengers’ archer shows why. Taking Clint back to his roots and showing him as the guy next door has highlighted his heroics and in storylines such as “The Tape,” his incredible, “Die Hard”-esque leaps into action are highlighted even more. It’s a series with charm, laughs and plenty of action, weirdly making it unique in a medium that’s increasingly been played for something entirely different.

Second Placescreen-shot-2012-07-09-at-9-52-48-pmManhattan Projects

Jonathan Hickman’s ever-growing cast of scientific geniuses, opportunists, schemers, computers, aliens, talking dogs and inter-dimensional doppelgängers have built a twisted look at the scientific world at the onset of the Cold War. Manhattan Projects is downright scary at times, showing men without ethics manipulate, kill and conquer as they pursue nothing but their own goals. It’s an inadvertent character study, mostly of the sinister, uncontrollable Oppenheimer and the moralistic but tortured Feynman and the ways their ideologies, beliefs and methods differ as a new world is created, corrupted and discarded.

And the Nextie goes to…xlargeSaga

Brian K. Vaughan did it again, creating an instant classic of sci-fi wonder, love, death and life in the first 8 issues of Saga. Vaughan has never produced a bad series and Saga is impressive even by his incredible standards, with instantly relatable characters, complex and morally compromised villains, a believable quest and the sort of adult interpersonal relationships rarely seen in comics these days. Protagonists Marko and Alana have such a believable connection, making their occasional spats all the more painful and their love all the more powerful. The story, told in retrospect by the couple’s newly born daughter, Hazel, has a wonderfully knowing combination of child-like innocence and a bright worldliness, perfectly suiting the space opera style of this majestic, must-read series.

Next Up: The lights are scanning and the drums are rolling as the best single issue of 2012 is crowned.

 

“You’re already wearing the ‘R'” – Peter Tomasi brings Batman & Robin back in a big way

Batman & Robin was probably my most anticipated book of the New 52. After Grant Morrison and Judd Winnick’s great redefinition of the partnership, putting Dick Grayson in the cowl and Damian Wayne as Robin, I wasn’t sure that I wanted Bruce to be partners with his son. Morrison’s use of Dick as a second Batman in Batman Incorporated and in the Leviathan Strikes one-shot seemed to hint that this could have been an option.

Instead, Peter Tomasi, mostly known for his work on the Green Lantern Corps books, gave us a very traditional team up between Bruce Wayne and his son. The first six issues were good, maybe even great, with Damian continuing to fight back against his upbringing in the League of Assassins as well as the killer who trained Bruce. It was a taut, involving mystery that didn’t feel like a retread in any real way.

That all changed after the lackluster Night of the Owls crossover. In issue 10, we’re greeted by a new villain, the terrorist Terminus, as well as a promise from Damian that he intends to prove to Dick, Jason and Tim that he is the best and most worthy Robin. That was where the real trouble set in. For most of Morrison and Winnick’s runs on Batman & Robin, Damian was forced to struggle with who he was, deciding whether his role was one of protector or a narcissistic killer like his grandfather. There was a psychological weight to his decisions and having him go through a meaningless challenge of the Robins made the earlier character work feel moot and unimportant. What’s worse, he directly challenges Dick to prove himself as Nightwing, undoing all of the mutual respect the two had developed in the earlier run of the series.

This week’s twelfth issue seemingly puts an end both to Terminus as well as Damian’s need to challenge the other Robins. As Batman shows that his greatest contribution to Gotham isn’t the damage he’s done so much as the people he’s saved, Nightwing, Red Robin, Red Hood and Damian all work together, fending off gangsters and saving civillians. Watching these distinct characters, all in very different places of their superhero careers, bounce off of one another is a lot of fun and the ending, in which Dick both salutes and makes Damian see who he really is, feels earned and appropriate for both characters.Batman & Robin 12 reminded me of what I liked about this series so much in the early issues. Sure, there are still problems with the characterization of Damian and I wish this second arc would have been drawn out a little longer but Tomasi has managed to balance action, great story and dialogue to make one of the most compelling, fun reads of the year.