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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“Down to the last stone, down to my last breath”: Damian’s future is written in Morrison’s amazing BATMAN INC 5

Batman Inc-Zone-021It’s interesting watching the Batman line lose it’s way. In a veritable mess of non-stop crossovers, DC has made sure that readers are bound to lose track of the characters under the cowls. Why care about the risks if every thing’s just a series of mounting tensions with inevitable climaxes that come far too late?

That’s only one of the many, many reasons why Grant Morrsion’s Batman Incorporated has been the premier Bat-title DC has been releasing, if not the best title DC has produced in 3 years.

Part of that’s because of the relentless focus on tension. Morrison began with the end in mind. The finale of Batman Incorporated will be the end of Morrison’s collaboration with DC, exception of course for the upcoming Multiversity. As such, he’s decided to play with any of the toys he wants to, not caring what anyone else is waiting to use them for. Barbara Gordon’s in a wheel-chair! Jason Todd’s (maybe) wearing a more heroic costume! The Joker will end Gotham!

batman-inc-221Batman Inc. 5 reveals one answer that Morrison’s been holding out on for years, the future Bruce saw was of what happens when Damian takes over the Cowl. It’s a sinister world, with zombified-Joker ghouls burning Gotham to ashes, a cannibal Gorilla Grodd-esque super villain preaching the end of days, and Babs Gordon shooting Damian in the spine.

It’s an exhilarating issue. From Bruce, Dick and Jason surrounding a breaking down Damain, the new Batman’s dedication to the cause, the nuke or Leviathan’s second wave, it’s an action packed issue in a series that’s become one of the best for it.

Batman-and-Robin-0-Damian-first-Robin-CostumeDamian will remain Morrison’s finest contribution to the Bat-mythos for years to come and this is clearly him building to a new status queue for the character. The question that has loomed over the series since issue 3 has been whether Damian was ever suited to being Robin. He’s violent, self-centered and wants little more than to prove himself.

Damian’s a character that has consciously been designed to recall Jason Todd. Morrison (like me, although that sounds often pretentious of me) has long recognized that Jason has gotten a bad rap as Robin. He was a strong, interesting character, one that clearly wanted to do what was best for Gotham and for the Family. Jason’s death was one of the legitimately tragic moments of the Batman mythology, read separately from the phone line incident, and the character’s parallels to Damian are clear. Both are less focused on saving the city than proving themselves to the Knight in black armor.

tumblr_mcjdvoOplu1qhxx6do2_1280With seven issues left, and some preview images avaliable of issues to come, it’s pretty clear Batman Incorporated will be defined by Damian’s decisions. Can he control his own impulses and prove himself to Bruce? Will Talia push her beloved too far? Will Gotham be proven to be the Hell it was promised to be? Will Barbara end up back in a wheel chair? That one is probably less important.