Thursday, 21 June 2018

Robin: the Teen Inferiority Complex (Robin: the Teen Wonder by Dennis O'Neil, James Robinson, Chuck Dixon, Jim Starlin, Marv Wolfman, Bill Willingham, Geoff Johns, Lee Weeks, Tony S. Daniel, and Scott McDaniel)

(SPOILER ALERT for backstories and eventual fates of multiple DC characters. See here for a spoiler tagged version.)

Tim: "Batman has to have a Robin."
Batman: "Where is that written in stone? There's no more need for there to be a Robin -"
Alfred: "- Then there is for a Batman?" - Robin: The Teen Wonder, page 99

There have been five Robins: flippy Robin (Dick Grayson), dead Robin (Jason Todd), smart Robin (Tim Drake), bubbly Robin (Stephanie Brown), and stabby Robin (Damian Wayne). This volume collects stories centered around the first four, mostly about how they started out and how they came to leave the role. Again, I picked this up off the sales shelf. I mainly bought it for backstory, so I wasn't too bothered that nothing in between was given. That said, I'm very very glad that I didn't pay full price for it. Between this and Marvel's Black Widow: The Sting of the Widow I'm thinking that you're better off reading a series that has a lot of a character in it rather than picking up a character compilation.

I liked the good/bad format I used for my first comic review, so I'm going to stand by it.

The Good
  •  Steph is iconic. She thinks her boyfriend is cheating on her, so she sulks for three days and then breaks into the Batcave. I will definitely be picking up some more stuff with her in eventually. Rebirth: Detective Comics was on my list anyway.
  • When Batman narrates Jason's death, he puts a lot of emphasis on how Jason was rebellious and supposed to wait for him before dealing with the Joker issue. The way he tells it, it's a tragedy that comes about because Jason thought with his heart and went in recklessly. But Batman is clearly an unreliable narrator here. Jason died because he tried to save his mother. He died because he was a hero. And isn't that what he was trained to be?
  • I've finally worked out what I like about Dick Grayson - I relate to how done he always seems to be with Batman.
  • Speaking of Dick and Jason, I'm tickled that after Batman fires Dick he literally picks up the first kid he sees off the streets. Jason, on the other hand, he's unwilling to replace. That would be wrong. 
  • Batman: (to Dick) "If you stay, you'll be in constant danger. You'll have no real friends, no social life, nothing resembling a normal human existence." Dick: *Proceeds to befriend most of the heroes in the DCU and start the Teen Titans.*
  • Alfred called out the original Robin costume. I feel vindicated. 
 The Bad
  • I was massively underwhelmed by the issue where Bruce fired Dick. I really got the feeling that the writers had decided that they wanted to take the characters in new directions, but couldn't work out how to break them up in a way that people would actually believe was permanent.
  • Did we really need two different stories about Jason's death? Especially when Tim and Steph both could have done with a little more page space. We're told that Tim quit for a bit and that Steph died, but the details are skimmed over.  
  • The formatting left a lot to be desired to the point where I docked a star for it. More often than not it was only possible to tell you'd started a new issue because the art style had changed. A good example is the last couple of issues. One second we're in Bludhaven (which is apparently where all Gotham vigilantes run off to when they're having issues with Batman), and the next we're in San Francisco with the Teen Titans. Its jarring. Unnecessarily so. 
  • Dick's fashion sense continues to be the true crime committed in these comics.
Dragging Batman is honestly a joy and I'm about to do it so, if you like him, look away now. It depends on how he's written, obviously, but something that quite often rubs me the wrong way about Bruce Wayne is how he treats his allies. Someone finally put it into words over on Tumblr: "Bruce collects broken people and lets them believe they have a family and then threatens [...] to take it away." Jarringly, he often gets away with it. It's not that I think Batman is a bad person - his intentions are often good - but he has a thing about control and I don't like it. (I don't think my image of Batman will ever recover from that time he beat Nightwing - who was in a terrible place emotionally - into the ground until he agreed to pretend he was still dead and infiltrate Spyral. I can't remember the issue number. I didn't manage to find it on Goodreads.)

Whilst we definitely see this in Dick's section, I think it's most blatant with Stephanie. Steph is Tim's girlfriend and already a vigilante in her own right so she has something none of the other Robins had, experience, but it's heavily implied that Batman only takes her on to manipulate Tim into coming back. He spends the one issue she gets in this collection telling her that she hits like a girl and she's not as good as Tim. Next thing you know, we're at her funeral. The worst part is that it works. Tim's back as Robin. He might not be willing to work with Batman anymore at that point, but that's not going to last, is it? There are no lasting repercussions here. 

Then there's the last issue in the collection, in which Jason implies that Batman knew about Tim all along. (Tim became Robin after he worked out the identities of Batman, both former Robins, and Nightwing. He basically forced his way in.) Now it could just be Jason's jealousy talking, but the fact remains that it would be very out of character for Batman not to notice a stalker. That said, Tim's a child rather than a supervillain so it's possible he flew under the radar because he wouldn't be perceived as a threat. Either way, once Jason's planted the seed it is hard not to squint and wonder how much he was manipulating the situation from the beginning. 

This compilation gives limited coverage of the first four Robins backstories, although be aware that it doesn't give a lot of context (especially when it comes to Tim and Steph). 

Who's your favourite superhero?