THIS WEEK: Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen team up once again for a take on the early days of Dick Grayson’s time as Robin, and the growing pains of a burgeoning dynamic duo.
(A Note About Spoilers: The following review contains light plot spoilers for the comic being discussed. For a spoiler-free verdict of the issue, scroll down to the bottom of the review.)
Robin & Batman #1
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Dustin Nguyen
Letterer: Steve Wands
Cover Artist: Dustin Nguyen
Like the origins of Batman and Superman, the origin of first Robin Dick Grayson is fairly well-trod territory. Most people know the story of the circus owner who ran afoul of organized crime in one way or another, and the family of acrobats who paid the price for it. Where there’s room for interpretation is in what came next, and not only what led Dick to put on a colorful costume and fight crime, but also what led Bruce Wayne to decide to bring a child into his dark and dangerous world. Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s Robin & Batman is out to put its own spin on answering both of those questions. The debut issue of the series more or less skips past the commonly-known part of Robin’s origin to get to the pivotal moment when Dick Grayson officially became Batman’s junior partner.
Lemire & Nguyen are no strangers to Gotham City, though Robin & Batman shares little in common with the pair’s L’il Gotham series of stories. The first issue finds Dick grappling with the reality of what he’s gotten himself into in comparison to how he thought being a costumed crimefighter was going to be. Lemire’s scripting captures Dick’s youth and naïveté nicely. For modern readers who are used to Nightwing being the wise older brother of the Bat-Family, it’s a refreshing change to see a young Dick Grayson who is impatient, impetuous, and desperate to please his mentor. This is a Dick Grayson who has more in common with what readers likely think of when they think of Jason Todd’s time as Robin — in other words, occasionally off-putting, but very much a kid.
The same could be said for Lemire’s characterization of Bruce Wayne. His Batman is not terribly far removed from the one that first appeared in Frank Miller & Jim Lee’s infamous All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder, having draft Dick into his one-man war on crime while at the same time having no idea how to handle having a child around. When Alfred, someone who has some experience raising a difficult, driven boy, tries to give him advice, Bruce is dismissive and downright rude. This is a fascinating Bruce Wayne, one who has figured out how to be The Batman but who hasn’t yet figured out how to be a mentor, or even really a friend. Bruce and Dick’s relationship is at the very center of this issue, and seeing the two of them so far removed from how we know them now is both incredibly interesting and extremely entertaining.
The whole thing is brought to life by the gorgeous watercolor artwork of Dustin Nguyen. Where other artists and stories may tend to age Dick Grayson up a bit, Nguyen’s version of the character is firmly in the pre-teen age range, his features boyish without being childlike. His artwork captures the intense emotions that come with a character of that age, as well as the graceful movement of a trained-since-birth acrobat. Without giving too much away story-wise, Nguyen’s design for the Robin costume featured in this issue fits the method of its creation perfectly, and nicely blends elements of the suits of multiple different Robins. The artist’s Batman is appropriately imposing, particularly from the perspective of a child, and he also offers and interesting Killer Croc design that’s reminiscent of the character’s Batman: The Animated Series look but with a unique spin.
Robin & Batman #1 is a solidly entertaining kickoff for the limited series. Lemire & Nguyen present an intriguing and beautifully-rendered look at a little-explored time in the lives of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. It’s also a satisfying single-issue read that does a nice job setting things up for the remainder of the series in an interesting and organic way. If, like me, you’re a fan of a classic Batman & Robin team, you’ll be glad you picked this up.
Final Verdict: BUY.
- Elsewhere in alternate Gothams, Mattson Tomlin, Andrea Sorrentino, and Jordie Bellaire’s Batman: The Imposter #2 arrives this week. I didn’t expect to love the first issue of this series as much as I did, and the second issue expands on it nicely. The relationship between Bruce Wayne and Leslie Tompkins is one that’s always felt a little underexplored to me, so the presentation of this issue as primarily a conversation between those two characters worked wonderfully for me. Sorrentino and Bellaire’s artwork is as striking and inventive as ever, particularly in the way the team presents the issue’s action sequences. This is a handsome, excellent comic.
- Meanwhile, back in the main DC Universe, Batman: Urban Legends #9 offers a quartet of stories of different flavors but the same high level of quality. Alyssa Wong & Vasco Georgiev’s lead story featuring Batwoman and Red Alice and Brandon Thomas, Cian Tormey, & Raul Fernandez’s Outsiders closer are both action-packed, character-driven conclusions to their respective stories. The middle two features are decidedly different, with a Tweedledum & Tweedledee story from Sam Johns & Karl Mostert that’s about the challenges former henchpeople face in navigating basic services like healthcare, and the middle chapter of Dan Watters & Nikola Čižmešija’s Azrael story following Jean-Paul Valley’s investigation into what he believes is the coming end of the world. They’re all great stories for different reasons, and they highlight just how vital a series like Urban Legends is to the overall Bat-line.
- Action Comics #1036 finally finds Superman leaving Earth, with the newly-formed Authority in tow, and arriving on Warworld. It feels like we’ve been building to this for a year now, and the team’s arrival doesn’t disappoint. Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Daniel Sampere present a Warworld unlike any that readers have ever seen before, and a challenge that the Man of Steel and his team clearly weren’t prepared for coming in. For a story billing itself as the “Warworld Saga,” the first chapter of it lives up to the name.
- And finally, Chip Zdarsky & Miguel Mendonça’s Justice League: Last Ride #7 wraps up the future-set Justice League story in exciting fashion, with an all-out brawl between the League and Darkseid. Character divisions are mended, sacrifices are made, and hope for the future prevails, as it should. This series was an enjoyable romp, a popcorn action movie in the best sense, and it’ll surely read very well in a collected edition.
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