Review: ROBIN & BATMAN #1
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Dustin Nguyen
Colors: Dustin Nguyen
Letters: Steve Wands
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
Robin & Batman #1: The legendary story of Batman and Robin has reached nearly mythic proportions: the crime-fighting Dynamic Duo, always one step ahead of the criminals they pursue and never meeting a case too big. This isn’t that story. This is the story of a young Dick Grayson, newly orphaned, struggling to find his way in a strange, difficult, dark new world…This is the story of Robin and Batman.
The Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin has been a mainstay in popular culture for decades, but the emphasis is usually on Batman. Robin is the sidekick, subordinate to the main hero Batman. But Lemire turns this around, and focuses on the junior partner, calling this miniseries Robin & Batman. And the Robin the story focuses on is the original, Dick Grayson.
I like that Lemire does not start Robin & Batman #1 with Dick’s origin story – i.e. the story of his parents’ death. Lemire’s story is not specifically the origin of Robin, but the origin of the Batman and Robin team. However, Dick’s roots in the circus do figure into the story. We learn that Killer Croc had been a freak in the same circus that the Flying Graysons performed in.
I’m not a big fan of origin stories being tweaked to connect create connections between characters that never existed before. However, in this case, the connection doesn’t feel forced. It seems quite reasonable that Croc might have been a circus freak, and I doubt that there were multiple circuses coming to Gotham.
While it’s clear that Croc recognizes Dick’s costume as being based on his circus outfit, it’s unclear as to whether he’s made the connection that Robin is Dick. We see Croc watching the Graysons in a flashback, but it’s unclear what his feelings are towards them. Clearly, there’s a history between them, but we don’t know what the exact relationship was – or how it will carry over to Croc’s feelings towards Batman’s partner.
Speaking of that costume, Lemire gives an interesting wrinkle to why Dick would wear such a colorful costume, that would make him seem an easy target. While the main reason is that the costume is based on his circus costume, Dick also chooses the costume to spite Bruce. Dick narrates, “My name should be darker, my costume stealthier. But that’s exactly why I’m going to use this instead. Bright red and yellow. The antithesis of what he would want. See, this may be dumb…but it’s really gonna $%^* him off”.
In these early days, Bruce and Dick’s relationship is rather rocky. Dick isn’t living up to Bruce’s demanding standards and is doubting that Dick is ready to join him in the field. And Dick is getting impatient. It looks as if this story is set before Tony Zucco has been brought to justice for killing Dick’s parents, so Dick is likely still feeling the burning need for justice that drives Bruce. And this would only fuel Dick’s frustration.
Their relationship at this point reminds me a bit of how it’s portrayed in Frank Miller’s All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder. Bruce is being a butthole to Dick in Lemire’s story, but still much less of one than in Miller’s.
But Bruce is trying. However, Bruce is still coming to grips with his newfound paternal role. This is clearly demonstrated in the costume he has made for Dick. The costume both reveals his love and concern, but also represents a huge betrayal. Instead of the bright color scheme $%^*ing him off, Bruce actually incorporates Dick’s designs into a slicker design of the Robin suit. However, Bruce learned about Dick’s design by reading his private journal – a violation of Dick’s privacy.
Dustin Nguyen’s artwork is perfectly suited to this series. He is no stranger to illustrating young DC heroes, having worked with Derek Fridolfs on the Secret Hero Society series of Younger Readers books. While this work is much more serious in tone, Nguyen’s unique style fits it even better. Despite Dick’s young age, this is a somewhat dark story, and Nguyen’s art captures the mood beautifully.
I also quite like Nguyen’s interpretation of Robin’s suit. It’s not quite the classic version with the short pants and pixie boots, but it’s quite close. Instead, those elements are swapped out for the black leggings and boots that are much like Damian’s. It actually looks pretty cool. Also, this is Dick’s first handmade iteration of the costume. It’s possible that Alfred might tailor him one that’s closer to the classic style by the conclusion of this series.
I have absolutely no complaints. Both Lemire and Nguyen are masterful storytellers, as Robin & Batman #1 clearly demonstrates.
I have never been disappointed by a Jeff Lemire story, and Robin & Batman #1 is no exception. With a writer of Lemire’s caliber paired with a fantastic artist to deliver a story featuring the original Dynamic Duo, Robin & Batman can’t fail to be a hit.