DC Round-Up Comics Released 12/2/15

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How many Batman books is too many Batman books? Depending on who you ask there ain’t no such thing! We try to stay up on what’s going on at DC, but we can’t always dig deep into every issue. The solution? Our weekly round-up of titles coming out of DC Comics. Today, we’re discussing Action Comics 47, Batman and Robin Eternal 9, Gotham by Midnight 11, Green Lantern 47 and Robin War 1.

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Action Comics 47

Action Comics 47Mark: I recently watched Netflix and Marvel’s Jessica Jones series, and while I admired many of the themes and ideas the writers engaged, I often found myself frustrated by the volumes of explanation and justification given to a power of ability, only to have that logic be ignored just a few minutes (or episodes) later. Sometimes you’re just better off not explaining how a specific ability works, and letting “comic book logic” do the heavy lifting. Other times, when something goes under-explained it feels like a major cheat. See: Superman’s ability to absorb the shadow from everything and everyone in Action Comics 47. Where did that come from? Why was he able to do it and why didn’t he do it sooner?

Also, Wrath (aka Jennifer) is Vandal Savage’s daughter? Seems like a big reveal that Greg Pak didn’t have the page count to really make the audience feel. Same with the Frankenstein/Superman fight teased at the end of the last issue. It’s basically over as soon as it began. Which is maybe not a bad thing, as Georges Jeanty’s pencils are also a step down from last issue. They get the job done in the more expositional moments, but the action beats are missing a detail and clarity that makes for the best work in comic books.

After starting out on a very strong note, this latest Action Comics arc ended on a bit of a whimper. While no where near as dire as Superman, seems like the Man of Steel hasn’t yet quite found his place in the new(ish) DC YOU.

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Batman and Robin Eternal 9

Batman and Robin Eternal 9Spencer: Sometimes in these weekly, written-by-committee series, it’s hard to tell what elements each individual writer’s bringing to the table. That’s not the case with Jackson Lanzing & Collin Kelly, who make their Batman and Robin Eternal debut this week with issue 9. Their character interaction, humor, and dialogue absolutely sizzle, injecting pure personality into a plot that could perhaps otherwise be viewed as a bit of a digression from the main Mother thread. Seriously, the Red Hood/Red Robin/Bane dynamic is comedic gold, and I’m bummed to know we’ll only get an issue or two with them.

The sound effects also add an extra spark of personality to the issue.

All Bane needs is a fedora

Letterer Saida Temofonte uses an eye-catching, unique font that not only fits the scene, but adds to it; there’s clearly a lot more thought given to them than the typical sound effect.

With so much focus on creating moments that sparkle and shine, though, some of the finer details do end up slipping through the cracks. Jason stealing one of Bruce’s capes is a fine joke, but how did he sneak it on Tim’s plane, and what did he do with it once he landed? Mother’s ninja assistant also has displacement issues; he throws a punch at Bruce, but then literally vanishes from the skirmish completely until Bruce escapes, to jarring effect. Some of these inconsistencies even translate to the art; there’s only about a 50% chance that artist Roge Antonio will remember to draw Red Robin’s cape in any given panel, for example. Overall, though, this is a memorable issue, bristling with personality and establishing some fun dynamics, not to mention reestablishing another familiar figure from the Batman mythos. I continue to be pleased with where Batman and Robin Eternal is headed, and how it’s getting there.

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Gotham by Midnight 11

Gotham by Midnight 11Patrick: The penultimate issue in this series blows out the scope of the paranormal threat to Ghost Busterian levels, introducing a supernatural terror the size of a skyscraper and an army of zombies in one fell swoop. And while it’s cool to see the GCPD pull a 180 and decide they absolutely need Precinct Thirteen, it kind of strains credulity that they wouldn’t already have embraced their unique skills. I mean, they live in Gotham City, which may be one of the more grounded — if still full of weird-super-hero-shit — cities in the DC Universe, but aliens, interdimensional beings, gods, ghosts and demons sure seem like they should be the subject of public record, right? Case in point is Jim Gordon, who states the painfully obvious to Commissioner Sawyer.

Gordon speaks simple truths

But maybe that’s just the way things are with ghost stories – people refuse to accept that what is happening to them is real because it is impossible. Writer Ray Fawkes and artist Juan Ferreyra actively work against the kind of ethereal quality of ghost stories, providing cold, hard facts the spirits that are being raised from the dead. Those little profiles read like police files — detached and matter of fact — even for someone like Corrigan who we know so well. The whole thing ramps up to a supernatural spectacle too enormous to ignore: a three-way giant-monster / giant-ghost / giant-God (?) fight on the streets of Gotham. After something like that, doesn’t really seem fair to make Precinct Thirteen work in the shadows any more, huh?

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Green Lantern 47

Green Lantern 47Michael: One of the many flaws of the Green Lantern movie was how much time it spent on Earth. While there are plenty of awesome Earth-based GL tales, it’s always more satisfying to see members of the Corps fighting the good fight in space or on other alien worlds. Green Lantern 47 gives Hal a chance to return to Earth for a little R&R with his brother’s family. In a case of superhero coincidence, its fortunate that Hal just happened to be around when someone (Sonar?) decided to blow up the damn ferris wheel. Hal’s nephew Howard appears to be hurt but more than likely he’s gonna turn out just fine.

This whole issue felt a little empty; Robert Venditti is really trying to play up the emotion with Hal reuniting with his brother and the possibility that Hal let Howard get hurt, but I ain’t feeling it. The beginning of the issue has Hal, Virgo and Trapper comment on Earth’s beauty, or lack thereof. Virgo and Hal are in awe of the Earth while Trapper doesn’t really see what the fuss is all about. I’m the Trapper of reading Green Lantern 47 – Venditti is seeing this beauty and heart in Hal’s family reunion but I’m not. Any given comic book has beats that it needs to hit to move the overall story along but you could really feel those clunky mechanics at work here.

hairless hal

Then there is the whole issue of that Hal/Parallax reveal at the end of the book. While Geoff Johns didn’t give a damn about blending old continuity with New 52 stuff, I think that Venditti has his work cut out for him by throwing Hallax into the mix. I have no idea how that concept will vibe with the current state of the GL lore, but it probably explains how “Hal” stranded the Corps on the other side of the Source Wall in Green Lantern: The Lost Army 6. I’ll say this for Green Lantern 47 – at least they got rid of Hal’s nasty long hair; now we gotta work on that trench coat.

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Robin War 1

Robin War 1Drew: How much do you know about the War of the Roses? I’m not a huge history buff, but I know enough about the ascension of English monarchs to understand that its famous situation — where two men laid claim to the throne, mounting armies of loyalists on either side — was actually quite common. It’s like Game of Thrones (or, rather, Game of Thrones is clearly inspired by situations like the War of the Roses); the claimants and their motivations are clear as day, allowing us to understand exactly what they’re fighting for. In spite of the claim on its cover that “Robin War Begins Here,” Robin War 1 doesn’t give us much in the way of motivations for any of these characters, let alone why they would go to “war.”

I mean, sure, the “We are Robin” Robins seem to be more of a menace than a benefit, but we understand that they want to help fight crime. It seems, then, like the second they’re drawing time and energy away from other crimefighters, be they police or the “legitimate” Robins, they’re actually working against their own goals. In becoming outlaws, they’re diluting the power of the police to address other crimes. The same could equally be said of the “legitimate” Robins, who are also outlawed, and whose only motivation in this issue seems to be to shut the other Robins down. Again, in so doing, they prevent the police from doing their jobs as effectively.

For me, a big part of the problem is that this issue fails to put any of the Robins in situations where vigilantism is necessary. We open with a Robin stopping a liquor store robbery, but a cop shows up within three panels. That’s the only crime we see any Robin fighting in the whole issue, and it was both unnecessary, but also ended up killing two people. This issue makes a compelling case against vigilantism, never really bothering to mount a counterargument beyond our presumed investment in continued vigilantism in Gotham. The threat of the Court of Owls certainly could present a justification for vigilante justice, but until then, why don’t all of the robins just hang up their masks and lay low?

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The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

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21 comments on “DC Round-Up Comics Released 12/2/15

  1. Every week, DC Round-Up does not make me feel like I need to dive into DC’s offerings.

    Batman, Justice League, Midnighter, Nightwing, Constantine I think are my DC pull list… I might be missing one or two, but I think that’s about all I got. I’d love to want to read Aquaman, Wonder Woman, a Super-Man comic, but I haven’t found them engaging.

    Honestly, 5 comics is something a normal person would read. Maybe I’m just too close to realize if I find 5 good comics that I like every month, that’s pretty cool. I’ll go with that belief.

  2. Batman and Robin Eternal: Honestly, this disappointed me. Maybe it is just because we had two weeks of Valentine, but this was a step down. Had a good sense of humour (I enjoyed the quick throwaway line to the shark repellent, and Mother’s line about how she would wish all kids to have their parents killed if only she could get ‘rebuild’ the kids was fantastic) but other lines just didn’t work. Bane’s ‘Not All Men’ line just can’t be reconciled with what ‘Not All Men’ means these days.

    The bigger problem, though, is the way the story beats work. Bane just comes out of nowhere. The discussion with Dick and Harper feels forced, and dedicated more to making Harper have a exposition dump than properly exploring her character.

    Not every issue can be Seeley/Valentine

    Robin War: I think the problem with how you guys discussed Robin War is you treated Robin War as its own individual issue, instead of looking at how it relates to the Batman line as a whole (which, as a crossover, is essential). And this requires a lot of context.

    When the New 52 begun, Snyder introduced the Court of Owls, and in doing so, fundamentally changed a key part of the Batman mythos. Previously, Bruce Wayne was the Lord of Gotham, the old blood who protected his land. There is a reason he is known by the Feudal sounding Dark Knight. The Court of Owls changed that. Now, Batman was never part the lord of Gotham. He and the Batfamily are the people of Gotham rising up against their masters (it is notable that it is in this story that Harper Row is introduced). THis is followed up with Zero Year, that (building on Snyder’s amazing Dark Mirror story with Dick Grayson) defines Batman as primarily a man who decides to stand up and fight against impossible challenges, Gotham as a place that exists to challenge its inhabitants in impossible ways, and then states that each and every inhabitant of Gotham lives there, despite the dangers, because of that is what the people of Gotham do. To put it another way, everyone is Batman.

    This is, of course, what happens in Gotham after Zero Year, thanks to the amazing Mark Doyle, and the many amazing writers of the Batman office. Now, a bunch of school kids are Batman (even if Olive would never admit it). A bunch of weird policemen tracking down ghosts are Batman. Burnside hipsters are Batman. Even the mob is Batman (when Selina Kyle is in charge, at least). The role of Batman has been democratized. It no longer belongs to the ruling class. Batman is of the people, and even Frank Miller is writing about Batman beating up cops trying to shoot unarmed black men from the Narrows.

    And after all of this stuff, we end up with two comics. We Are Robin and, again, Snyder’s Batman. We Are Robin takes the idea of Batman for the people, and runs with it. The Robins are a social movement. The issues with the book aside, that comes through as clear as day, especially considering things like #BlackLivesMatter. Snyder’s Batman, however, has done the opposite. Having democratized Batman, he then steals him back for the ruling class, and created the new Commissioner Gordon Batman. The new Batman often finds himself antagonistic in everyone else’s books, while in the core book, Gordon’s heroics come from breaking away from the structures that surround him. Meanwhile, Mr Bloom acts as the living representation of the ruling class’s mistakes, to the point that when Mr Bloom comes face to face with Gordon’s bosses, all he says is ‘keep up the good work’.Basically, Gordon is working for the Court of Owls, and only able to achieve good when he breaks away.

    This is the landscape that Robin War is part of. The Robins represent the democratized Batman, the power of the people, and the social movements like #BlackLivesMatter. The police represent the Court of Owls, the establishment, the old ways, and the ways that are failing the world (and not just the world of Gotham, but our world). You don’t need to break the recent Batman comics down to this degree to get Robin War, but this explains why Robin War has to be treated as part of the greater Batman story, instead of by itself. And with this, we can get into the comic itself

    Now, honestly, I really don’t like the inciting incident. Not because it positions the Robins as incompetent and needing to be put down. But because, quite simply, it is not reflective of what it is supposed to reflect (I am honestly surprised that the writer of Omega Men and Sheriff of Babylon made that mistake). Quite simply, there is no War on Cops. Cops aren’t the people that are at risk. It is there brutality that is placing everyone at risk. Having read Bendis’ Daredevil recently, I remember how deftly he managed to get White Tiger arrested, while making sure that White Tiger was still a hero. Honestly, I would have gone with the Robin being murdered by the police officer in the confusion, and the police victim-blaming, leading to a crackdown on the delinquent Robins. This feels more reflective of the real world issues that Robin War is clearly about

    Still, the immediate follow up is perfect, from the paternalistic vibe of Noctura’s ‘We are adults, they are children’ to the police response being so over the top that it would be hilarious if I didn’t see the police do the exact same fucking thing on the news. This is followed up by Duke getting profiled for simply being red. Followed up with a good old fashioned hero moment, because ultimately (and importantly) this is a power fantasy about the members of the social movement really getting to be heroes.

    The rest of the comic is basically dealing with the fallout. Showing where everyone is going to stand. The comic is a little messy, as it tries to get every character into play. By far the worst Tom King book I read this week. But it is endlessly fascinating, and even in a fantastic week (we had both Prez and Vision) it is worth reading and rereading for all the little touches. Like how Noctura isn’t being allowed into the Court because she isn’t Old Money enough, or how the very nature of the Court of Owls plans (to make Dick Grayson Nightwing again) is regressive.

    For a crossover, Robin War looks like it has had a lot more thought put into it, and even as it looks like it will be messy, it will be theamtic in a way that few comics are. I’m all in

    • The crossover you described sounds fascinating, but I really don’t see any of that here. As someone who hasn’t read any of We Are Robin, but was nominally interested in this crossover, all I can say is that this issue utterly failed to represent the Robins as representing the common man. We never see them fighting for the oppressed, just ineptly thwarting a robbery and hiding from the police. Seeing them rise up to fight corporate greed or police brutality would go a long way to showing why they’re a needed force in Gotham, but nothing here makes them feel even remotely helpful. If this issue was only meant to be enjoyed by folks already versed in We Are Robin, so be it, but it utterly failed to convey the themes you described to any newcomers.

      • I don’t even think you need to read We Are Robin. Just have an awareness that We Are Robin exists. Though it is worth noting that they are the important part of the crossover. But if I was going to recommend one comic you had to read for context, I would recommend the current arc of Batman, personally.

        As I said in my first comment, King did mess up the first scene. While the lack of training of the Robins is important, I assume, it also doesn’t reflect what the concept of a gang of Robins mean .If it was the policeman messing up, you have a strong reason for the events to happen, you make clear that the Robins are needed, and you better reflect reality (to be fair, it actually is the policeman’s fault, as the Robin had sorted everything out until the policemen drew the gun and disrupted everything. The comic just didn’t do a good enough job at communicating that)

        On the whole fighting for the oppressed angle, the important thing about the democratization of Batman is that anyone can be Batman. That someone can fight crime without being part of the corrupt establishment currently empowering Mr Bloom. They don’t need to be fighting corporate greed (though that is certainly a good target), just crime. It is about the Peter Duggios solving the problems of the Narrows, and not the cop who shot Peter Duggio, to reference Batman 44. But, of course, this aspect would be a lot clearer if the first scene wasn’t handled so badly.

        But I’m surprised to hear you say that they aren’t fighting police brutality, considering Duke Thomas gets arrested due to metaphorical racial profiling. Black kid in a hoodie arrested for looking suspicious (though I understand the space requirements, it would have been better if this also happened to someone who wasn’t actually a Robin). Whatever your thoughts about the the shooting itself, the police’s actions are overly hostile and clear examples of police brutality. In general, the arrested kids aren’t just arrested, but brutalized.

        The big thing is that the first scene is piss poor, and therefore you kind of need to bring your knowledge of the greater Gotham Landscape to sort that out (primarily Snyder’s Batman). Once you contextualize the Robins properly, and look at this as the police brutality v social movement, this becomes, instead of a shitty crossover, a shitty crossover that also happens to be surprisingly intelligent and interesting.

        From a strict quality standpoint, it isn’t the best, but as the genius Film Crit Hulk (and trust me when I say he is a genius. One of the smartest critics around, despite the Hulk gimmick. I have learned so much about storytelling from him) said

        ‘RICK AND MORTY IS THE BEST SHOW ON TELEVISION
        OR AT LEAST THE MOST INTERESTING
        TO HULK IT’S THE SAME DIFF’

        Quite simply, Robin War is interesting. For all it’s flaws, it is a comic that is picking up from what Scott Snyder’s Batman is doing, and properly engaging with topics like police brutality. For all the flaws in the set up, scenes like Noctura talking to the Court of Owls, Jason talking about how being a Robin gave an angry man guidance or Duke Thomas and others suffering actual police brutality more than make up for the mistakes by, in a crossover between a hundred comics, engaging with social issues in an intelligent manner. Most intercomic crossovers like this are terrible, and if more could be like Robin War, we would be in a much better comics industry

        • Also, nothing is making me happier than the fact that half the Batman line is giving me an excuse to reference Batman 44. Not only a great issue, but an important one, and the fact that so many comics are following in its footsteps is a great sign for the Batman line, no matter what is happening with the rest of the DC

        • I feel a bit awkward defending the cop’s actions in the opening scene, but like: he walked in on a scene where one person was pointing a gun at the other. His insistence that the Robin put the gun down strikes me as logical and totally justifiable. There’s really no way for that interaction to start other than the cop insisting that he put down the gun.

          In any event, the point that that scene botches the message is key for someone who isn’t familiar with We Are Robin. With nothing else to go on, a new reader has to assume that this represents the Robins (I certainly wouldn’t put my assumptions about that series ahead of what actually plays out on the page), which completely undermines the case for them as vigilantes.

          I can see what you mean about the scene with Duke, but nothing here indicates how the Robins could ever actually combat things like racial profiling or police brutality. Crime fighting might be their method of social activism, but it doesn’t strike me as a method that could result in substantive policy changes. This issue may articulate the problems with police, but it doesn’t so much as hint at how vigilantes are solutions or even better alternatives (again, that botched opening scene begins after the Robin has already knocked the criminal out by breaking a bottle over his head).

          Again, the crossover you’re describing sounds fascinating, I just wish it was there on the page for anyone not already immersed in Batman lore.

        • Just because the cop’s actions were logical, doesn’t mean it wasn’t his fault. He arrived at a crime late, where it had already been successfully deescalated, and escalated it again, to fatal consequences. Yeah, it was logical for him to do those actions, but he is still at fault. Nothing would have gone wrong if the cop either hadn’t been there, or didn’t escalate the situation. Though this is a minor point, as (surprisingly, from the writer of Omega Men and Sheriff of Babylon) King has focused on the completely wrong aspects. The scene was a poor scene, and it does botch it.

          Still, I feel that even with the botched scene, there is enough to go on. You talking about not using your assumptions of the series, but the simple fact is that surely the very fact that We Are Robin is a comic published at this moment makes it fair to assume that the Robins are generally a force for good? There are many assumptions that you can enter this comic with which are unfair, but I think that the assumption that the Robins are generally a good thing is a perfectly fair assumption to make. And even if we talk about the completely blind reader (maybe picking up the comic from their friends house, without knowing what exactly is being published by DC), doesn’t Duke Thomas make it clear? He is the main character in the first issue, and the centre of the entire story so far (though that is likely too change as Grayson comes into play next issue) and is shown to be highly competent and a force for good. I struggle to see how you can look at Duke Thomas in this issue and not think that he is a proper force for good. And he, even more than the Robin from the start, represents the Robins as a whole.

          Now, onto the social movement stuff, because I think here, we are getting into an issue of reality and metaphor. The Robins aren’t an actual social advocacy group. However, they are a metaphor for those sorts of groups, as explored through the lens of superheroes. And I think this is clear even without reading We Are Robin (I honestly still stand by the fact that Snyder’s current arc on Batman is ten times more important to Robin War than We Are Robin), considering this comic has the police go full Ferguson on them. The Robins are a large group of marginalized people who have united under a common banner, in order to empower those marginalized. They are normal people taking the issues of the world (this being a superhero universe, crime is a big part of it) and taking it into their own hands, instead of waiting for the elites to arrive. They represent movements like #BlackLivesMatters, even if they aren’t a one for one perfect translation.

          And honestly, I find your point about there being no sign about the Robins being able to fight Police Brutality and Racial Profiling an odd one, because, as you admit, the scene with Duke makes it clear that this is what they are fighting in Robin War. Maybe they aren’t ready at the moment, but that is because it is the start of the story. Nothing about that whiny Moisture Farmer on Tatooine indicated that he could ever fight Imperialism, until Luke Skywalker meets up with Obi-Wan and finds a mentor. With Dick Grayson jumping out of a window and coming to Gotham, I think it is clear that Obi-wan is coming. I think a big part of Robin War is turning the RObins into the sort of force that actually can fight things like this.

          Have you tried rereading it from the point of view of accepting my premises and seeing what you think? We both agree the opening scene is flawed, but what do you think about Robin War if you look at it after accepting my premises? Because I think that is the big hurdle (and please note, I acknowledge that this is a big hurdle, and really wish the opening scene was stronger). Once you get over that problem, and you get a comic that is fascinating, in how it depicts the police, how it depicts the Court of Owls, or Noctura, or Jason Todd

        • Honestly, the simple fact that We Are Robins exists isn’t enough for me to assume they’re good. Nevermind that DC publishes more than a few series where the anti-hero is more of a villain than anything, I’ve recently been struggling with the in-universe justifications for many of their heroes. Batman is actually a great example of this: we never go back far enough to see anyone debate that there needs to be a new Batman in Gotham — it’s just taken as a given. To me, it seems like there should be a lot more debate about that point — especially if Batman is going to be a deputized member of the police, anyway.

          Bruce Wayne fought crime because he was tramatized by his parents’ murder. Peter Parker fights crime because his powers give him the responsibilities to help others. Why do these Robins fight crime? This issue never says. Sure, I can assume it’s because they’re “good guys” (even if that’s just about the least compelling motivation I can think of) but without knowing more about them (other than that opening scene), I honestly can’t assume they’re good guys. It’s obvious that they mean well, but this issue doesn’t demonstrate that there’s a need for them to do whatever it is that they do. We never see them helping anybody.

          Please, believe that I’m not refusing to accept your premise. I absolutely believe that your reading is there if you are able to accept all of these things about the Robins going in. My point is just that it’s impossible to come up with if you aren’t familiar with the Robins, which is where I’m coming from.

        • I completely understand that it isn’t you refusing to accept my premise, just you trying to understand how we are supposed to build that premise with just Robin War. I was more asking you to try that because I wondered what you think of the issue if you read it from the PoV of those premises being true. Even as we discuss the validity of those premises, I’m also interested if, once those premises have been accepted, you see the interesting stuff I do.

          Now, onto the in-universe justifications part

          One important thing about the DC and Marvel universes is that this is a world where supervillains exist. The Joker really is poisoning the water supply. The Red Skull really is infiltrating SHIELD. That’s why there is no debate about whether or not we need a new Batman. Of course we do. You need someone whose job it is to protect Gotham when the Scarecrow attacks next. With Batman dead and all of the members of the Batfamily out of town (the closest is Batgirl in Burnside), of course there is the need for a deputized ‘superhero’ to deal with the supervillains (you can argue that they could have formed a super special SWAT team, but the genre rules dictate that a man in an Iron Man suit is better than a commando team). And then they called this figure Batman, because it is good marketing and symbolism. That’s how simple the justification for any hero is. There are threats that normal police can’t deal with, and somehow, due to a superpower, an armored prosthesis or just the right drive, the superhero can. This same justification works for the Robins. In their comic, there are issues that only they can deal with. What justifies their presence is who they are and what they do

          So, let’s focus on the characters. The Robin at the start of the comic, Travis, successfully takes out a robber, before attempting to deescalate a situation with the police (and uses his affiliation with the Robin movement as proof that he is a good guy). Then, when things go wrong and he is in over his head, he panics. When talking to Duke, he is shown to be scared, but guilty and with enough integrity, that once Duke tells him what to do, he walks to the police station to hand himself in, before being killed by a Talon just outside.

          The other Robin we look at is Duke. Duke proves himself quickly to be committed to the Robin cause, with a distrust of the establishment (even private schools like Gotham Academy) and a sense of humour that may get him into a bit more trouble than he would get into anyway. Unlike Travis, he is proven to be competent and practical. However, more importantly, he has a strong sense of responsibility. Despite the comic making it clear that Duke leads only one small cell, he quickly placing himself at the leadership position over everyone, and as his first order of business, is focused entirely on making sure the movement takes responsibility for their mistake by asking Travis to come forward. Even when the actual Robin appears and gives him orders, he is committed to fixing the situation, and proves completely unwilling to stand down when he could fight for what is right

          Why do they fight crime? Who knows? Well, I do, as do the readers of the comic, but who cares about us. As Batman said, ‘It’s not who I am, but what I do that defines me’. Most of the time, you don’t need to know the character’s origin. We may know that Bruce Wayne watched his parents die, or that Peter Parker learned that ‘With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’ but honestly, these origins aren’t actually too important in many stories. From the perspective of a writer, the origin helps you understand what a character is going to do, but the reader doesn’t always need to know the exact reason unless it is relevant for the story. I’m not complaining about Red Robin’s role in this comic, and I still have no idea what his origin is in the New 52. For that same reason, while Duke Thomas and the others have origins being told in their own book, you don’t need to know them. Why they are fighting crime doesn’t matter

          Currently, we are in Awards Season in the world of film, and are discussing the movies that are going to win the Oscars. Despite the Oscar’s longstanding aversion to rewarding the best movies of the year (god, we got lucky when they gave 12 Years a Slave Best Picture), this has meant that many people are discussing what they think are the best movies. And the movie that everyone is talking about is Mad Max: Fury Road. The National Board of Film and the Boston Online Film Critics Association have called it the Best Movie, while the LA Film Critics Association had it come second place, while giving George Miller the award for Best Directing. Actual Oscar predictions are predicting nominations for Mad Max in the Best Picture and Best Director category. Mad Max Fury Road is clearly one of, if not the best movie of the year. And despite being a follow up to a 30 year old franchise that most of culture forgot because we don’t like to talk about Mel Gibson, Fury Road had no origin. There was a couple of fast visions that suggested he had lost many people he was close to, but no explanation about his family, or his past life as a cop or any of that other important stuff (and they are important stuff). And yet the movie is amazing, because while it is important to Max’s character and informs his actions, you don’t need to know all the nitty gritty.

          Doctor Who is another fantastic example. The closest thing we have to an origin for the Doctor is that he ran away from Gallifrey because he was bored. We have no idea why he goes around fighting Daleks and Cybermen.

          What we have here is a story beginning in typical Superhero fashion (Cold Open against generic crook, that escalates into a story where the same hero fights a villain. And the villain they are fighting (the Court of Owls secretly controlling the cops) is the sort of villain that justifies every party being involved. Each character gets introduced, and I believe all characters, from Travis, to Duke, to Jason, to Tim, to Daimian, to Gordon, to Dick, are introduced in ways that justify why they have a stake in the story. And that’s all you need.

          Instead of looking at Travis, who is clearly over his point, have a look at Duke (and by extension, the rest of the Robin community, who are shown to follow Duke’s lead). Does Duke’s actions justify him as a force of good in Gotham?

          And also don’t forget this. You mention that the Robins, both from We Are Robin and the actual comics, are doing nothing but making the police’s job harder. Does the fact that the police are being controlled by the Court of Owls justify the actions of all the Robins? Does the fact that the police are entirely under the control of supervillains mean that a bunch of vigilantes making things harder for the cops is a good thing?

        • On premises: it’s not that I want to see an origin story, I just want to understand their motives. Risking life and limb to fight crime is an extraordinary decision, and I want to know what it is that makes them different from anyone in Gotham who isn’t fighting crime. The reason this is important is that the issue really only demonstrates how things can go wrong for them. The fact that they insist to continue in spite of the dangers of doing so (to themselves and others) and open antagonism from the police sure makes it seem like they’re motivated by something.

          Fury Road works because Max isn’t motivated in this way for the first two-thirds of it — he’s just running for his life, and teaming up with Furiosa and the wives is his best bet at survival. When he stops them from riding to their deaths, we don’t need any more motivation than their interactions leading up to that moment (and the by then long-established fact that Max can hold his own in a fight). Furiosa’s motives are more interesting, but again, we get enough to see that she’s also good in a fight, and that her friends being sex slaves is enough to motivate her to risk her own life. Backstory isn’t necessary there, because the right thing to do is always so obvious.

          This issue doesn’t present anything so clean cut. Unlike Fury Road, they’re never put in a position where fighting on is clearly the right thing to do. We don’t see that fighting crime is necessarily a force for good, because we never see them do it well. Sure, Duke is clearly well-meaning, but he’s also a kid — there’s lots of room for him to be misguided in his attempts to help. Without definitive evidence that they are actually doing the right thing, but some damning evidence that they might be a dangerous x-factor, it’s hard to agree that they’re for sure good guys.

          Here’s where I think understanding their motives would help. I need to see the need for them. What happens if they don’t fight? What made them fight in the first place? Why is the Robin symbology so important that they don’t just discard it to stay ahead of the police? Again, these are extraordinary decisions, so I need some hint of why they’re making them. I absolutely agree that the Owls represent a fantastic justification for vigilantism, but the Robins don’t know that they’re involved yet. Maybe I’ll enjoy this more once that point is dragged out into the open, but for now, this issue failed to show me what the Robins are all about.

  3. So busy writing about Robin War that I forgot about Prez. Which is a shame, as Prez is amazing.

    ‘This is your lucky day, Madame President’
    ‘A Madame is a woman that runs a whorehouse’
    ‘Exactly’

    That was a line that had me laughing so hard, and perfectly represents the cynical view of the comic.

    What Prez does so well is comically exaggerate the real world, in a way that still feels emotionally honest. Every aspect of the comic clearly links to the real world, and the exaggeration never feels like it is being used to push a dishonest view of the issue. No matter if we are talking about the Christian Right or the Church of Wormology, the line ‘Everyone agrees with the separation of church and state. It is the seperation of their church where they have a problem’ is still relevant.

    And that’s the secret. It is utterly hilarious, with a wonderfully cartoony world, but also feels truly applicable to the real world. Combine that with Prez actually being an active protagonist who gets to succeed, so we can get the catharsis of seeing everything messed up get corrected (while doing so in a way that makes it clear that whatever catharsis we get from the comic, that the real world still has all these problems)

    This is a forgotten gem, and quite simply, it is better than nearly anything else Marvel or DC have released. Only Omega Men and Vision (and maybe Snyder’s Batman) is comparable.

    Everyone should read this

  4. Going to start here, so that future posts are easier to read and write.

    In Fury Road, Max’s backstory is essential to his story arc. It is honestly a lot more complicated than ‘he is running for his life, and teams up with Furiosa’. Both Max’s family and his past as a cop inform his actions. They form a coherent psychology that explains both why his focus is on escaping alone, and why he comes to protect the wives. Max’s actions aren’t as simple as the fact that Furiosa is his best bet for survival. They are part of it, but only a practical consideration that exists alongside emotional considerations. Emotional considerations that are never stated (because they are stated in the first Mad Max movie), but inform everything. Just like the emotional considerations of why Duke and the Robins exist in We Are Robin, but aren’t explicitly stated. What is more important is that they feel committed to the fight, and wish to continue helping (on the Robin symbology, that’s being ignored because it just isn’t interesting. Yeah, they could change their outfits and continue, but then the laws would change to arrest anyone in blue hoodies and you lose the Robin aspect).

    Also, is it important that the Robins don’t know about the Owls. You are asking for justification by the narrative for the existence of the Robins. Your article above mentions that ‘we understand that they want to help fight crime’ (which explains why the characters are doing what they do), but that the real problem is that ‘For me, a big part of the problem is that this issue fails to put any of the Robins in situations where vigilantism is necessary’. Except that’s the Court of Owls. Even if the Robins don’t know it, the very fact that the police who are supposed to be doing everything the the Robins do are controlled by supervillains is justification that for the Robins existence in the narrative.

    Quite simply, what more justification do you need for Duke Thomas being a vigilante? He is shown to be driven in his pursuit of helping others (since he refuses to stop being a Robin), highly competent (as demonstrated by his ability to escape the cops), and is responsible (as demonstrated by the fact that his first order of action is to find the one responsible and persuade him to go to the police). And the police that he is supposedly getting in the way of are being controlled by the Court of Owls. That certainly makes Duke Thomas hero material. If we want to know exactly why he is a hero, We Are Robin and Batman explore him further. But Duke, who represents the Robins in the first issue, justifies the existence of the Robins entirely.

    In a world where the police are controlled by the Court of Owls, why wouldn’t you want a vigilante like Duke Thomas running around?

    • I agree that Max’s backstory is essential to his story arc, but not necessarily for the narrative as a whole, which arguably isn’t really about him. We see enough to motivate his actions within the story, which is what I want from this issue.

      I’m going to question the first of your assertions about Duke — that his refusal to stop being a Robin reveals a commitment to helping others. I don’t disagree that he thinks that’s what he’s doing, but with no evidence other than the events of this issue, it really seems like the Robins may be doing more harm than good. Yes, the Court of Owls represents a situation where vigilantism would be called for, but none of the characters here know that the Owls have anything to do with it. The Owls might justify their vigilantism to us, but what justifies it to Duke?

      (Also, the more I think about it, that last scene suggests that the Robins are just as much puppets in this as the police are. They’re not so much fighting the Owls as they are pawns in their game. It’s all a moot point in motivating the characters right now, but it makes understanding their motivations all the more essential, because it maybe undermines the “they’re fighting the Court of Owls” justification.)

      This issue presents a giant negative of empowering a bunch of untrained kids to fight crime. It’s clear that Duke thinks there are positives, but seeing those are essential to understanding and trusting him on this. My introduction to this group was that first scene, and I didn’t see anything in Duke’s words or actions that justified perpetuating those risks. Those justifications need to be articulated in order to explain why those risks are worth it. Two people die, and none of the Robins even suggest reevaluating their mission. Either they’re illogically unwilling to question what they’re doing, or they have a VERY compelling reason to keep fighting. Without explicit evidence of the latter, I think it’s reasonable to withhold accepting them as heroes.

      • Max’s backstory is essential to his story arc, just like Duke’s is to his story arc. Both backstories inform their actions within the narrative, but Fury Road is reliant on knowing about Max’s previous life for the story to work, just as Robin War isn’t reliant on Duke’s. The narrative is reliant of who they are and how they act.

        Duke refusal to stop being a Robin doesn’t necessarily reveal a commitment to helping others, but combined with his sense of responsibility, it does. If he was in it for the kicks, his first thoughts wouldn’t be to fix the mistake. At the very least, the evidence suggests that it is more likely that Duke does this out of a true commitment to doing good, than out of a need for an adrenaline rush.
        And what justifies it to Duke, since he is unaware of the Court? The exact same thing that justifies Max pointing a shotgun at Furiosa and the wives, so that he can steal the Rig and abandon them. Duke’s origin justifies his actions to himself, but the details of the origin aren’t important. What matters is that Duke is a hero.

        The Robins are being manipulated by the Court (though to be fair, the ones being manipulated are primarily Red Hood and Red Robin, who called Dick), but the police are under the complete control of the Court. The police are doing utterly everything Noctua wants, while all the Robins are making their own decisions.Even if they are being manipulated, the very fact that they are not under the direct control of the Court justifies their existence. Because the police are under the direct control of the Owls.

        The issue does show a big negative to the Robins. But it also shows the positives, like not being controlled by the Court of Owls, people like Duke Thomas who are committed, competent and responsible, not being controlled by the Court of Owls, people like Travis being able to respond faster than the police, and not being controlled by the Court of Owls.
        The comic has made it clear that Robin War is going to discuss their lack of training, but also that these characters are heroic. They are clearly more than just a menace, and can’t as easily be brushed aside. That’s why I made such a point about the Court of Owls. The Court of Owls, and the way the police reacted to the Robins justify their existence. The fact that the police are under control of supervillains, and the fact that the police’s response to events is full of the brutality that is being rightfully criticized in real life. If this is the police, an alternative is needed. And Robin War presents an alternative. They have their issues, they aren’t perfect, but they are interested in improving. The fact that the police have Noctua and the Robins have Duke Thomas is enough to show that despite the fact that both parties are flawed, only one faction is dedicated to actually doing the right thing.

        There was a liquor store robbery, and a Robin and a cop got involved. The cop misread the situation and escalated a solved situation. A Robin panicked and killed two people. Only one faction treated their role in it with any sense of responsibility. And that was the Robins

        • I’m really not questioning that Duke thinks he’s doing the right thing, just whether this issue effectively communicates that it really is the right thing. With only the evidence I see him receive in this issue, I’d have to think the prudent move would be to call the Robins off. To me, that would be the act of heroism: acknowledging that he made a mistake that cost people their lives, and doing everything in his power to make sure it never happens again. If there’s a compelling reason to do the opposite (as far as Duke is concerned), it isn’t shown in this issue, which leaves me questioning Duke’s motivations. Good intentions aren’t enough (that dead cop had good intentions) — I don’t even know why he fights at all, let alone why he would continue to fight when it presents a clear risk to others. Comics are full of villains and misguided anti-heroes whose origins justify their actions to themselves, so I can’t take it on faith that those origins also justify those actions to me — at least, not when the evidence suggests that their actions are (directly or indirectly) killing people. It must be a hell of a motivation to justify those risks, which is why I’m so baffled in its absence.

        • Quite simply, the reason he doesn’t call them off is because it would break the plot. Now, I want to link to a particular Film Crit Hulk article who can explain this stuff better than I ever could (I recommend everyone here reads him. One of the most insightful critics ever). We can talk about Duke simply breaking up the Robins, but then there isn’t a story anymore. That is why King found a different way of having Duke deal with the responsibility the Robins have.

          Which is why Duke does what he does. He acknowledges a mistake was made, and so he makes a point to find Travis (also note that Travis actually comes forward in the end). His plan, to deal with this tragic mistake, is to find the Robin responsible, have the Robin go to the police and tell his side of the story while proving that the Robins hold themselves accountable for their mistakes. How is that not an act of heroism?
          You are right that the dead policeman had good intentions, but unlike Travis, the dead policeman didn’t belong to an organization who decided to take responsibility for the policeman’s mistakes. That is what justifies Duke and the others. Not their intentions, but the fact that they are prepared to take responsibility for their side’s mistake. It takes two to tango on both the policeman and Travis had massive mistakes with grievous consequences. The police aren’t.

          Here’s a question. Who in Gotham do you have the most faith in at the moment, to protect Gotham? The police, and by extension Batman, are controlled by the Court of Owls (when they aren’t cocking it up of their own free will and empowering Mr Bloom). Batgirl is in Burnside, while Dick Grayson, Red Hood, Red Robin and Robin are all flying around the world on their own missions as part of Spyral, the Titans, Daimian Wayne’s redemption quest and whatever the hell Jason does with Arsenal. None of them are on the streets of Gotham. There are only two choices, once Dick, Jason, Tim and Daimian jet off again.

          Only two choices, and when both sides made mistakes, that cost the lives of a good man, only one side accepted their role in the death

        • I appreciate that writers sometimes need to have characters defy logic to sustain a plot, but for me, their success in that hinges entirely on whether or not they can make it feel believable and natural (or, at the very least, make it not feel unbelievable and unnatural). I want to be clear, my trouble with this issue wasn’t because I expect stories to have airtight storytelling with impeccable logic. What I do expect is a writer to be graceful enough with the story to sustain my suspension of disbelief. A successful story might have plenty of plot-holes, but its crafted in a way that keeps them from becoming distracting. In this case, I think understanding Duke’s specific motivation to continue his mission in spite of the deaths of these two people is essential. I can’t simply accept that it’s heroic because my only evidence shows how reckless it is. I’m not denying that there might be other evidence, just that it needed to be shown for me to accept Duke’s actions as heroic.

          I don’t find the “they’re better than Gotham cops” argument particularly compelling — the infamous corruption of the GCPD sets that bar far too low for clearing it to mean anything. And honestly, I think the level of corruption in the GCPD always strains credulity. Why are children the only ones with the clarity to see it? Is every adult in Gotham to ignorant, corrupt, or afraid to see what’s wrong with their city? This is starting to get into my problems with YA stories generally, which I won’t bore everyone with now. The point is, I think a posse of children rising up to fight crime in their city is an unusual enough phenomenon to warrant an explanation beyond the fact that crime is bad.

        • Duke choosing not to break up the Robins and instead find the one responsible isn’t defying logic to sustain a plot. It is seeing that two different solutions exist, and choosing the one that best serves the story. Breaking up the Robins and finding Travis both are methods to show Duke taking responsibility. One doesn’t break the plot. You are right that there is nothing wrong with a plot hole, if the story is crafted in a way that distracts you. But there is no plot hole here. There were simply two different methods of showing Duke taking responsibility, and King chose one.

          And I think a lot of social change can be described as iteration. Even revolution rarely breaks the wheel, just creates the next status quo. Being better than what came before is the name of the game. On a diegetic level, the Robins are better than the corrupt police. On a thematic level, Democratized Batman of the people is better than the Batman of the State, the Batman who rules Gotham from his castle and protects his subjects. And that’s the thing. Robin War wants you to be cognizant of the flaws of the Robins (hell, I could even put turn this thematically. The Robins lack of training reflects, for example, the dangers of citizen journalism). But the Robins are both a flawed status quo and a better status quo. The Robins have demonstrated a wish to improve, to become better, but even after all of that, something else needs to come along in the future and iterate further, to an even better status quo.

          Also, does the corruption of the GCPD strain credibility here? I remember seeing photos from Ferguson, and none of their actions here are too different to what happened there.

          Though the more interesting thing here is your stuff about the YA stories. I like to think of YA stories like this to ultimately be about Teenage Rebellion. Ahout Tennagers breaking away from their parents and finding their own path. That’s why, as much as I love Legend of Korra, I believe it fails as a YA work. It ultimately sides with the parents. I could mention how Donald Trump’s support makes it very clear why the adults aren’t seeing it, or how, as much as I dislike the site and how it goes about things, Tumblr makes clear how teenagers actually do often have some degree of clarity in events like this (think of the importance that social media played in things like Ferguson). But ultimately, that is how the very YA genre works. Teenagers rising up against corrupt institutions is the metaphor for teenagers breaking away from their parents and establishing their own identities. Which means that in a YA book, the people who rise up will always be the kids.

          I think the real problem is that you simply don’t care for YA stories, and can’t accept the underlying premises of the genre. Nothing wrong with that, but as a general rule, you should do everything you can do to avoid anything with the word Robin in it, especially now, as Robin has always been closely tied to YA storytelling

        • For me, Duke making this decision without an explicit justification does represent a plot-hole. I need more to understand it. For me, finding the person responsible and making sure this situation isn’t repeated aren’t equivalent.

          You might be right about Robin things not being for me anymore, but I think that’s a shame. Each of the Batman-sanctioned Robins used to represent fascinating psychological profiles that weren’t inherently YA. Dick was the immaculate oldest brother, Tim was the even more accomplished youngest brother, and Jason was the middle son that resented the comparison to the other two. I even liked Damian as the new, more legitimate son who upset the order. The democritazation of Batman may open up new horizons for other characters, but I’m really going to miss the intra-family dynamics of Batman’s “official” Robins.

        • I think any exploration of what Robin means is going to fall into YA tropes, not just the new, democratized Batman stuff. Tim Drake’s original origin is basically reliant on him being the only person to understand how exactly to stop Batman from being especially brutal.

          You can certainly enjoy the family dynamic of the traditional Robins in something like Batman and Robin Eternal. Those family dynamics will exist whenever they all get together. But I think aesthetically, any story exploring what Robin actually means is going to fall in YA and into tropes you don’t care for.

          And while I’ll happily debate with you over and over about interpretation, as we have, there is nothing wrong with not liking a particular aesthetic choice. So Robin War is the wrong aesthetic for you? A shame, just as it is a shame that there are many great things that don’t fit my sense of aesthetics.

          And thanks for the discussion. Always great to have an intelligent argument

        • Yep. This may just come down to a matter of taste. I’ve also enjoyed this debate — these kinds of discussions are exactly why we keep this site up!

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