The police don’t trust the Robins! The people don’t trust the Robins! The Robins don’t trust the other Robins! And the Owls? They’re just straight-up bad news! Welcome to our coverage of the Robin War tie-in issues released December 9th, 2015. Patrick, Michael, Mark and Spencer discuss Grayson 15, Detective Comics 47, Red Hood and Arsenal 7 and Gotham Academy 13.
Patrick: What good is a big cross-over story about “Robins,” without some high-minded rumination on what it means to be Robin? That’s no kind of cross-over Tim Seely, Tom King and Mikel Janin want to be involved in! Perhaps because Robin War 1 was written by King, or just because Dick is the progenitor of the Robin title, this issue appears to have more emotional stakes in Robin War than anything I’d read previously or since. Which is good because there’s really just the one plot development within these pages. Lead by Dick, the Original Robins (or “the Originals”) decide to train each of the Occupy Sidekick Robins, all the while instilling them with the spirit of Robin, and then Dick ultimately turns them all in to the police. It’s not quite the out-of-the-gate action spectacular I expected, but it does do an alarmingly effective job of establishing who all of these Robins are (or… most of them anyway).
Actually, maybe that’s a point of contention I have with the issue. I made an “Occupy Sidekick” joke above, but We Are Robin is supposed to be the superheroification of the Occupy Wallstreet movement – it’s mostly kids, they don’t have any leaders, they claim to represent the disenfranchised and underserved in the population. They are amorphous, making it all but impossible to attack their structure. And I think that’s something Seely, King and Janin see as a virtue, as demonstrated by this amazing first page, filled to the brim with new Robins.
That’s a cool fucking page, and it shows off one on Janin’s finest skills – drawing compelling, varied and expressive human faces. It’s a cool little piece of rhetoric too, but these kids claiming not to be part of a group of Robins, but simple asserting that each of them is Robin. If this is a moment meant to rally, Damian shuts it down on the next page with a simple “no you’re not.” Then the team of highly trained Original Robins reveal themselves to be one tier of leader, and the separate out another four exceptional Robins to expose yet another tier. Maybe that power structure was always in place, and it’s just a combination of Dick and Damian’s no-sense leadership that cut through the rhetorical bullshit, but it certainly lends credence to Drew’s question from last week about whether this is a movement worth fighting for at all.
I actually really liked this issue – it’s always fun to see writers try to distill each Robin down to a single experience, or sentence or word. I think the one that stood out most to me was Damian’s point that to be a Robin is to suffer. Ouch. He always seems like he’s having a good time, but that cuts deep for me. A ten year old kid only knows suffering? Geez, maybe even the OG Robin program is rotten…
Detective Comics 47
Michael: Frickin’ crossover events. I read Detective Comics 47 before I read Grayson 15 so I unintentionally skipped ahead; but I’ll be honest, I didn’t notice and it didn’t really make much of a difference. All of the Robins are being held in GCPD’s specialized Robin prison “The Cage”: a bunch of two-person prison cells suspended from the ceiling. Believe it or not, I actually do try to suspend my disbelief when I’m reading comics. But the apprehension of the Robins has got me scratching in a couple of ways. First off, when exactly did the city decide to fund and build this super villain lair-stylized trap? Bullock talks about The Cage as if it were built for this purpose, but the “Robin laws” only went in effect a few days prior. And it seems unforgivably impossible that GCPD wouldn’t unmask everyone of these kids upon their arrest. They’re clearly not concerned with the rights of these minors, so why not unmask them?
Dick and Gordon have the typical “classic superhero misunderstanding” rooftop battle until they realize that they’re both on the same side. Through their back-and-forth Fawkes illustrates that besides being the “big brother Robin,” Dick’s legacy as Robin is at stake in “Robin War.” That’s a cool idea – we often talk at length about Batman’s impact and legacy, but clearly the role that Dick instituted also holds a lot of cultural weight. Dick Grayson is such a great character that it’s always interesting to see his interactions with other Gothamites, especially with someone he has a long history with like Jim Gordon.
This is more of a complaint of Robin War as a whole, but I’m still disappointed with the narrative choice to make The Court of Owls’ involvement so blatant – as well as their supposed goal of Dick Grayson returning to the fold. Much like the Dark Knight himself, the Court typically lives in the shadows, so their uncharacteristic forthrightness in Detective Comics 47 seems a little off. The resident Owl mask basically all but villainously monologues the Court’s plans to the captive Robins. It looks like the Court has at least a handful of cops in its pocket, but did you notice the MULTIPLE owl statues Steve Pugh drew throughout the Cage? Not to mention how ridiculous that fact is, that would indicate that the entire force was on the Court’s payroll. At the very least, Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock are better detectives than that.
Red Hood and Arsenal 7
Mark: Maybe it’s because this issue takes place concurrently with the events of Robin War 1 rather than playing an integral part in moving the overall Robin War plot forward, but despite the odds against it (Joker’s Daughter is heavily featured, written by Scott Lobdell) it’s one of the Robin War tie-ins I enjoyed most this week. Red Hood and Arsenal strikes me as DC’s version of a (pretty hit or miss) Deadpool book, and there are definitely moments of that here, but a lot of the quips and snark disappear when Red Robin and Red Hood discuss their relationship and their time as Robins. Seeing the Bat Family bounce off each other in various parings and incarnations has always been one of the pleasures of the larger Batman universe, and it once again works well here.
The second half of the issue, with Arsenal and Joker’s Daughter teaming up to take down C-listers Phosphorous Rex, Big Top, and Siam, is less interesting, but still fairly painless for anything featuring Joker’s Daughter. Lobdell does some work to try and reform the character to make her a little more sympathetic. And while it’s impossible to know whether her new leaf will last, it at least makes her tolerable to have around which is a big improvement to my mind!
Gotham Academy 13
Spencer: By the time I walked into my Local Comic Shop on Wednesday afternoon, Gotham Academy 13 had already sold out. The clerk mentioned that a lot of readers who didn’t normally pick the book up were checking it out because of the “Robin War” tie-in, and that attempt to woo new readers explains a lot about this issue — specifically, why it feels just a hair off from its normal quality. With Becky Cloonan and Karl Kerschl taking the issue off I suppose it was inevitable that this installment might have a different feel, but the need for Branden Fletcher to tell a complete story that also ties into the Robin War hamstrings the issue in other ways as well.
For starters, combining a one-off mystery story with an appearance from Riko (of We Are Robin) and her Robin drama doesn’t leave enough room to wrap up either story adequately. Riko’s story boils down to a glorified advertisement for the other issues of the crossover without contributing much on its own, and while the Detectives Club’s discovery of a real live zombie (who may also be connected to the Silverlocke legacy) seems to be setting up some interesting plots for the future, its involvement in this issue just ends without much in the way of resolution; this is especially jarring when you realize that it’s the first legitimate supernatural creature the Detectives Club has discovered since forming!
Moreover, most of the cast feels just slightly “off”; their dialogue feels different and more expository at times, and their personalities often feel like they’ve been simplified to better fit into typical archetypes (Colton’s net trap is far more complicated than any of his other inventions, casting him as more of a Dexter’s Lab-esque kid genius than he’s normally portrayed as, while Kyle doesn’t put down his tennis racket until halfway through the issue, even when chasing monsters through greenhouses, cause he’s a jock, dont’cha know?). This is no doubt meant to keep this tie-in new reader friendly, but in doing so, Fletcher fails to tap into the richness of story and character that typically makes Gotham Academy worth reading in the first place.
Fortunately, there’s still good to be found within this issue. For all the talk of tie-ins and monsters, the central plot still boils down to a very human conflict — as all the best issues of Gotham Academy inevitably do. With Olive being the Batman-hating daughter of a supervillain and Maps being a Robin-worshipping adventurer, it was no doubt inevitable that they’d eventually clash, but the friendship they’ve built over the past dozen issues — which Fletcher wisely reinforces earlier in the issue after Riko tests it — makes Olive’s apparent betrayal all the more upsetting.
Their conflict is unique to the characters and fits naturally into the story being told, even in such an otherwise crowded issue, but perhaps even more importantly, the fight leads Maps to our surprise guest star, Damian Wayne! Even though Maps never finds out she’s talking to Damian, his brief appearance still manages to steal the entire issue, developing both characters and planting numerous seeds to explore in the future all at the same time. The outcome of this war may still be up in the air, but I think I know what Robin won this issue.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?