Robin War Round-Up 12/9/15

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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.

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Grayson 15

Grayson 15Patrick: 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.

I am robin

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…

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Detective Comics 47

Detective Comics 47Michael: 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.

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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.  

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Red Hood and Arsenal 7

Red Hood and Arsenal 7Mark: 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!

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Gotham Academy 13

Gotham Academy 13Spencer: 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.

Olive's betrayal

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.

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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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9 comments on “Robin War Round-Up 12/9/15

  1. It really is stupendous what a difference Janin makes to Grayson. I loved the issue, but after a Janin-less issue 14, this one felt especially sweet. King and Seeley are great on the book, but I think Janin’s our MVP.

    (Also interesting how much I like the book even without the Spyral/spy stuff. What makes Grayson great really is just this team’s take on Dick, and I’d love to see these three continue with the character even after the Spyral stuff ends, which I assume it eventually will)

    As for Red Hood, my opinion is the opposite of Mark’s — God forgive me, I was actually a little invested in the Joker’s Daughter stuff, but largely rolled my eyes at the Tim/Jason stuff. The dialogue is awful, and I just don’t like Lobdell’s take on Tim, or on his relationship with Jason. Lobdell’s moved Tim so far from the character he once was (when was Tim EVER an outcast or on the outskirts of the Batfamily before the New 52? He was easily its most important sidekick character for a good 15 years, more important to the Bat-Family at large than even Dick!) that I just can’t get invested in it anymore. I know that all writers need to have their own takes on characters and that all Big 2 comics are essentially fan fiction, but for some reason Lobdell’s Tim (and to a lesser extent, his Jason) has always felt particularly self-indulgent to me.

  2. I’ll echo Michael’s complaint about the obviousness / ridiculousness of the Owls’ involvement in DetCom 47. How many of these issues need to end with a final-page Owls reveal? Tension between the cops and the Robins should really be enough to grant the whole conflict credibility – I’m not sure what we stand to gain from knowing that the Owls are the big bad from the jump. That might have been a fun surprise at some point down the road.

    I wonder if Pugh and Fawkes’ liberal use of Owl shit is just innocent overstepping. Remember how that Red Hood issue of Death of the Family said that Jason Todd’s whole life was orchestrated by the Joker? Or how about Harley being one of many Harley’s Joker has recruited and tried to dispose of over time? That’s the kind of shit creators do to keep up with the event, but it’s too ambitious of an overcorrection.

  3. Grayson: In my experience of leaderless movements, there is no such thing a true leaderlessness. This may be due to the fact that the leaderless movements I’ve studied have a neo-fascist bent to them, and are therefore particularly susceptible to creating leaders (and to being horrible people). But even outside the dark, dark pits of neo-fascists, I still don’t believe that true leaderless movements exist. Ultimately, a leader is someone who helps everyone else get things done. A leaderless movement is going to have people come up with a plan, rally the troops and become a leader.

    I would argue that a leaderless movement’s primary trait is a lack of a formalized hierarchy. So currently, there is an informal hierarchy of the Original Robins, then the Middletown Cell, then everyone else. But tomorrow, Maria from the East End cell could set herself up as a leader, and the hierarchy, for better or for worse, changes. So I don’t find the current hierarchy as betraying the idea of the Robins.

    And yeah, this is just good comics. King was uneven in the first issue, as he tried to set everything up, but he writes this issue wonderfully, as both a perfect issue of Grayson and the next step of the crossover. I completely agree that it would be awesome to see King and Seeley continue writing Grayson when he eventually becomes Nightwing again (even if I want him to stay a spy for as long as he can. I think making him the centre of DC’s Superspy world instead of the other Gotham vigilante has done wonders for Dick’s character by letting him truly have a place in the universe that isn’t second to Bruce. Hopefully, once the Spyral plotline is resolved, Dick and Helena just take over and run a truly heroic spy agency). Strong characterization for everyone, even the other members of the Middletown Cell, wonderful art by Janin and all sorts of other great stuff. Strongest issue so far

    Detective Comics: Honestly, I don’t have too much of a problem with the question of where the cages came from. It is clear that the Court of Owls have had this plan for a long time, just waiting for the right trigger. It is actually a plot point in this issue. So the Court have their facility ready isn’t that big of a deal. Why the actual Robins haven’t been unmasked is a bigger problem though. Maybe that’s why they brought up due process? No actual procedure, just bunging all the Robins in the Owl’s cage?

    This issue isn’t too strong. Damian is perfect. Both the cleverness of his plan, and the sense of superiority. But Fawkes seemed to have missed the memo about how Duke was supposed to rally the Robins inside and explain the plan (which is a shame, as that would have been a great example of what I was talking about when I mentioned rapidly changing hierarchies). And while I understand that Detective Comics is a Batman book, everything about this event is about the Robins in general and Dick, Duke and the Robin movement specifically, so I wish Fawkes didn’t make Gordon a viewpoint character. Let Grayson be the viewpoint character outside the cell, since this isn’t Gordon’s event. And yeah, this issue was far too obvious with the Owls. I don’t mind this issue ending with an Owls reveal, as I do believe the fact that the Owls meet the Robins is a meaningful cliffhanger, but the prison could ave been less obvious.

    Though I have to say, an ending panel of a member of the Court surrounded by Talons with ‘DANGER RIS’ behind him is wonderfully on the nose

    Gotham Academy: GOTHAM ACADEMY STORIES SHOULD BE AT LEAST TWO ISSUES! GOTHAM ACADEMY STORIES SHOULD BE AT LEAST TWO ISSUES!

    So, Gotham Academy crew investigate a zombie with new transfer student Riko, who is secretly a Robin hiding from the Robin War. But the zombie is secretly an escaped Talon! Fantastic. Exactly what a Gotham Academy crossover should be.

    Honestly, Gotham Academy has managed to avoid the issue it had all last arc, which I finally worked out the perfect way to express. Last arc, issues didn’t have a second act. If you think about #12, we had a lot of set up as they reached Arkham Asylum, but then, all of a sudden, in rushed to the third act as Olive faced Huge Strange and the rest tried to save Kyle.

    Here, there is a second act. But after a strong first act, the comic has to rush through the second and third acts, until the coda with Damian. No time to actually explore what it is like to investigate a zombie/Talon running around school, nor time to explore how Riko changes the dynamics of the group. Which is supposed to be what is so fun about Gotham Academy. A fun group dynamic of school friends investigate when the superheroic world they live in intrudes on their school. But the stories go so fast that we never get to explore that stuff.

    In fact, here it actively sabotages the story, as Olive’s betrayal is insufficiently motivated. Just her dislike for Batman and the fact that Riko is breaking the law (a funny line in the sand for a girl who breaks the school rules with her friends every issue). The only thing this issue manages to establish about Riko is that she does the exact same thing as Olive’s crew, just dressed in red, yellow and green instead of unmoving plaid.

    Thankfully, Damian and Maps, as always, are perfect together.

    Robin War as a whole: I’ve said my point on the issues themselves (Grayson is great, Detective Comics is disappointing), but want to do something the the overarching story. Dick ‘betraying’ everyone and sending them to prison is actually a fantastic idea (even if Fawkes completely failed to follow up on it and forgot about Duke’s role). First of all, it is an honest surprise, while making perfect sense.

    But second of all, it works wonderfully as part of the Occupy Wall Street, #BlackLivesMatter aspects we have all been talking about with respect to the Robins. They are subverting the system through their compliance. They managed to flip Gordon to their side simply by using the capture to demonstrate the police’s brutality, but more importantly, they are weaponizing the State’s plans against themselves. The State wants to arrest the Robins, so the Robins build a plan that rely on the State arresting them. Train the Robins, pass the training to the Robins already arrested, and take advantage of the fact that you have a trained army at the centre of the bad guy’s operation.

    Of course, it isn’t a one-to-one map onto real life, because this is a superhero comic and ultimately, solving the issue of police overreach is as easy as punching the Court of Owls members in the face. But complying is subversive ways is a key element of activism, and it is awesome that King managed to surprise us with the superheroic equivalent of that.

    I said in the massive argument with Drew early on that while this is a shitty crossover, it is a shitty crossover that is also surprisingly clever. It has all the flaws you expect from the get go. Massive lack of any form of consistency as each issue is consistent with the creative team’s previous issue instead of the previous issue of Robin War, jumps in quality as it goes from King and Seeley to Fawkes and actual communication failures. But unlike every other crossover like this I can think of, it also seeks to be intelligent. And even when it makes all sorts of mistakes, it also has moments of brilliance you simply don’t expect from a crossover like this, were it not because of the fact that King is masterminding it and, more importantly, Mark Doyle is created such an amazing Gotham that creating a crossover to explore police brutality is not only possible, but the utterly natural extension of what Gotham is doing at the moment.

    There are all sorts of flaws in Robin War so far, and it would be very easy for me to have a much less argumentative discussion with Drew about the flaws once we finish debating the one aspect we fundamentally disagree on. But Robin War combines those flaws with all sorts of stuff that legitimately works, and at a much higher level than you would expect.

    I stand by what I said when I said that Robin War is a shitty crossover that is also intelligent.

    • My point about the leader-less organization is only meant to point out how it doesn’t really seem like We Are Robin and the OG Robins have the same MO or even the same values. Notice how many times the OGs are like “you need to have been selected and trained by Batman to be Robin.” There’s an iconoclasm that they embrace that WA Robins seem to be in direct opposition with.

      Which isn’t really a problem for the narrative, but I do think it weakens the potency of the Robin metaphor.

      • I’d suggesting rereading my very first post about Robin War, as I made a point to explore how throughout Snyder’s time, the very nature of Batman has changed. I’ll summarize it here

        Before Snyder started writing Batman, there was always this ‘Lord in his castle, protecting his subjects’ aspect to Batman. He rules Gotham. Court of Owls changed that, by making the Court of Owls the true rulers, then Zero Year defined Batman’s true place, and led into what I called the democratized Batman. Anyone can be Batman, from Burnside hipsters, to weird policeman in the Midnight Shift, to school children (even if Olive would never admit it).

        The OG Robins were chosen during the old version of Gotham (Damian is literally the son of Batman, and they have all been seen as, quite specifically, his heirs in previous stories). The new Robins are the Robins of the new status quo, the Robins of the democratized Batman. Of course they don’t fit the values of the status quo that the OG Robins were chosen under. And that’s part of Robin War. The new Robins having to reconcile with the fact that Robin is a fundamentally different thing under the age of the democratized Batman. It is obvious that the end of this story is going to end with the OG Robins saying ‘You are Robin’, and accept the new definition of Robin in the world of the democratized Batman.

  4. Hey, a question for everyone, as I think this seems to be a problem many people have had with the latest Gotham Academy.

    Who realized the zombie was a Talon, and who didn’t?

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