Spencer: Every once in a while you stumble across a premise so unique, exciting, or just plain off-the-wall bonkers that you have to check the story out. More often, though, a story will feature a more standard premise, and it’s up to the creative team to make those familiar ideas feel fresh, either by finding a new angle to explore the concept from, by using it to explore their cast in a novel way, or simply by having as much fun with it as possible. Sadly, Robin: Son of Batman 11 does none of these things. The Lu’un Darga are the definition of cliched, stock villains, and Ray Fawkes and Ramon Bachs do nothing to liven them up.
The Lu’un Darga are a rival clan to the al Ghul family, who seek to destroy all life on Earth…for some reason. The smartest move Fawkes has made in his short tenure on this title so far has been establishing a child, Suren Darga, as leader of the clan. In many ways Suren is exactly who Damian could have become had he continued with the League of Assassins: a megalomaniacal fanatic with no regard for human life. There’s a lot of potential in this contrast and I’m curious to see what Fawkes does with it as the arc continues, but for now, this theme really only exists as deeply buried subtext — the events of this issue wouldn’t be changed one bit if Suren was an adult.
That leaves Suren feeling utterly one-note; it’s a shame he’s too young to grow a mustache, because he should be twirling one non-stop throughout this entire issue.
The entire Lu’un Darga are similarly shallow; why do they hate the al Ghuls? Why do they want to destroy all of humanity? Why do Damian’s Year of Blood artifacts allow them to do so? Who knows?!
Ultimately, the biggest problem with the Lu’un Darga is that they fail to engage Damian specifically as a character. The “Year of Blood” plot tapped into Damian’s guilt about his past and provided a clear path for his redemption, but as they are now, the Lu’un Darga are simply another generic, potentially world-ending threat. Any hero could fight them, and that doesn’t leave Damian much to work with.
That’s why this issue picks up so much when Batman and Talia arrive to “help” — their hostile interactions bring out something unique in Damian, namely his desire for his parents to get along and for the three of them to be able to work together as a family. The relationship between these three could be pretty compelling, and again, I’m curious to see what Fawkes will do with it as this arc continues.
Even here there are issues, though. After everything that’s been done with her over the past few years, I’ll admit that I’m not even sure how Talia should be characterized now, but Fawkes’ take doesn’t feel right regardless. Frankly, she’s nuts; her deluded idea that Maya is working for the Lu’un Darga and her instantly murderous reaction to Maya’s insult are both completely ridiculous, and the problem is that I can’t tell how much of her behavior is supposed to be nuts, and how much should be chalked up to bad writing.
And then there’s Maya…poor, poor Maya. Gleason left the character in a good place when his run concluded, and while I’m not totally against bringing Maya back if it will make for a good story, that’s not what’s happening here. Outside of her bizarre plot with Talia (which simply feels like a ham-fisted way to bring Maya back into the story), Maya really only exists in this issue to get hurt and then vanish several times in succession. First she’s electrocuted trying to grab Solivar’s helmet, which scares Damian, but we never see any follow-up; she disappears from the narrative entirely until the following sequence.
This is just so choppy. Maya vanishes. Damian notices and mourns her, then the plot shifts to Batman and Talia, but then Damian notices again that Maya vanished and looks completely surprised, as if the exact same scene didn’t just play out on the previous page! It’s some seriously sloppy writing; couldn’t Fawkes have found a way to fit in that Batman and Talia beat before Maya vanishes? It wouldn’t have taken much effort and would have been much more readable.
While that’s the most inconsistent scene in the issue, there was another moment that’s almost just as bad.
What Damian means here is that Suren stole some of his Year of Blood artifacts and is using him for his Lu’un Darga rituals, but the dialogue makes it sound like Damian is upset about Suren undoing his Year of Blood. Loyal readers of Robin: Son of Batman know that this isn’t the case, as Damian’s worked so hard to atone for that year up to now, but that doesn’t make this scene any less confusing — it took me several reads to understand what Damian meant, and in the meantime, my anger at the possibility of Fawkes so fundamentally misunderstanding Damian blazed. This, like so many other mistakes in this issue, feels like something that shouldn’t have survived the first draft.
For the sake of not being completely negative, I will say that I love Bachs’ art. His cartoony style feels appropriate for Damian, and his pencils contain an energy that’s infectious. It’s just plain fun, something this issue desperately needed; this is an issue set in Gorilla City of all places that barely manages to take advantage of the setting, and that’s downright criminal.
Michael, I can’t pretend to know what’s gone on behind the scenes in terms of this title’s creative team swap, but I’ve gotta say that I wish we could’ve seen Fawkes and Bachs tackle a new storyline instead of “tying up loose ends” they don’t seem particularly invested in in the most perfunctory way possible. Was there anything about this issue that worked for you better than it did me?
Michael: Spencer you have made excellent points that I have thought myself, leading to my supportive “hear, hear!” Sometimes I try to think about how many comics I’ve read in my life – good, bad and somewhere in between – but then my brain starts to hurt. I’m not sure what’s worse: when a comic is flat-out-terrible, or when a comic presents some genuinely interesting ideas but fails to do anything exciting with them. Robin: Son of Batman 11 is the latter example of a book that has novel ideas that get lost in a jumbled execution.
Suren Darga being a dark mirror for Damian and the potential for Damian’s mother and father being briefly reunited are the bright spots of the book but they don’t shine as brightly due to the other various flaws of the story. I agree with Spencer’s displeasure at how Fawkes and Bachs are “tying up loose ends” in Robin: Son of Batman, especially when the loose ends in question are so dull. I’ve never found the Lu’un Darga to be particularly interesting, so to have Fawkes double down on the Lu’un Darga/al Ghul stuff excites me very little. While I suppose that the Lu’un Darga are an essential piece of the “Year of Blood” puzzle, the reason that readers enjoyed it was the emotion behind it all – Damian’s quest for redemption.
That’s not to say that Fawkes writes a cold or unlikable Damian Wayne, however. I think my favorite part of Robin: Son of Batman 11 is the “family reunion” of Bruce, Talia and Damian. Though Spencer kind of soured it for me by pointing out its incoherence (and rightly so), I still enjoy this moment. Damian is an incredibly intelligent boy, wise beyond his years, but he’s still just a boy. Seeing his mother and father side-by-side, he allows himself to engage in the frivolous fantasy that they could all be a family again – if only for a brief moment. He quickly snaps himself back to reality though, knowing that there are more important matters at hand, like Maya being all disappeared and everything. The promise of seeing Batman and Talia begrudgingly work together might be enough for me to come back next month, but Spencer’s right in labeling her as a crazy person.
Regardless, it’s nice to know that even when Batman shows up to help Damian, it’s still Damian’s book. I thought this panel by Bachs sold the point quite nicely:
Likewise, I thought that Fawkes handled Batman’s return to Damian’s world efficiently and economically. As we know, superheroes die and come back from the dead all of the time, meaning that there numerous farewells/ “welcome backs” that must occur as well. Robin: Son of Batman was launched when Batman “died” but Bruce Wayne lived. Being the know-it-all that he is, however, Damian always believed that his father would return to him as he knew him. Given that, I appreciated the way that Fawkes/Damian briefly recognized that Batman was gone but has now returned. It’s a nice way to make note of the change of status quo while also reinforcing the eternal idea of Batman itself.
I think that Bachs does a fine job at providing the series with some visual coherence – as his style is reminiscent of Pat Gleason’s – but unlike Spencer I found it to be a little too cartoony. By no means is the “cartoonishness” over-the-top, but it wasn’t much a stretch of the imagination to picture Damian getting upset and his head exploding into a huge ball of fire, anime style. Then again, maybe I’m watching too much Teen Titans.
It’s cool to see Damian reunited with his parents because I’m hoping they will see the amount of growth that the character has made like we have. If nothing else I want Talia or Batman to address the 900 pound Man-Bat in the room.
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