Review: Robin: Year One trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

"I find myself in the service of lost boys struggling to be strong men." So ends Robin: Year One, with a gorgeous sentiment as to the relationship between Alfred, Batman, and Robin. In the end, this book reveals itself not just as Robin's story, but as Batman, Captain -- nee Commissioner -- Gordon, and especially Alfred's story as well. This deceptively simple book is not only, as the name would imply, the story of Robin's first year, but the story of the first year of the Batman cast with Robin in their midst, and that gives it depth beyond a traditional sidekick story.

It was interesting to watch the Justice League Unlimited episode "Epilogue" this past weekend with an eye toward Robin: Year One (though, for the life of me, could someone remind them that it's Justice League Unlimited and not the Three Cheers for Batman hour?), especially in light of Terry McGuiness's speech that everyone leaves Batman in the end. In Robin: Year One, Dick Grayson leaves too, if only briefly, and Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty do a good job writing a Batman that shows no more emotion when Dick leaves than when he returns. The math here is simple: If no one is as perfect as Batman, no one can ever entirely be the partner he wants; therefore, every partner must eventually leave. McGuiness ultimately becomes the perfect partner -- or replacement -- because of JLU's suggestion that he is Batman; no one else ever had a fighting chance.

And in this, perhaps we can intuit a little bit of Batman's character growth. Dixon seems to almost purposefully ape himself in some places, as Robin disobeys Batman not once, but twice, in scenarios reminiscent of stories in the Robin: Tragedy and Triumph. In essence, Dixon shows us how Batman's mistakes with Dick shade his actions in the future (the subsequent firing of Spoiler notwithstanding), and for Robin fans, it all has a nice resonance.

It's a shame, really, that this book is a retcon. Captain Gordon offers Batman some strong words about taking on a sidekick, let alone what Gordon would do were Robin to die, and it would have been interesting to see how this played out in light of what happened (or didn't happen, nowadays) to Jason. Much of the book's second chapter -- Dick's encounter with Two-Face first seen in Batman: Prodigal -- echos Batman: A Death in the Family, so much so that I hope that the rumored "next part" in Dixon's Year One series features Jason and not Oracle; I'd like to see some of what's set up here come to fruition.

Essentially, I'm reading Robin: Year One for the first appearance of Shrike, next to appear in Nightwing: On the Razor's Edge (and Robin/Batgirl: Fresh Blood), and I appreciate that Nightwing tie-in making Robin: Year One part of continuity. It's a good book to read after Batman: Dark Victory -- the plot is not as detailed, certainly, but it looks as though Javier Pulido and Robert Campanella tried very hard to make their styles and Tim Sale's mesh. What's in Robin: Year One -- even if its aftereffects won't ever be felt -- has moving moments and suggests plenty of potential, and makes a nice sidebar to Chuck Dixon's Nightwing series.

That's where I'm headed now -- reading Nightwing through to On the Razor's Edge. See you then with a review, or more news as it breaks.
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