I actually enjoyed Robin/Batgirl: Fresh Blood more than I thought I would. To be sure, this short trade is nearly standard super-hero crossover fare (the heroes team-up, then fight, instead of vice versa), but an emphasis on character and continuity by both the writers serves to make what would otherwise be a quick one-off a little more substantial.
In the aftermath of Batman: War Games and Identity Crisis, Robin chooses to leave Gotham for Nightwing's Bludhaven, rather than face the ghosts, the increased danger, and the lure of becoming more hardened like Batman that Gotham now offers. Immediately, Batman orders Batgirl to go with him, both to protect Robin, to learn from him, and to gain experience in managing a city of her own--experience, Batman notes, that will help her on the inevitable day that Batgirl takes over Gotham from Batman himself. In Bludhaven, Robin begins investigating appearances by the supposed-deceased Blockbuster, running afoul of Nightwing's old villain Shrike. Batgirl comes to the rescue, and after a meeting with the Bludhaven police, the Dynamic Duo (if you will) end up at Blockbuster's mansion, where they're promptly captured by the Penguin. To escape, Robin and Batgirl feign a fight to the death, which results in dredging up hard feelings between the two heroes.
Though Bill Willingham's "gee whiz" Robin--and the blocky, one-page cut scenes--has never quite meshed for me (and as a Fables fan, I can't help but have expected more), Anderson Gabrych shines here. I despaired that anyone could match Kelley Puckett's early Batgirl issues--largely silent, one-shot issues, they stand as a testament to comics done well--and while Gabrych and other authors have gifted Batgirl now with a bit more verbal ability, still the emotion and insight in these issues stood out. I especially liked that Gabrych hasn't lost sight of the giant aspect of Batgirl that differentiates her from all the other Bat-cast--that Batgirl, over all the other members of the Batsquad, is the one most suited to one day take over from Batman. This obviously causes tension with Robin, Batman's partner--even if Robin doesn't himself want to become Batman--and I was pleased with the final sequence where Robin and Batgirl address their differences and divvy their roles in Bludhaven. That this crossover ends on the characters, instead of a tired "send the bad guys off to jail" scene, says a lot for the story.
I also appreciated the use of the Chuck Dixon-created Bludhaven here. It would have been just as easy for the writers to pluck Robin and Batgirl down in a city called Bludhaven, but completely recreated to the writers' whims; instead, the story featured Nightwing villains like Shrike, Brutale, and the Trigger Twins; the new Bludhaven police captain Amy Rohrbach; and Blockbuster's palatial mansion. All of this gives a real sense of the characters moving, instead of just being recreated, that I felt was an especially nice touch.
All-in-all, Robin/Batgirl: Fresh Blood is a simple story, with nothing necessarily earth-shattering, but fans of the Bat-Universe shouldn't be disappointed by what is a fairly satisfactory trade all around.
[Contains brief character bios and "what came before"; full covers.]
Meanwhile, I'm continuing to travel down the Identity Crisis crossover line, from Teen Titans: The Future is Now to Legion: Teenage Revolution to Robin/Batgirl: Fresh Blood, and now on to Outsiders: Wanted. From there, a bit of Superman, a bit of Wonder Woman, and the Countdown to Infinite Crisis miniseries will be nearly upon us. I've got both the Absolute Crisis on Infinite Earths and Absolute Watchmen to read one of these days, plus new Fables and Y: The Last Man. So drop me a line, and we'll see you here next time.