Review: Robin: Teenage Wasteland trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Adam Beechen, in my opinion, writes the best Robin since Chuck Dixon, and Freddie Williams is up there with my favorite Robin artists. I've just finished Robin: Teenage Wasteland, and with the Cassandra Cain fiasco behind us (for the most part), Beechen offers up nine Robin issues here, all of which are spot-on in story and characterization; Robin hasn't been better than this in a long time.

Beechen writes a somewhat grim Robin; after the death or injury of Robin's parents, Superboy, Spoiler, Batgirl, and others in this tale, Robin drives himself with a "no one else dies" mania. This is not the laughing Boy Wonder of days of yore, but the black-and-white in which Robin sees the world is perfectly true to his youth. This is in no way, however, a "dark" book--there's humor and spots of light, especially surrounding what's billed as Tim Drake's "first date." This is hardly his first, but rather his first date with his tutor Zoanne, and Beechen strikes a nice balance between playing to Robin's youth and at the same time acknowledging his relative long time as a super-hero.

The two main storylines here deal with Robin offering up himself as a decoy to stop a group of kidnappers, and Robin tracking down a drug-ridden young street gang trying to kill a reporter. Both of these stories are gritty and down-to-earth, and Robin's role in them is clear, as opposed to Robin simply acting as a stand-in for Batman or Nightwing. Beechen uses Robin's new status as Bruce Wayne's adopted son well in the first story, as Bruce must make a tearful plea--only partially an act--for Robin's safe return. The second story ties into Robin's dating life, as Zoanne's father works for the company making the gang's drugs; in both of these, Beechen demonstrates excellent writing here, making Robin's challenges more than just plot devices, but rather obstacles that affect his life overall.

I was most wary of the Klarion the Witch-Boy story included here, fearing it wouldn't mesh with Seven Soldiers, despite art assists from Frazer Irving. Instead, the Klarion tale is right in line with Klarion's Seven Soldiers portrayal, and should make perfect sense to Seven Soldiers fans. Ordinarily I think the Gotham heroes work best in "real," rather than supernatural, stories, but Beechen pulls this off; the relative speed of the story, Klarion's age, and the overall coolness of Beechen's Robin help to pull this off.

For longtime Batman fans, the interaction between Batman and Robin in this story could be nothing less than startling. Batman tends almost a little too far toward the emo side of things in Beechen's portrayal--at one point, Bruce asks Robin if he'd like Batman to stay and talk before Batman goes on patrol; at another, Batman stops to ask Robin about his date. After years of the grim and gritty Batman, this is a nice change in Batman, even if it seems just slightly overdone. One big surprise is that, when Batman interrupts Robin's date, Robin begs off the mission and Batman agrees; in a generic super-hero storyline, the hero would indeed have to interrupt his date, and there's a sense here that Robin makes the wrong choice, though the fact that Batman is OK with it is just further proof of the growth, at last, of their relationship.

[Contains cover thumbnails.]

I'm curious if there are any Robin readers out there who didn't like Robin: Wanted because of what happened to Batgirl, who read Robin: Teenage Revolution. What did you think of it? For me, this book ran on all cylinders--even the done-in-one "after-school special" suicide story worked with the book overall. Someone else who read this, what did you think?

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7 comments:

  1. I read most of the single issues, and they were a really good monthly experience; there was zero padding and Beechen seemed very confident in his pacing. As a superhero title, the Beechen Robin run is a close second best to Blue Beetle as far as I'm concerned. It sucked that Karl Kerschl had to leave after just one issue, but damn, that Freddie Williams III guy is really good.

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  2. I am torn on this one, I agree that Beechen is the best writer on Robin since Dixon but look at who handled the book between the two.

    I thought the first trade was much better but that could be because I was not a fan of the Klarion the Witch-Boy issues.

    I do enjoy the kinder, gentler Batman and it is nice to see he and Robin acting as a team but I think Beechen plays it up too much, like with the Jiggler scenes or whatever his name was.

    I guess what I am saying is that I totally agree, jeez, that was much shorter.

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  3. Jeffrey and Vince, thanks for chiming in. I agree that one thing I liked about this trade was the way Beechen covered a lot of ground, with both "important" and fill-in or single issues, but that none of them felt padded, even the suicide issue. I think that's a terribly hard thing for a writer to do, and Beechen knocked it out of the park.

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  4. When these issues originally came out I was more impressed with Robin being a Dark Knight Detective than what I was reading in "Batman and Son."

    I was/am a fan of Dixon's run (past and present) but I feel with DC marketing Robin as a leader and solo character Beechen was able to accomplish this better than anyone else.

    I will miss Beechen but his run will not be forgotten. At the time these issues were being published I was claiming Robin as DC's best monthly book.

    Plus, Beechen gave us the legendary "Killa Nilla." Not only is he a great concept as a white thug wanabe, but Robin having his own snitch and supporting cast - Purchase anything that is Robin with Beechen!

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  5. SpaceBooger -- I think you hit it on the nose; Beechen's portrayal of Robin is the first in a while to really match up with his portrayal in Teen Titans and elsewhere. Now if only DC can accomplish the same with Nightwing ...

    Did Beechen end up doing some Teen Titans, too, or did that not end up happening?

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  6. SO, in the timeline, this book falls between 'Batman and Son' and 'The Big Leagues', right?

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  7. Correct; also between Robin: Wanted and Robin: The Big Leagues. Just added this to queue for the next timeline update; you'll see it there not too long from now.

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