Review: Robin: Search for a Hero trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, October 19, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Robin: Search for a Hero and just about everything Batman-related these days, including the "Batman Reborn" storyline and the new Batgirl series.]

Writer Fabian Nicieza pinch-hits on Robin: Search for a Hero, charged with the unenviable task of both bringing this long and often troubled series to a close, and also pointing it in the direction that a whole committee of Bat-writers have decided it should go. What results is a story that serves as a fair retrospective of the Robin series, though evoking sometimes as much the bad as the good. It also defines Robin's future in a way seemingly incongruous with the rest of the Bat-titles, though I did wonder at points if it wasn't the other Bat-titles that were the ones out of step.

To read Peter Tomasi's Nightwing: The Great Leap, you'd think Batman spent his entire life praising the first Robin Dick Grayson and calling him "chum," so happily nostalgic is Dick about his upbringing. Indeed in the post-Infinite Crisis era of the kinder, gentler Batman, it's hard to imagine any of Batman's wards angry with the Dark Knight. Enter Nicieza's third Robin Tim Drake, however, who spends the entire story with a chip on his shoulder and even, it seems, feels partially gratified to be taking over from a dead Batman. Where does this attitude come from?

On one hand, Nicieza's Robin feels artificially angry. Tim's exact reasons for being suspicious of Batman and using a new, more violent approach come out in drips and vaguely-worded drabs, and it seems -- since Tim wasn't this mad at Batman only a few issues ago -- perhaps Nicieza needed Tim to be mad at Batman for the story, rather than this welling from any concrete story moments. Also, Tim's anger didn't impress me, if you will; he spends much of the book in an obsessive attempt to control every aspect of Gotham City, an attempt that the reader knows is ill-advised and as such, can only sit and wait for the character to wake up from what's by now a comic book cliche.

On the other hand, the more I thought about it, the more I considered a scenario where, while everyone else has basked in the glow of happy Batman, Tim Drake's become the forgotten son of the Bat-family. Nicieza makes the point -- backed up with scenes from Grant Morrison's Batman run and elsewhere -- that no sooner did Bruce Wayne adopt Tim Drake as his son did Talia al Ghul drop in Batman's lap his real son Damian. In addition, in a plot-necessitating throwback to Batman's bad old days, apparently Bruce suspected that Robin's girlfriend Spoiler wasn't really dead, without telling his partner -- all of which adds up to some friction between the Dynamic Duo.

It's all mildly silly. Given the momentus struggle other writers in other titles have undertaken to show the ways in which Batman has changed, that he's still portrayed as underhanded in Robin (to which I don't fault Nicieza, but the plotline he inherited) seems repetitive and tired. This is made worse by a storyline in Search for a Hero where Batman conspires with Spoiler to pit Robin's fiercest enemies against him -- a ridiculous redux of the Flash Wally West versus Zoom that falls flat here.

(And, for those keeping track, it's one -- count 'em, one -- trade since DC Comics resurrected Spoiler that not only does Spoiler screw up and help ignite a gang war [yes, just like in Batman: War Games], get told by Robin that he never, ever wants to see her out as Spoiler again [yes, just like Batman did in Robin before], but gets shot and taken captive by a villain in a creepy sexually suggestive scene [see again War Games]. Those fans who thought DC began cleaning up its depiction of women when they brought Spoiler back can commence head-shaking again. I'm eager to read the new Spoiler-lead Batgirl series, but I greatly hope someone will realize that bringing this character back from the dead is an excuse to begin writing her with brains -- no one wants to read about a screw-up for this long, and this depiction of Spoiler is well beyond repetitive.)

Nightwing: The Great Leap, I noted, puts too happy a face on Batman's history; we know Batman's relationship with his Robins has been tempestuous over the years. But Robin: Search for a Hero seems an angry kiss-off, a story that denigrates the time Tim Drake spent partnered with Batman. Considering this is the end of the Robin series, I'll take the Nightwing approach instead; just like you want to believe your favorite television characters live happily after the series finale, so too ought the final story of the almost 200-issue Robin series evoke something meaningful about the Robin character, even despite the fact that Tim Drake picks right up in a new title.

I did appreciate the wealth of Robin villains that Nicieza features here as part of the gang war storyline. Of late, given a bevy of writers and shifting status quos, Robin hasn't had a real rogues gallery to speak of, and it was fun to see Nicieza bring back a bunch of new and old heavy hitters -- Anarky, the General, Lynx, Lady Shiva, Scarab, and Jaeger. It reminds me, frankly, of just how good Chuck Dixon's original run on this series was, and how the title hasn't been the same since. It's proof positive why this "Batman Reborn" plot was necessary, as much for Batman as to clean house on the ancillary Batman titles.

[Contains full covers, Origins and Omens page]

Read another review of Robin: Search for a Hero at Oz and Ends.
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7 comments:

  1. During this run I always took Robin not as angry at Batman, but lost. Lost in the fact that he alone (in his mind) has to protect Gotham, and he can't do it as effective as Batman. Not only does he feel he has to protect Gotham, but think of everything Tim has had happen - he was the first Robin to not start out as an orphan, yet he became one twice after Batman died... that kind of stuff can change a person's attitude a bit.
    When reading this and watching how Tim eventually saved Gotham, I thought these issues showed that he was the proper replacement for Batman... even though I knew he wouldn't.

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  2. What's hilarious about the whole thing is that not five months after this title ended with it's "angry and bitter" approach, Tim has a new title where he's lost and absolutely obsessed with proving Bruce is alive.

    I really hope Red Robin is a better showcase for the character, because rarely was Robin. I've heard good and bad things. More importantly, I hope the writer can make Tim likable again. This decade, I've slowly grown to despise Tim, or the character he's become. Through his own title, the Batman line or Teen Titans. He's gone far from who he was when he first came around, but in all the wrong ways.

    Cheer up emo Tim.

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  3. dl316bh: You ever read Adam Beechen's run? That was a pretty fun series, complete with a cameo by Klarion the Witch Boy.

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  4. No, I haven't, actually. I'm most familiar with the Chuck Dixon stuff and the awful, ungodly bad stuff right before OYL. Chuck had the right idea in some respects, but I'm not overly fond of some of his stuff. The less said about the pre-OYL run the better.

    Fun? In my Robin series? Klarion the Witch Boy?

    My interest is piqued.

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  5. Adam Beechen definitely offered a bright spot amidst many varying Robin teams. See my review of Robin: The Big Leagues, where I actually note that I think Beechen's Robin: Teenage Wasteland was his best, but all of them are pretty good.

    At this Speed Force post, a couple of commenters praised Red Robin, so maybe there's hope.

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  6. I hope there is hope for Red Robin. It's not that I don't like Tim as a character. Really, I do. Just Tim when he was first around. Reading some of the early stuff, he was just a likable, capable young man. These days, he's just such an angst puppy that he's been almost unreadable.

    I know, I know, a lot of depressing things happened to him so the change may be "realistic". But it doesn't make Tim fun to read. Many have compared him in his Robin title to Spider-Man, but I think the big difference lost on some writers is that the reason Spider-Man is readable again thanks to BND is that he's back to his old self; he may complain, but no matter what happens in his life, he's got a joke and he soldiers on. Tim, instead, is practically an emo kid who can at times out-angst Batman now and it's been simply painful to read.

    I may end up looking at those reviews, by the way. I've been reading back posts, but there are so many that it takes a little bit to read a good chunk of them. A fun Robin title actually sounds pretty appealing to me.

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  7. The angst-ridden Tim Drake doesn’t strike me as being out of character, and not just because of his losses in recent years. Tim has always been more serious, more earnest, and less open than Dick, ever since he showed up in the Batman and Titans books, insisting that Batman needs a Robin. He was haunted by a possible future as a grim, vindictive Batman even before he lost his first father.

    Granted, that character may not be as much fun to read about, at least for everyone. But he’s consistent.

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