Review: Red Robin: The Grail trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

I've been a fan of Tim Drake as Robin since his inception. DC Comics presented Tim Drake, at least as I always understood it, as the one true Robin; the original Robin Dick Grayson may have graduated to Nightwing, but Tim was Robin, such that there would always be a Robin in the DC Universe. As such, I don't necessarily favor Tim's transformation to Red Robin, if indeed it will even last past the end DC's current "Batman Reborn" storyline; Dick Grayson was Robin for forty years before he became Nightwing, such that Tim's new guise of Red Robin after only about twenty years seems sudden and strange.

That being said, however, aspects of writer Christopher Yost and artist Ramon Bachs first outing on this new title, Red Robin: The Grail, hearken wonderfully back to the early days of the last Robin series. It'll take a lot to get me to accept an older, lone Red Robin out on his own when his friends on the Teen Titans remain younger and together, but Red Robin is a good substitute for a genuine Robin fix.

[Contains spoilers]

I'll note to start off that Red Robin isn't perfect. Despite the premise of the book is that Tim is now the loose cannon of the Bat-family, working "over the line" (as the narrative continually reminds us) in his search for Bruce Wayne, Tim never comes off as that extreme aside from a well-advised team-up with villain Ra's al Ghul. The few times he breaks a bad guy's bones aren't anything you wouldn't put past the Dark Knight himself; Yost more tells than shows us that Tim's gone rogue.

And whereas Yost creates some interesting characters in Ra's al Ghul's team of assassins, I couldn't care much for Tim's supposed love interest of the book, Wayne Enterprises' Lucius Fox's daughter Tam. Yost means to demonstrate how out of her element she is, kidnapped by Ra's, through all the "ums" peppered in her speech, but it only makes her seem a vapid damsel in distress, not someone we root for Tim to love. (Letting alone the gratuitous scene where Tim [accidentally] kicks former girlfriend Spoiler in the face, the kind of violence between couples we're meant to wave away in comic books but that would be "not all right" in the real world.)


But given those quibbles, overall Yost delivers a book much in line with Robin stories past. I absolutely love that Tim's mission takes him all over the globe, much like the first Robin miniseries found Tim in Paris rather than Gotham. Yost has obviously done his homework, including shout outs to moments both as early as that first Robin miniseries to as late as the end of the regular series (and a nod to Tim's long-time pseudonym, Alvin Draper). Tim's entire quest is predicated on his skills as a detective, true to the beginnings of the character; and Tim's penchant for working with villains and obsessing about the wisdom of it also, as I noted, has precedent.

I also appreciated that Yost very quickly established that the main character's name is Tim Drake, not Tim Wayne. I liked that Bruce Wayne adopted Tim, creating a real father-son dynamic between the Dynamic Duo that hadn't been explored before, but one could argue to also lessened Tim as a character. Another interesting dynamic was that Tim became Robin while his father still lived, causing Tim both outward obstacles and inner conflict; returning Tim to Drake (a perfectly fearsome-sounding Bat-character last name) not only returns the character's independence, but some of the punch that perhaps the character has lost over the years.

In short, Yost's book feels like Robin, even if it isn't. Some time after Chuck Dixon originally left the Robin title, Adam Beechen delivered a handful of stories that felt like the old days, but in total the book never had its original aesthetic. Red Robin returns that through tone, plot, and locale, even through artist Ramon Bachs channeling early Robin artist Tom Grummett on at least two occasions (Damian Wayne in the Batcave in the beginning, and Tim as he talks to Wonder Girl toward the end) -- all of it ought evoke considerable nostalgia for long-time Robin fans.

[Contains "What came before" page, full and variant covers]

DC Comics seems to me now a little stuck -- Damian Wayne isn't the Robin that DC can put on lunchboxes, so I expect Tim to one day retake the mantle; but having been Red Robin, returning to regular Robin would seem for Tim Drake something of a devolution. How that'll play out, I'm not sure -- I do applaud DC for taking chances, and I'm curious to see where all of this will go.

What's that green glow on the horizon? Be here next time to find out!
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4 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed The Grail. I think you'll enjoy the series(and Tam Fox) more once Marcus To steps on with Collision.

    Was it just me or did this trade feel really flat? At least add in some of those Red Robin title concept designs that surfaced before the series released. Maybe some Francis Manapul cover sketches? Maybe that's just DC's way of trying to get us to buy monthly instead of trade.

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  2. The one major problem I had was with Chris Yost's storytelling. There's no doubt that Yost understands the character of Tim Drake, and the obvious similarity - personality and mindset - he has with Batman, but when it comes to the execution of the story, I was confused on plenty of occasions.

    Yost constant use of flashbacks - especially when it didn't even belong to further deepen the plot - threw off the pace of the story completely. I think there were even parts in the story were the flashbacks weren't even properly stated to inform that reader it's even a flashback. I could wrong, maybe I should read it again. But from the first read, I cannot say I enjoyed it very much.

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  3. A lot of this story felt forced to me. It wasn't clear why believing Batman to be alive would drive Tim to go "over the line". Neither was it clear why he would go gallivanting around the world in search of clues -- was he just randomly visiting cities in hopes of coming up with something? Finally, in terms of the art, it seemed like Tim aged about 15 years every time he put on the costume.

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  4. Yost keeps Tim's motivations a mystery through much of the first half of this story, revealing them very, very slowly in flashback; as such, the reader has to trust that an answer is forthcoming or else be very frustrated. I think the anonymous commenter picks up on this; Red Robin requires some patience, at least to the first big reveal at the end of Grail.

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