Review: Red Robin: Hit List trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Red Robin: The Hit List makes an entire story out of its own aimlessness. With its inaugural twelve-issue Return of Bruce Wayne tie-in story done, Hit List bides its time between Return and Batman, Inc.; the book's existential struggle over what the point of a second "graduated Robin" book should be becomes the internal dilemma of Red Robin Tim Drake.

Often the combination of aimless book and aimless character becomes a death knell for a title. New series writer Fabian Nicieza, however, takes up the voice and tone of previous Red Robin writer Chris Yost flawlessly, and as before the strength of Red Robin is in its writing. Hit List's plot isn't very cohesive nor does it really arrive anywhere, but Tim Drake is such a likable character and the book turns so strongly on the character's history that it hardly matters. For Tim Drake fans, Red Robin is the best he's been in years, Hit List included.

[Contains spoilers]

Fabian Nicieza's first Red Robin outing leans heavily on plot points from his 2009 Robin: Search for a Hero. That book itself was jumbled and overwrought, hurriedly ending the Robin title before Batman RIP, but Hit List recovers the best parts. Gotham's corrupt cops are back with a grudge against Tim's civilian identity; Nicieza also highliughts Tim's burgeoning rogues gallery, including old and new Anarkys, Scarab, and Lynx.

This aspect is a little cluttered -- under the auspices of Tim chasing down a "hit list," Nicieza features a villain an issue, often with little transition between them. It's fun, however, to see Tim up against villains that are uniquely his own, and not one of Batman's. These villains speak to Tim Drake's long history -- Scarab is from Bill Willingham's run, and iterations of Lynx and Anarky date back to Chuck Dixon or earlier. Nicieza doesn't cover new ground with Anarky nor Scarab, but it's pleasant to have these characters brought into Red Robin's world and to see them again before, with the DC Comics relaunch coming up, they potentially disappear for good.

The Ghost Dragon Lynx is potentially one of Tim Drake's oldest enemies, and it's a pity she was killed off somewhat off the cuff (twice) in former Robin issues. This new Lynx has had an awkward introduction, simply appearing without explanation in Battle for the Cowl. Hit List fleshes the character out, of sorts, literally stating that Lynx will be Red Robin's "Catwoman," and teasing that she may or may not be an undercover Hong Kong police officer. This aspect seemed a little silly -- can the Bat-family's world's greatest detectives not investigate one police officer? -- and Lynx and Red Robin end up lip-locked awfully fast, but I like the idea that among his rogues Red Robin has a romantic foil, along with associating the name again with the (Red) Robin mythos.

As in Time and the Batman, Nicieza pits Tim against new Robin Damian Wayne. The jealousy between them is petty, especially on Tim's part given Damian's young age, and Nicieza knows this -- the best part of the story is everyone's recognition, including Tim's, of how wrong he is. Tim and Damian fight until they're pulled apart by Batman Dick Grayson at Crime Alley, site of the Wayne's deaths, and it's a startling scene made all the more poignant by Tim later buying that fateful theater (it's a wonder no Bat-writer ever thought of this before). I appreciated that Nicieza doesn't try to put an easy bandage on Tim and Damian's hard feelings, but rather leaves it all unresolved, even when Tim's scolded about it later by Batman Bruce Wayne himself.

Bruce Wayne's appearance here is everything it should be, far better than in Batman and Robin Must Die; Bruce is still demanding and aloof, but finds time to give Red Robin a hug. Bruce's appearance makes for a strange collection -- most of Hit List takes place with Bruce Wayne time-lost, but the final issue switches to after Bruce Wayne: The Road Home without explanation. I'm not sure these issues could have been collected differently -- issues #13-16 alone would've been a too-small trade -- but maybe Nicieza's Robin-focused Time and the Batman story belonged here and Red Robin #17 elsewhere.

The best part of Tim Drake is his beginner's voice, even in so seasoned a hero. Tim makes his first public outing as Red Robin, flying with new glider wings -- until the wind shifts and he falls headfirst to the street. Even as Tim kisses Lynx, he knows he shouldn't be, and his doubts fill each panel as the villain scampers away. This was the delight of Tim as Robin when he first started out under Chuck Dixon's pen, and it's the same voice Christopher Yost captured and now Fabian Nicieza. There's one more Nicieza collection before the DC Comics relaunch; while I'm looking forward to Scott Lobdell's Teen Titans, I can't quite imagine that Tim Drake is going to be exactly the same. All of this makes Red Robin: Hit List, innocuous as it is, something to be prized; Tim Drake is handled well here.

[Contains original covers]

Hit List started us there, and next up we'll have Bruce Wayne's actual return with Road Home. See you then!
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2 comments:

  1. You mention Willingham's Robin, which makes me wonder: are the Robin trades worth picking up? I originally had them on my reading list but it started to get ridiculously long (and still is, actually) so I crossed them off. I've wondered since then if I should skip the Robin series and maybe swing back around after reading more important titles, but since I am trying to do my reading in order I'm not sure that's the right call.

    I've heard other good things about Red Robin and this sounds like a definite must read.

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  2. Some Robin trades are worth picking up. The Chuck Dixon collections (first time around) are the wellspring from which all else came, and are largely considered to be the best. I thought the Willingham books were a little rough, but certainly a lot happens in Robin: Unmasked and such (when it gets down to sword and sorcery stories toward Days of Fire and Madness is when it loses me). Adam Beechen did a great job in my opinion, though elements of his run are considered pretty controversial. The very end -- Chuck Dixon's second run and Fabian Nicieza's fill-in -- are the roughest and probably skip-able, but then things get better with Red Robin.

    If you check any of the books out, let me know what you think!

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