Review: Red Robin: Seven Days of Death trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

There's an argument to be made that the adventures of Robin Tim Drake, later Red Robin, define the just-completed Bronze Age of DC Comics that stretched from Crisis on Infinite Earths through to Flashpoint and the DC New 52.* Over nearly twenty-five years and almost 200 consecutive issues of his own series, Tim Drake has effectively been the Robin for this era, and with Red Robin: Seven Days of Death, writer Fabian Nicieza brings this iteration of Tim Drake's adventures to a close.

Seven Days of Death suffers similar problems to Nicieza's previous Red Robin volume, The Hit List: Red Robin doesn't have much point or reason for being aside from continuing to tell stories with Tim Drake. Additionally, the plot of Seven Days is terribly confusing, and the end rushes to a close in leaps and bounds probably because of the advent of the DC New 52. All of that said, however, this book succeeds largely because Nicieza presents Tim's voice so, so well, and offers a convincing portrait of what Robin Tim Drake, grown up to Red Robin, would be like.

[Review contains spoilers]

The book opens in Moscow with Red Robin working to shut down a supervillain Internet, which Tim suggests he's dedicated to "cracking." And so Seven Days of Death falls down something of a rabbit hole. Tim has not really been interested in the "Unternet" previously, any more than Nicieza needs something for him to do. A page or two later, Tim fixates on Russian businessman Viktor Mikalek as current owner of the Unternet; Mikalek, equally created whole-cloth for the story, becomes (as a number of character remind the reader) Lex Luthor to Red Robin's Superman throughout the rest of the book, again just because Nicieza needs him to.

And what a story it is. Nicieza uses the basic premise of Mikalek and the Unternet to pit Tim against everything from "regular" master assassins and ninjas to battling the remnants of Darkseid's Final Crisis Anti-Life formula amidst a virtual-reality landscape. The final issues have Tim investigating Gotham's Asian gangs for an attempt on Bruce Wayne's life, only to travel to Egypt to find out it's really an assassin's competition to kill CEOs, but then it's actually a plot to force Tim to father a child with Ra's al Ghul's half sister, except that's a ruse to enlist Tim to become the successor to the mysterious immortal Voice.

And in all of this, Nicieza even finds time to deviate for a story loosely tied to Mikalek that first pits Red Robin against Catman, and then throws the Teen Titans against a horde of the Calculator's robots with writer JT Krul (in issues also collected in Teen Titans: Team Building).

What emerges is a book twisting and turning in too many directions. Some of what Nicieza glosses over must be because of Red Robin's impending DC New 52 cancellation -- the revelation of Ra's al Ghul's half-sister is especially quick, and how Red Robin knows her identity equally inscrutable. The pace at which Nicieza flits from plot to plot, however, is quick enough that the fine details don't matter; Nicieza also has a good eye for tying it all back to Tim Drake's history -- from villains Anarky and Scarab to the Council of Spider's from writer Chris Yost's Red Robin run, and an appearance by former Batgirl Cassandra Cain, Tim's long-time ally. Tim always feels at the center of Nicieza's story, even if the focus changes from page to page to page.

Nicieza also paints a compelling picture of a "grown-up" Tim Drake. Tim has always been the "smart" Robin, a computer hacker to first Robin Dick Grayson's circus acrobat, and Nicieza demonstrates the upshot of that here and in Hit List -- Tim's a planner, always a step ahead of his enemies and of the reader. After a number of setbacks including the death of his parents and the apparent death of a number of friends, Tim has taken on a kind of good-natured bitterness that Nicieza presents well; when attacked by former Titan Red Star, Tim's thinks, "Crap," and then "Crap squared." Artist Marcus To's exuberant art in every chapter helps immeasurably, emphasizing action and this sense of determined upbeatness.

Often Tim has to shut out his friends and allies to complete his missions; often he finds himself lonely, and just as often Nicieza has Tim kissing beautiful women who want to kill him. It's this hard-luck pluck, this presentation of Tim doing his best as the ultimate manifestation of what Batman would want one of his Robins to be -- and doing so with a sense of humor -- that makes Seven Days so readable even as it spins out of control.

The final chapter of Seven Days -- Tim Drake's final appearance in his own series in the old DC Universe -- is a controversial one. Tim sets up his father's murderer, Captain Boomerang, to be assassinated. Though Tim saves Boomerang in the end, Batman finds out. The end is not, as it might have been, Tim swinging from the rooftops with Batman's blessing; instead, Tim is defiant, challenging Batman that the darker aspects of Tim's personality are there to stay.

Even as this is not a "happy" ending, the reader ought see it as a culmination of Tim Drake's character -- from Robin to Red Robin, and now a protector of Gotham with more control perhaps even than Batman had. Tim has long struggled with whether he'd end up as "dark" as Batman and that struggle continues, but now at least Tim has become his own man; this rejection of Batman, in essence, echoes Dick Grayson's similar graduation to Nightwing shortly before Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Red Robin: Seven Days of Death is imperfect, and were the series continuing its doubtful Fabian Nicieza could keep up this disarray for much longer. As a good-bye to Tim Drake, however, Nicieza presents the character perfectly in tune, hearkening all the way back to writer Chuck Dixon's definitive take on the character. If we have to say good-bye, this is an OK way to do it.

[Includes original covers]

Speaking of saying good-bye, we continue our final pre-DC New 52 look at the Teen Titans with Jeff Lemire's Superboy: Smallville Attacks, coming up next week, followed by the final Teen Titans collection of the old DC Universe. Don't miss it!

* Tim Drake defines the Bronze Age second only, perhaps, to Flash Wally West. And if we've just left the Bronze Age, what do we call the next? The Digital Age?
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8 comments:

  1. I came in late to the Red Robin experience...Picking up The Grail and Collision partially as a completionist piece to Bruce Wayne's road home and found that I couldn't put it down. I ended up instantly a Tim Drake fan and started picking up the single issues with The Hit List arc. Hit list was good, weak in places but good overall. You are 100% correct when you say this story goes everywhere and anywhere at breakneck speed. I often found that I would have to backtrack through several issues to pick up where I left off because I wasn't sure if I missed something.

    It's interesting how some of the Pre-New 52 final stories were so eloquently completed as send off's to characters yet others were so sudden it was jarring. Not sure how you're following the new 52 but unfortunately Teen Titans, IMO, is not hitting on all cylinders. I don't want to prejudice anyone's opinion on it with my rant so I will leave it at that until the review of the trade goes up!

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  2. You might find you like some of the early Chuck Dixon Robin trades -- Tragedy and Triumph, Hero Reborn, and Flying Solo. Even as they're almost twenty years old, I think you'll see some similarities in Dixon and Nicieza's depiction of Tim's voice, since you enjoyed Red Robin.

    Some of the final pre-DC New 52 collections (our full list) managed to give their characters good send-offs (Batgirl, for instance) and some didn't -- sometimes it just depends on how much notice the writer received. Red Robin is one of those you kind of have to squint and tilt your head -- you can imagine some closure for Tim at the end of this book, but it's not really *there* like it was for Batgirl. Oh, well -- overall Nicieza did a nice job.

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    1. I really enjoyed the Red Robin trades. It's a shame he won't have his own series in the new 52. I think they could have skipped The Dark Knight for instance and continued with Red Robin instead.

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  3. I haven't read any of the Red Robin collections, so I can't comment on them, however I noticed CE that you consider the end of Flashpoint and the beginning of the New52 to be the end of the Bronze age and commented that Tim Drake and Wally West were the embodiment of the Bronze Age. To my understanding the Bronze Age of comics ended with Crisis, and that the Modern Age/Dark Age began after that. Although it always struck me as silly to call it the modern age since every age would be modern to the people living it at the time.

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  4. I thought the Silver Age of comics ended with Crisis, and the Modern Age/Bronze Age/what have you is what we've been in since then. Of course these kinds of things can only be judged in retrospect, but it does strike me that with all of DC's titles going "day and date" digital as of the DC New 52, and a spate of characters being relaunched/rebooted in a major way like the beginning of the Silver Age, that we've just left something (the Bronze Age, perhaps) and entered something else (the Digital Age). Just my take on it.

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  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronze_Age_of_comics

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  6. Interesting; I hadn't encountered that before. Well, the "eras" beyond Silver Age are subjective anyway; the point being that I think the character arcs of Tim Drake (and Wally West, and hey, also Connor Kent) "define" the Crisis on Infinite Earths-to-Flashpoint era, much like we might say that Barry Allen's origin-through-death defines the Showcase-to-Crisis on Infinite Earths era.

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  7. I actually enjoyed this send of, this ending of an era.
    Tim was definitively my Robin, all the way from A Lonely Place of Dying through his 2 series, Young Justice, Geoff Johns' Teen Titans, etc..
    I'll miss him, him and his silly earless Batman costume aka Red Robin.

    These last stories were fun, in a way they were sort of reminiscent of Chuck Dixon and Tim's entire run as a whole. I mean you had the likes of Red Star (New Titans!), it was nice to see the Mad Men back (from Ted's Blue Beetle, specially with Dixon trying to make a new Beetle outta Tim for a long while), etc.

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