Review: Robin War hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 06, 2017

I enjoyed the Robin War crossover very much. If it is imperfect, I might defy you to find any crossover between seven different series that never misses at least a beat or two, and Robin War does better than most. As events go, it's nicely compact, interrupting each of its series only once, and the story flows relatively seamlessly from one series to the next. Though one issue's mis-fit in the story timeline underscores that the issues that DC classified as "tie ins" could be skipped (vs. the main Robin War issues), I thought both the main and tie-in issues (all collected here) felt for the most part equally relevant.

Neither can one discount quite how momentous the Robin War crossover is. I'm relatively sure there hasn't been a time when all four Robins headlined their own series sans Batman (New 52 Robins; sorry Stephanie Brown) and it's almost imperative those should cross over. There is perhaps not quite as much compare/contrast/discussion of Robin-hood here as I might like, but there is certainly some.

Also, insofar as most of the Bat-franchise in the "DC You" era spend their twelve issues mainly in service to Scott Snyder's excellent "Superheavy" story that really doesn't need any of them, it's really wild that those titles should then even cross-over and have their own event without Snyder's Batman title. Say what you will about "DC You," but the continuity wonk in me loves how layered it is -- you've got Batman: Superheavy and Superman: Truth that themselves reflect one another, plus more than a dozen titles that tie in to one or the other, not to mention titles that tie into both, plus the fact that some of these ancillary titles then themselves have a crossover event. That's a gigantic amount of serial storytelling fun, on the level of when Sterling Gates's World's Finest miniseries paired Superman: New Krypton with Grant Morrison's post-Batman: RIP status quo, except now wonderfully across the individual series themselves.

[Review contains spoilers]

Admittedly Robin War turns on the somewhat shaky premise that Gotham City has passed "Robin laws" in response to the We Are Robin title's epidemic of young Robin vigilantes, banning vigilantism, the wearing of Robin paraphernalia, and even the combining of Robin-type colors. Lee Bermejo's first We Are Robin volume, which I adored, mostly focused on a small subset of Robins and hasn't quite broadened to the larger movement yet; in this vein Robin War leapfrogs that title a bit and the Robin laws seem rather sudden and extreme, something the book just explains away by dint of the Court of Owls' involvement. Early in the story, writer Tom King (of many) tries to parallel the Robin laws with racial profiling, which is a fine thing to spotlight but comes off absurd in that Duke Thomas is arrested solely for having red shoes on.

Robin War also gets ahead of Patrick Gleason's Robin, Son of Batman. The book's biggest moment, even beyond Dick Grayson joining the Court of Owls under coercion, is Damian Wayne joining the Court by choice, something I hope Gleason or upcoming writer Ray Fawkes doesn't simply overlook in that series going forward. But we come to understand the reason Damian joins the Owls is in distress over Superheavy's amnesic Bruce Wayne forgetting about him, except we never get a sense on the page that Damian's feeling this way until the end. It's not even clear that Damian knows Bruce's status, certainly we never see Damian "meet" Bruce, and in Son of Batman Damian's even skeptical as to the extent of Bruce's injuries. That makes the end wobbly, though what I did like is the suggestion of grudging friendship between Damian and Duke that I hope gets upheld in Rebirth.

Nitpicks aside, there remains simple fun in having Robins Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne on the page together. The best among the issues is Tom King's Grayson #15, which contrasts the key thing each Robin learned from Batman, before Dick enacts a Batman-level sneaky scheme of his own. Most of the rest of the book then follows Jason, Tim, and Damian in one storyline and Dick -- with, at times, new Batman Jim Gordon -- in another, but it's fun when they're all together. Of the two storylines, then, Dick's is better, mainly because the writers get his voice fairly spot-on while Jason, Tim, and Damian often vary in outlook and approach per issue, though I do still enjoy Scott Lobdell's New 52 creation of a friendship between Tim and Jason that underlies much of their part of the book.

It's mainly in Ray Fawkes's Detective Comics issue that we see Dick fight and then team-up with Gordon. On Facebook, writer Scott Beatty recently reminded all of us of he and Chuck Dixon's Nightwing: Year One, and I thought the "DC You Dynamic Duo"'s interactions here were perfectly in line with Dick and Gordon back then (as well as Snyder's Black Mirror), two people who in their sometimes-troubled relationships with Batman have come to trust one another implicitly. This leads to some nice interaction and reminiscing, though it still seems off for Gordon to call Dick "Grayson." Obviously Dick's identity is out there and obviously Gordon would have learned it, but it's another one of those things that we never saw happen and so moving straight to the effect without the cause is jarring (letting alone the implications of whether Gordon knows Bruce's identity, as hinted at in Superheavy). Irrespective, Steve Pugh's splash page of new Batman and former Robin leaping from the rooftops is a great moment.

There's a funny conceit here in which the original Robins test the "We Are Robins" to find the best of the bunch, and not coincidentally the ones that succeed are the main cast of We Are Robin. Obviously that's necessary to keep those characters in the forefront of this book, but in the end it undercuts the suspense of the testing; how much more interesting if one of the "We Are Robins" hadn't made the grade? Also, in all of this the original Robins never consult Alfred, perhaps because of his insistence on keeping Bruce separate, but it seems an oversight; there's an unrecognized irony here as well in that the very "We Are Robins" who pass the original Robins' test have themselves in some part been trained by Alfred just the same as the original Robins were. I don't yet know if there's an in-story reason why most of the "We Are Robins" have disappeared in Rebirth, but I'd be eager to see some writer reconcile Alfred's activism in We Are Robin versus his shirking from superheroics in Superheavy, a discrepancy that simply comes from Bermejo and Snyder writing different books.

As I've been reading all of the involved books up to this point, I did not mind as much that the "tie-in" Red Hood/Arsenal chapter mostly focuses on Arsenal and Joker's Daughter, and similarly that the Teen Titans issue is mostly the Titans other than Red Robin fighting Professor Pyg, but for the uninitiated these might seem odd tangents (I'm glad DC did not trim the tie-in books here, but they could have). It was also clear to me why Damian looks out for Maps Mizoguchi in Gotham Academy, but the story doesn't spell it out for those who aren't up to speed.

The Robin War collection intersperses the tie-in books with the main books in their mostly linear places. The only real hiccup in the reading order is Teen Titans #15, placed between the fifth (Robin, Son of Batman #7) and final (Robin War #2) parts of the crossover proper. The Teen Titans tie-in issue actually takes place between the pages of that fifth chapter, and so there's no way to place it aside from splitting the fifth chapter in two, and neither would it have fit between the fourth chapter cliffhanger and its resolution. To that end, editor Scott Nybakken has done what he needs to do here, though the reader may still have a moment of confusion when it seems the characters are on their way to Gotham Academy when they were already there the chapter before.

Again, for me Robin War is a high point of "DC You," the mad confluence of seven series mostly pretty good on their own, right at their halfway point before they all start to wind down on the road to Rebirth. Hard to believe there's never been a "Robin War" before, really, and I'm all in favor of a sequel pairing of the Rebirth Titans, Teen Titans, and Red Hood and the Outlaws some time in the future.

[Includes original and variant covers]
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16 comments:

  1. I couldn't help chuckling every time they mentioned the "Robin Laws" because there's an actual writer named Robin Laws who had a short stint on Iron Man. I wonder if King and the other writers involved in this crossover remember him.

    Overall, I quite liked this crossover, not just because of how tightly plotted it was by the core writers (King, Fawkes and Bermejo), but because it had major consequences for at least 3 of the series involved. I just wish there weren't such a mish-mash of artists in the bookend specials.

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    1. I've been delayed a little following up with the second volumes of the involved series, so now I'm trying to guess what three series have major consequences from this -- don't tell me! Grayson's got to be one, and We Are Robin another. I'm hoping the third of Robin, Son of Batman, because as out-of-left-field as the Damian development came in here, it'd be a disservice not to follow up on it.

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    2. I don't think this will spoil anything to say it is a bit of a shame that Rebirth (and the preparation for it) kind of derailed some of the threads from Robin War - We Are Robin had to wrap up their stories, Tom King and Tim Seeley had to get to writing ahead for Batman and 'Tec, etc. Would have been really interesting to live in the world where Rebirth happened a year later and the consequences of Robin War got more time to play out

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    3. I'm behind but I note a distinct lack of We Are Robin characters in Rebirth, which pretty much tells the story of how pervading (or not) they'll end up being.

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    4. You really should read the rest of Grayson, I can't wait to discuss things with you.

      I read this in single issues at a friends and just planned on collecting the regular books of the series later. I still don't have all of them and it's been a while since I read it, so my memory isn't perfect. With this being one of the last crossovers before rebirth, I'm really glad they got rid of the double printing of issues after this.

      When I started reading the crossover I didn't think the book would have been so Grayson oriented. And I thought they would have only partially printed the Red Hood/Arsenal story since that doesn't reflect on the Robin War itself, but it seems they have printed all issues completely from your review.

      I really can't add much more since I really need to reread the story. Again, crossovers double printing... one of the worst things until rebirth.

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    5. We might call just printing the relevant parts of tie-in issues the (original) "Batman: Murderer/Fugitive" model, where they did cut and paste issues together to leave out the irrelevant stuff. I thought that was pretty cool at the time, making the book kind of like a graphic novel, but in re-reads it comes off choppy; a scene seems to break, but then you're back at the very same scene on the next page. I like collecting the full issue better; I can understand how that might be annoying if you're really, really only interested in the crossover, but again, as someone caught up on all of those series, it was fine for me.

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    6. I also prefer the complete collecting of issues, but I never assume they did anymore since they did it as recent as Superman: Doomed and online (for example Amazon) it doesn't mention it's partially printed.

      It's one of the reasons why I stopped collecting the separate crossover TPB unless they contained issues not printed anywhere else.

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    7. Not sure I follow. The Superman: Doomed collection doesn't chop up any issues, does it? Granted some issues, like Superman: Doomed #1 and #2 themselves, are only available in the crossover trade, but to your point of them possibly only "partially print[ing]" issues in Robin War (whereas they went ahead and printed them in full), they didn't do that for Superman: Doomed either, right?

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    8. It only partially collects Action Comics #30 and Superman/Wonder Woman #7. When you open the book these are collected in the Prelude Part 1 chapter. But even in the front of the book it doesn't say partially collected like it sometimes does by saying: "and pages of...".

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  2. I thought this crossover was decent, but suffered from having too many plot points going on, and not enough space to cover everything. What happened to the corrupt Councilwoman? What about the Robin laws? Did the We Are Robins really get out with no casualties? I think it would have benefitted if the tie-ins were incorporated more heavily into the plot, maybe given to King to write.

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    1. I think the way Night of the Monster Men was executed (Steve Orlando co-wrote every issue - I'm guessing he did the heavy lifting on the x-over parts and the normal writers kept their plots going) will be a crowd pleaser to the CE crowd. It was just well-executed (whether one likes it is something else). I hope this method was well received internally and will be used for other crossover events.

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    2. I'm eager to see about that very thing in Night of the Monster Men, though your favorable review might have predisposed me. As crossovers go, I thought Robin War was pretty tight in terms of voice and tone -- certainly spinning far less out of control than some of the behemoth crossovers of the New 52, including Superman: Doomed, Forever Evil: Blight, and Green Lantern: Godhead.

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    3. @Bob Schoonover
      I don't think Night of the Monster Men was great, but I do agree that for a crossover, it's well-executed. If you weren't reading in floppies, you could easily mistake it for just a six-issue mini-series. I remember Orlando saying that he wrote all the scripts, and that the other writers just consulted on the plot details. It was very even and consistent in tone and voice.

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    4. I think it was decent. If it hadn't interrupted the aftermath of stories I was more interested in (the aftermath of the Gotham and Team Batman first arcs, mostly) that already had a lot of action elements, I might have viewed NotMM a bit differently. The Bat-universe is incredibly cohesive right now, though, and I love that

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    5. I wasn't a big fan of the Night of the Monster Men crossover, some of the dialogue was a bit strange and the only issue that stood out as being better was the first of the 2 Detective Comics issue.

      (It's hard discussing it without giving away spoilers, so I'll leave it at that.)

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    6. To be reviewed sooner than later.

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