Review: Robin Vol. 1: The Lazarus Tournament trade paperback (DC Comics)

May 25, 2022


Joshua Williamson’s Robin Vol. 1: The Lazarus Tournament is silly, irreverent, and doesn’t quite seem to know what comic it wants to be, and I rather enjoyed it.

To me the benchmark of a Robin comic still remains Chuck Dixon’s Tim Drake series, Robin fighting crime while negotiating high school and staying on the right side of his “suburban Jim Gordon,” Steven “Shotgun” Smith. It was the equivalent of a modern CW show, never too dark and with plenty of levity, and that never forgot its protagonist was a teen and populated the world around him primarily with teens, too.

Williamson’s Robin Damian Wayne book feels like it wants to be that kind of teen title, especially toward the end as Damian gathers his own team of teen-something heroes. But we’re a ways from Gotham Heights, as Damian negotiates both a supernatural island and a fighting tournament where hearts are ripped out of bodies with alacrity. It’s a weird mix, maybe a more appropriate mix for Damian than a high school setting, but weird nonetheless — though that weirdness in no small part helped keep my interest. Lazarus is further buoyed by Williamson’s use of fighter cameos from a variety of eras and lineages, which had me scouring the crowd scenes.

The previous paragraphs notwithstanding, I think the greatest existential threat to Damian Wayne is becoming too much like Tim Drake of the Dixon era — I’m not particularly concerned if Damian has a girlfriend or knows how to hang out with other kids, as the story challenges him, and I think attempts to age him up (I believe the story clocks him at 14) take some of the uniqueness out of the character’s original presentation. I grant too I’m probably in the minority about this. But if Williamson is headed in directions that don’t fit my own preferences for Damian, at least he’s doing so against a backdrop clearly suited for the character, and I’m eager to see what comes next.

[Review contains spoilers]

Famously, the first issue of this Robin series proper ends with Damian’s heart ripped out and shown to him. It is, again, weird territory — we’d be in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom levels of gruesomeness if not for Gleb Melnikov’s animated figures. It’s the first indication of this middle path that Lazarus tries to take, a battle-gleeful tournament comic with shades of Mortal Kombat, which at the same time sees Damian sneaking off to read manga and making eyes at opponent Flatline.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Damian reading slice-of-life manga is not particularly how I’d portray the character, though again I acknowledge the tide’s been flowing this way for a while. Though I recognize the inevitable arc of Damian training with Batman and Nightwing would be a softening of the character, it feels to me like writers making the character something he’s not when Damian’s playing video games or reading comics. Again, pitched battles on a magical island is pretty far from “normal,” but I worry that the more “normal” writers make Damian, the less unique he becomes.

Then again, I cheered when Williamson brought back Damian’s pet behemoth Goliath, so what do I know.

Obviously it’s a thrill that Williamson is using former Green Arrow Connor Hawke in this story, but it’s even more of a thrill that Connor’s being reintroduced not just as some martial arts guy with the last name of Hawke, but specifically as the estranged son of Oliver Queen. And indeed, I was ready to follow Williamson’s Robin title anywhere at the point in which he used King Snake Edmund Dorrance in the early pages, a fantastic nod to Dixon’s Robin — and this King Snake is still Bane’s father! And that’s before any of a number of great background cameos, including Raptor, Nite-Wing, Drakon, (Blue) Shrike, and Double Dare.

So in these ways Lazarus Tournament feels transgressive and odd, maybe — incongrously — too flippant and too emotional, but certainly steeped in a lot of DCU fandom that I can get behind. And Williamson’s got me on the book’s many mysteries, too, from the secrets of Lazarus Island to what Ravager is really doing there, to the identity of Respawn. Not to mention, word is this all ties in to Williamson’s Infinite Frontier, too. I am hopeful that Williamson seemingly being in charge of all aspects of DC’s next big crossover allows him to bring all these various pieces to a more cogent conclusion than, as it seemed to me, when the goalposts of his Flash run vis a vis DC Rebirth kept getting moved on him.

Another unpopular opinion about Robin Vol. 1: The Lazarus Tournament, I suspect, is that the book stumbles in the middle with an extended sequence where the Bat-sidekicks chase Damian over the rooftops of Corto Maltese. Sure, Nightwing, Red Hood, Tim Drake, and Spoiler as a Robin intervention squad is fantastic, and I’m guessing also that Nightwing and Damian having a heart-to-heart is exactly what most readers want. At the same time, the plot moves forward nearly not at all here (except I’m sure Nightwing put a tracker in that gift).



I will say, though, that “I was there. I saw” is a fantastic bit of writing on Joshua Williamson’s part, and reminds us that this is all predicated on something very specific — whatever else is happening on the page, all of this is a reaction to Damian watching Alfred die. I’d be interested to see what Williamson would do with a run on this title as long as his run on Flash.1

[Includes original and variant covers, costume designs, character sketches, cover processes]

  1. Update: Or not, apparently.  ↩

Comments ( 5 )

  1. Great review! I would say that the return of Conner Hawke as Ollie's son......that made the series for me. Williamson is a writer that really respects DC's legacy characters and it shows in his writing. Seeing all these "forgotten" characters really sold the book for me.

    You are right though.....the book is not perfect, and I am also of the same train of thought regarding softening Damian up. I don't want him to be softened up (but keep Goliath for sure). I am afraid that if they soften him up, he will lose that which makes his Robin unique. He can grow as a character without softening just takes some really good writing to do so.

    I had hoped that Joshua Williamson would have had a good long run on this title....We so rarely see good long runs...with writers and artists jumping from a title within an arc or two....but unfortunately I read somewhere that he will be leaving the book in the near future.

    1. Yeah, not staying on the title after #17. Seems like the point of Williamson being on the book was to make the Infinite Frontier tie; that done, seems like that ends his run.

    2. AnonymousJune 06, 2022

      Yeah, the recent SHADOW WAR crossover pretty much wraps up most of the loose ends from his tenure (or at least the leftovers from the first year). I have ideas where was going for year two, but DARK CRISIS and his workload have scuttled those plans.

      It's too bad he's leaving. I wasn't initially interested in the book initially. I was content to not pick up any more Damian spotlights after Tomasi and Gleason's Batman and Robin run (and, to an extent, Super Sons).

      But this has ended up becoming a favorite read of the Infinite Frontier era for me.

  2. AnonymousMay 27, 2022

    Great to see Connor again. I hope he appears in a new GA comic soon or just anywhere for that matter. Connor was always the most overlooked and underappreciated legacy character so it is good to see him back in action

    1. Funnily enough, the first next place he'll appear won't be alongside Oliver Queen, but hopefully soon! Maybe in the Deathstroke, Inc. title.


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