Review: Robin Vol. 2: I Am Robin trade paperback (DC Comics)

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It rather seems the best of times or the worst of times, depending on your flavor of Robin Damian Wayne, and sometimes a bit of both at once. Put another way, all things must change, and DC’s never been able to abide a heel turn among its characters for long, particularly one so prominent as a Robin. Joshua Williamson continues his quite enjoyable take on Damian in Robin Vol. 2: I Am Robin, though indeed there’s some give and take here that stretches the boundaries of what I consider authentic Damian.

I think we learned in Adam Glass and Robbie Thompson’s Teen Titans that if one posits Damian among DC’s heroic but less upstanding aesthetic — more Suicide Squad than Justice League — there’s a happy medium to be found between what’s in character for Damian and in character for the Robin mantle. Williamson, in giving Damian peers among a Chuck Dixon-esque crowd of DC brawlers, threads that needle well. I was not convinced on every page, but I was convinced on a lot of them, and again Williamson delivers a fun book whose Damian will surely appeal to many.

[Review contains spoilers]

I must praise, among other things, the ambition inherent in Williamson’s take on the Ra’s al Ghul dynasty as a whole. “The Demon’s Head” has been an oft-stated but ultimately not super-meaningful moniker (unless my research is off), a reference just to Ra’s as an ultimate superpower. But Williamson dares not only to reinvent Ra’s origins, but to posit an actual demon being referenced in the hallmark phrase. Doubtful the comic-y science of Ra’s immortality ever needed detailed explication, but I’m a sucker for when writers make concrete something that seems so obvious in retrospect, and here Williamson’s got a good one (I was impressed too when Williamson did this in Flash Vol. 12: Death and the Speed Force).

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of DC’s three generations schema; I was happy with Batman (Justice League level), Nightwing (Titans level), and Robin Tim Drake (Young Justice level), and I wouldn’t have fixed what never seemed broken. Damian Wayne coming along created a schism as to where exactly Tim fits in, a question still not fully resolved, but at least there was clear distinction between Tim, the brainy 1990s Robin, and Damian, the impish 10-year-old Robin best drawn by Frank Quitely as this tiny leaping ball wholly outsized by Batman next to him.

I mention that to say the aging up of Damian that began in DC Rebirth, through Glass and Thompson’s Teen Titans and into the first volume of Williamson’s Robin, is not how I envision Damian, though your results may vary. That Damian should be carrying around manga and having crushes on girls who inevitably try to kill him feels to me less like Damian and more like turning Damian into Tim or your generic Robin character. I sense popular opinion in favor of this, though, and clearly it’s the way DC’s headed with the character.

And yet, to be sure, there’s a scene in here where Damian has to kill his crush (don’t worry, everyone gets better on Lazarus Island), interspersed with Damian’s fictional manga and also Alfred’s ghostly specter, that got me, as they say, “right in the feels.” So if this wasn’t the direction I’d necessarily favor for Damian, surely Williamson travels it well. Ditto seeing Damian set against the Batman: Year One iconography; too about the best use of Damian’s trademark “Tt” that I’ve ever seen.

As well, if Damian’s going to reference his “friends” instead of brushing off such maudlin emotions, at least those friends are the likes of Ravager and the kid sidekick of Lord Death Man. Here too I think there are lessons learned from Glass and Thompson’s Titans rather than Benjamin Percy’s Teen Titans before them — Damian palling around with Starfire and Beast Boy seems shoehorning Damian where he doesn’t belong, whereas Red Arrow and Ravager seem more likely in Damian’s orbit.

I thought issue #12 was perhaps Williamson’s most egregious swing toward a kinder, gentler (maybe toothless) Damian, in a scene where Damian and former Green Arrow Connor Hawke are smiling together on a mountaintop, representations of their fathers behind them. Some of the schmaltz might be due to guest artist Roger Cruz instead of regulars Gleb Melnikov and Max Dunbar; either way, this is the Tim Drake-iest Damian’s looked in the entire book. And teaming Damian with Connor feels a regression anyway; Damian’s not only aged up, but he’s paired with one of Tim’s key allies who looks not a day older than “Brotherhood of the Fist.”

But all of that said, I can’t deny that Connor, too, is another in DC’s pantheon of gritty, fights-with-his-fists heroes that seems the right kind of match for Damian, particularly in Connor’s new incarnation as more of a bruiser. Too, it’s simply joyful to see Connor back in the DCU, and I’m eager for the very reunions with characters like Tim and Green Lantern Kyle Rayner. Not what I imagined, but Williamson sells it.

The Robin 2021 Annual is in I Am Robin, shunted to the end even though it fits between issues #5 and #6. The beginning of this book (which starts with issue #7) is the wrong place for it, too, but failing it appearing in the first trade, somewhere before issue #10 seems preferable. As it is, the annual ends on a cliffhanger that the book has already resolved, which both feels flat and takes away from the better cliffhanger at the end of what would otherwise be the linear conclusion of this book.



Damain Wayne says “It’s go time!” in Robin Vol. 2: I Am Robin, and depending on how that lands for you might be an indication how you’ll find the book as a whole. But again, despite that Joshua Williamson is far afield from my ideal Damian characterization, I enjoyed this book and I’m very eager for the Batman: Shadow War crossover that Williamson involves it in. Overall I have good feelings about Williamson continuing to work with Robin in the future.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. I'm in the camp that some Damian is better than no Damian... and I liked what Williamson did to give Damian a generation of his own with Flatline and the other kids of Lazarus Island. Sort of an interesting counter to Teen Titans Academy, actually!

    The manga is an intriguing point - I always read it as Damian thinking, "This is what kids my age like. What's it all about?" But I'm also a sucker for any time someone reads comics in a comic.


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