Review: Robin Vol. 3: Secrets and Shadows trade paperback (DC Comics)


The collection of Joshua Williamson’s Batman: Shadow War crossover includes two issues of Batman, two of Deathstroke Inc., and two of Robin. Of these three series, the relevant Batman trade skips the two Shadow War issues, and Deathstroke ends its first volume before and begins its second volume after. It is only the Robin series, specifically Robin Vol. 3: Secrets and Shadows, that re-collects the two Shadow War issues along with the final three issues of the series.

That is, those reading the Robin series are among the most likely to want to read Batman: Shadow War in full, which — to get the Batman and Deathstroke issues — they can only do by buying the Shadow War collection. But that also means Robin fans will be hard-pressed not to double-dip, particularly in buying the entire five-issue-priced Robin Vol. 3 trade for just three issues.

There’s only so concerned to be about this; collections usually have a lower cost per issue rate than single issues, so in the grand scheme of trade-waiting it might be a wash. But it wasn’t hard to think of other material that might’ve been used to pad out what’s essentially a three-issue trade, including Peter Tomasi’s Superman & Robin Special that I don’t see is being collected elsewhere, or a Connor Hawke/Damian Wayne DC Pride 2022 story that actually takes place between the pages here. I don’t necessarily attribute this trade schema to greed here so much as lack of imagination.

All of that said, the three independent issues here are fine, and with Roger Cruz fully replacing Gleb Melnikov as series artist with this volume, perhaps give the fullest picture of what this Robin series might’ve looked like if it continued. Cruz, with a DC house style writ just a little cartoony, reminds of Tom Grummett; as Williamson continues what seems to me a pointed transformation of Damian Wayne into a more traditional Robin figure, the art goes right along with it.

[Review contains spoilers]

At the very end of Secrets and Shadows, with Damian and would-be girlfriend Flatline, in full costumes, having defeated the villain du jour, she suggests a day at the beach with their friends. What follows is a two-page spread of Damian, in only his swim trunks, surfing, riding Jet Skis, playing beach volleyball, and splashing a bikinied Flatline. The very final panel shows Damian much more as one might expect, back in his costume, sitting broodingly under a beach umbrella, reading the manga that’s paralleled this whole series. Flatline comes along a moment later, also back in costume.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

I’m honestly unsure if we’re to read this literally — Damian and Flatline changed into swimwear, had a great day at the beach, and then each put their entire costumes back on for Damian to sit on the beach again — or whether the majority of this page is what might’ve happened but didn’t, and the reality is that Damian just sat under an umbrella the whole day and read.

I’m not generally put off by an author’s intentional use of vagueness, though here it feels a little sloppy — either the majority of the page is imagined, which I don’t think is particularly clear, or there’s no medium ground on Lazarus Island between wearing a swimsuit and putting your entire long-sleeve costume-and-cape back on, which is just strange. But I do like that it offers the opportunity to decide which Damian is right for you, so to speak — the grinning, weirdly chiseled Damian who goes fishing with buddy Connor Hawke, or the Damian who does his best gargoyle impression even on a sun-lit beach.

Constant readers will know already where I land; this is verily my same complaint as in Robin Vol. 2: I Am Robin. What introducing Damian, aging up Tim Drake, and demolishing DC’s three generation schema (Justice League, Titans, Young Justice — yes, four generations if you include the Justice Society) did was give us a bottleneck where characters like Tim and Superboy Conner Kent became perpetual problems for DC to fix, and not always well. At least Damian was different in character, a diminutive and violent child-Robin. Now even that dissolves; if I saw that two-page spread without context, I’d as soon think I was looking at Tim.

I do realize I can’t (and shouldn’t) expect comics to remain frozen in time, and that it’s been 17 years (!) since Grant Morrison introduced Damian Wayne, so I guess I can’t be so perturbed he’s gone from adolescent to teenager. But Beach Party Damian feels a bridge too far for me; I don’t see it as an improvement necessarily, but then again I didn’t come of age with Damian and so the interest isn’t as great with me to see him keep pace with his real-world contemporaries. (Similarly I note that while previously Damian’s struggle was a metaphor for overcoming a troubled childhood, Williamson has largely advanced that to Damian as a metaphorical teenager caught between divorced parents.)

Outside all of that, Secrets and Shadows is, again, largely fine. With the island as Damian’s “team”’s new home base, they fight a super-villain; there’s some questions still raised about Mother Soul and the nature of the Lazarus Pits that are not answered satisfactorily here but rather will be addressed down the line in Batman vs. Robin or Lazarus Planet, but such is the nature of comics. Williamson makes another particularly impressive use of DC history when he spotlights Mara al Ghul, cousin of Damian, only seen in one arc of the Rebirth Teen Titans and then promptly forgotten despite the character’s general promise until Williamson brings her back.



Herein there’s lots of opportunities, and after Robin Vol. 3: Secrets and Shadows we can imagine Damian and his benevolent assassin friends and family balancing teen angst, demon magic, and international intrigue on the day-to-day. The series is over, of course, but it surely speaks well of Joshua Williamson and Roger Cruz’s efforts here that we can clearly see how they could have gone on.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 2 )

  1. AnonymousJune 04, 2023

    "The series is over, of course, but it surely speaks well of Joshua Williamson and Roger Cruz’s efforts here that we can clearly see how they could have gone on."

    Well, it's not quite over yet. We know Williamson's launching a new Batman and Robin in the Fall (which spins out of Lazarus Planet). So, odds are good some of these Robin threads will be picked up there.

    1. Very true! Admittedly I'm both happy to see Williamson go on with this title but also hesitant about "which" Damian will show up for it.


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